Starting a new business is no easy task, especially when you don’t have a business degree.
But that never stopped Tranette Williams.
“I had to learn everything,” said the Chicago West Side native, who launched her own business, The Ultimate Couple’s Massage, several years ago. Through books and podcasts, she taught herself everything from marketing to designing a website and establishing a payment system. “Thank God for the internet,” she said.
Now Williams wants to help other women of color start and grow their own businesses through the inaugural Chicago Black Women’s Business Week, which kicked off Monday and includes networking events, as well as panels and workshops on topics such as digital marketing and ways to develop a niche.
“I just want us to get a really deep, strong community of black women and business owners in Chicago and pool our resources, our time, our knowledge and help each other build our businesses or create projects – whatever it is you’re working on,” Williams said. “It’s good to be part of a community.”
Williams attended Norman Bridge Elementary School and later Northside College Prep, where she became involved with theater and choir. “I was the class clown in grammar school and high school,” Williams said, laughing. “I was everywhere acting a fool.”
After graduating from high school, Williams began working full time at a desk-bound job in an administrative temp pool, which she said was “horrible.” Seeking a new career, she attended the Soma Institute to become a clinical massage therapist and spent more than a decade working at various massage companies.
“People would always say, ‘I wish my partner knew how to give me a massage,’” Williams said. That comment inspired her to start a company teaching couples how to give each other massages. In addition to teaching classes, Williams plans on doing a series of instructional web videos, focusing on such techniques as prenatal massage.
While she was confident in starting her own business, she received some pushback from those who work traditional 9-to-5 jobs. “When you’re outside of that, people have a lot of preconceived notions of what your life is like,” she said, such as assuming you’re in your pajamas all day. “A paycheck you could count on would be nice, paid days off and benefits would be nice. It’s hard getting people to understand there’s a trade-off and even though you’re not at a job, you’re still at work.”
Starting her own business has shown Williams how others’ fears and doubts aren’t reflective of what she’s capable of. Last summer, Williams was harassed as she walked home by a man yelling racial slurs. “It seemed like he wanted to see me shaken and I wasn’t going to let that happen,” said Williams, who recorded the incident as it unfolded.
Unfortunately, the incident is all too common among people of color, according to Williams. “That’s stuff we have to deal with on an everyday level even in a place that people consider to be a liberal bastion like Chicago,” she said. “There needs to be so much more actual work in creating spaces for our voices to be heard.”
She’s hoping the Chicago Black Women’s Business Week can create those opportunities. In addition to workshops and networking, there will be pop-up shops in the Austin and Chatham neighborhoods, featuring a children’s clothing company and a jewelry company, respectively.
“Here are some businesses you can throw money at if you feel the need of [creating] equity in communities of color, women-owned businesses or trans-owned business,” Williams said. “I’m trying to be as inclusive as possible because I feel like if you liberate the least of us, you liberate all of us and black women are at the bottom.”
Chicago Black Women’s Business Week runs through Dec. 4. Events are free and open to the public but registration is required. For more information, visit the organization’s website.
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