Redemption Song Inc. is a nonprofit music organization, with a focus on music education and marginalized communities. Upon entering the world of nonprofit business, I was already an entrepreneur who founded several small businesses including an international music booking agency.
With that background, I had a unique vision for how I wanted this organization to execute its mission and vision. Because of other commitments, though the organization was incorporated in 2001 it was not fully actualized until 2012 when there was ample space and attention to strategically create impactful, creative programs. Since 2012 the organization has expanded to a national and international organization function under 4 core programs.
Two of these programs are aimed at the economic advancement of underserved communities. One of which focuses on bringing musical instruments to the lives of underserved children and marginalized schools and the fourth focuses on revenue building ventures that allows our organization’s unique nonprofit operation model to embolden a level of program and operational self-sufficiency.
This nonprofit millennium approach will become more popular in this decade as nonprofits grow to learn how important it is for the survival of their mission and vision when they can have some form of control of its viability because when a certain level of fundraising is executed from within, the organization becomes less reliant and affected by unforeseen circumstances of donors and contributors who can suddenly abort their support. This model of operating a nonprofit is classified as: 21st Century Nonprofit Business.
Founder’s/Owner’s story and what motivated them to start the business
Jamaican born and New York City raised, I have had a passion for music my whole life. I became a noted recording and performing artist and worked as an entrepreneur (now known as an independent artist) on my artist business before the term independent artist was a thing. This started in 1989 and there was no internet, Google, Facebook, none of that. It was my second entrepreneurship attempt and I took what I had learned from starting a professional, commercial, cleaning company (One Bright Day – OBD) into this area in my life, music.
Among the things I had learned and achieved from these 2 businesses were guerilla marketing and creating strategies. When I think of guerilla marketing and how hard that was back then it makes me wonder if today’s generation of entrepreneurs even have a notion of how easy they have life with social media at their fingertips. I also learned stick with what you love. I always loved cleaning and when I did it the room appeared to be redesigned not just cleaned. I also understood that if you can come up with a low overhead small business, which both of these businesses fell under, you can profit a big chunk of your gross income and since then I look for those 2 factors in any business I approach.
I worked my first business, OBD, from my kitchen table. When I did this I had just acquired my first property, was in my naive twenties and had no idea where my next mortgage would generate from. I wanted to be a business woman so badly, something I had told my 10th grade teacher I would do when I grow up, I put it all on the line to take a leap.
One day I finally hooked one of the biggest real estate companies to consider my company for the commercial cleaning of some of the most prestigious office buildings in the city. The VP of the company finally said one day, “Let’s set up an appointment for next week at your office, let me come out and see what your company is about.” I jumped out of character (you know, the experienced sounding business woman working out of a high riser office who already had major contracts – yikes) and remembered I was not in the office in my head. I looked at the stove, the refrigerator and everything else in the kitchen thinking, yikes. I panicked. When I calmed do I started strategizing how to make an office somewhere in the house. Just remembering that makes me wonder if entrepreneurs are sane people.
The meeting went well. We got a few major contracts and within months the same company rented us that high rise office space at a ridiculously low price and was handing us contracts totaling over $10,000 per month. That’s equivalent to over $25,000 today. This business afforded me the financial opportunity to start my independent music business and before long I was going in between the business of music, booking-promoting and my artistry of music, recording and performing. All along this was the plan.
Everything I’ve done in business since, including Redemption Song Inc. and The Music Cart (our online music store), is a more experienced spin off of learned lessons from One Bright Day. As an Entrepreneur behind a nonprofit color and dimension is added to the organization and this is why it will probably not resemble the classic image of nonprofits. This hasn’t caught on much yet but it will.
The Third Sector, which is just another name for nonprofit business, is seeking entrepreneurs to help this section of business learn how to be more like a business, because it is. The more nonprofits can limit donation and over external dependency for the survival and viability of their agenda then the more they can minimize the impact on their existence when those external factors do sudden things like withdraw their support. This innovative way of approaching nonprofit business is the direction and millennium path I lead this organization towards.
The challenges the business/market is facing
Current challenges of great concern are the repercussions of Covid 19. There are unbelievable supply issues that have altered our performance at playtmc.com, our online music store. Another deeply disturbing problem is the reduction in marketing outcome of Google Ads, Facebooks ads and others. According to our marketing director, a contributing factor for this points to a higher demand for online space, creating more competition for ad space. This is concerning since for many businesses, profit and nonprofit since these online methods of marketing have become central to successful marketing.
The opportunities the business/market is facing
As an organization that dances around creativity we do not operate from a space of thinking that you should only have one plan and do one thing because the mind of a creative does not function like that. For this reason, our organization had ideas in a “bag of tricks” from which to pull strategies and ideas to maneuver around the current challenges. These ideas become opportunity and ways to pivot. We looked for the ones that suited the situation at hand with some criteria. Can it supplement income? Is it safe during a time of an unpredictable pandemic? Can we start it now? We moved towards those that had an answer of yes and we got to work.
Advice to others about business
There’s a mythical imagery about owning a business that is so far from reality. It takes grit to not quit. It may make you cry at times. It’s really tough territory but if you can identify who you are serving and why you’re doing what you that will become super fuel even when things are swaying back and forth. Let that be the power behind everything you do. Another important factor is even if you are starting your business with $100, start it with a budget template. If you can’t face the money of your business eye to eye it’s not a business. And last, surround yourself with supporting people who do things you shouldn’t even want to do and should never attempt to – and they are excellent at it.
Purpose: Again, if you’re not clear on who you are serving, your mission and purpose will not be defined and if that is not defined then the organization/business won’t have an objective. Your objectives are the things you are doing to make your mission and purpose show up in the world – become real. The daily, weekly, monthly, annual objectives are what take you to your goal or your mission accomplished.
Finances: Reaffirming to become comfortable with a budget and the finances of the business so there is a sense of knowing and control over the business. A lot of us have fear of money. It’s a good idea to address that on a personal level so that fear is not transferred over to the business. It is an awesome feeling when financial documents are handy and a graphic of the financial operation is clear and available no matter how small the business may be.
Delegate: An effective CEO’s main function is to find the people who can execute the task not figure out how to do every task.
A Few Other Tips:
1. Don’t expect to get rich not overnight, not ever. Instead, look for other non-monetary values and align that with your “why” you are doing what you are doing because most entrepreneurs do not become millionaires but you can set your goal to a comfortable income that allows you to not work for others.
Daymond John, founder of FUBU and cast member of Shark Tank once Tweeted: “I’d rather work for $40,000 per year for myself than work for somebody else.” I replied: “Agreed.” Is entrepreneurship more like a need for you as opposed to a want? Is it a space that you need in order to function as a contributing and happy human being? Then approach it from the stand point that you can at least make what somebody else would pay you.
Being your own boss
2. You will have your own schedule but for a long time it may look like this: no vacations, little sleep, long, long days and early mornings. The flip side is that it really is your own schedule. If not a vacation, you can do an affordable staycation at your own call. Take walks or bike rides near your home or office; meditate to make up some rest time on the body; if possible, go to the gym a few times per week and schedule your leisure activities and non-business social interactions with family and friends. Adding these things onto the calendar and if a reschedule is needed, reschedule it as soon as the cancellation occurs. It really is your schedule.
3. It will not happen overnight. Be in it for the haul and have a haul plan.
Be your main motivator
4. Be motivated by something that feels like your life depends on it. Your motivator will feel like a haunting fire inside. There’s no escaping it. It’s a cloud over your head.
Self-Praise is recommended
5. Allow yourself a timeframe to feel bad about the failures and don’t go beyond that. Praise yourself for every accomplishment, no matter how small.
Be Yourself-Know Thyself
6. Creative people, and that’s who entrepreneurs are, like to spend time alone more than other people do but monitor that so that feelings of isolation do not kick in. Entrepreneurs, I’m not sure if we are all workaholics but for the few of us that are not, the rest of us certainly mimic the behavior of one. Once we identify this we can force ourselves to STOP when in that space and revisit at another time differently.
Strengthen Your Reliance
7. Expose yourself to reading, listening and viewing material that inspires and increases your knowledge base.
8. Mentors leave lessons and words that will stick with you for life. The commercial real estate company that gave One Bright Day a chance, that VP was Mr. Ron Trowbridge at Ryan’s and Associates volunteered to mentor me. Mentors build your confidence.
8. Entrepreneurship can crack you sometimes but it won’t break you. If you need to, cry then try – try again and again and again. The rewards are abound.