After 18 years of working as a news reporter and a producer, Sheila D. Brooks decided to call it quits in 1990 and become her own boss. Her journey into entrepreneurship came after hitting the “glass ceiling” as a media personality and concluding that she was not going to rise above her current position.
She started her own company producing news stories and documentaries from her bedroom. As with many Black entrepreneurs, she needed money to expand her operations and was unable to attract venture funding. She persuaded banks to give her a loan.
She was turned down by three banks, highlighting the challenges Black business owners face in seeking to raise funds to maintain and expand their operations. A fourth bank agreed to give her a loan but under a very strict condition.
“The fourth bank wanted me to hand over everything except my firstborn child for collateral,” she told the Washington Post. Brooks agreed to the terms, took the five-year loan, and paid it off in two-and-a-half years.
Brooks wasn’t doing badly after two years of operation to lease office space on K Street in downtown D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. Her clients included utility companies, government agencies and national nonprofits. But then came a federal government shutdown in 1995 and the September 11 attacks, followed by the Great Recession in 2007 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Her business took a hit as a result. Brooks showed resilience and changed the nature of her business to survive. She rebranded as SRB Communications, a marketing and public relations firm with 10 full-time employees from 14.
The reorganization also caused her to diversify her client base by bringing in more universities and African American service organizations. She also produced coronavirus safety campaigns with public health agencies. This restructuring helped her to survive the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It took a lot of determination and resilience. When the economy is in decline, I just tell myself, ‘withstand, adapt and recover,’ ” Brooks noted.
Now in its 30th year of operation, SRB Communications is among the few Black-owned businesses to have annual revenue of $1 million. The significance of this revenue is that there are 2.7 million businesses owned by women but only 1 percent have annual revenue of $1 million or more, according to The Washington Post.
Brooks attributes her success to her mother, who she said taught her real determination. Her mother left home in search of greener pastures after growing tired of picking cotton on her grandmother’s farm.
“She never told us how she made the journey, but we never doubted that she had,” Brooks told the Post. “A woman she knew in Sedalia worked as a domestic and helped her get a job and a place to stay. She saved her money, and when she heard about a new hotel opening up in Kansas City, she went there, lied about her age and got a better paying job in housekeeping.”
According to Brooks, her drive to succeed comes from watching her mother hold down two full-time jobs while renting out a room in their house to make ends meet.