Stronger today than yesterday: Black women-owned businesses after the pandemic

The Financial Journey is a unique series focused on financial education and opportunities. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between Wells Fargo and Word In Black.

by Renata Sago

It’s been four years since the pandemic upended the lives of business owners and employees across the United States. At the onset, more than 29,000 small businesses in Georgia were forced to close. Shauniece Wallace, who owns The Elleven, an event space near Atlantic station in metro Atlanta, remembers feeling terrified. Her team of tattooists, makeup artists, nail technicians, and hair stylists were deemed non-essential. “We had to shut down for two months,” says Wallace. “In that period of time, it was devastating. We had to figure out a way to continue to survive and provide for our families.”

Wallace was able to secure funding through the Open for Business Fund, a $420 million initiative designed to sustain small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund helped maintain and create an estimated 255,000 jobs in the midst of the recovery. “It allowed me to get caught up on some rent and utilities,” says Wallace. “It also allowed me to get extra security. I did some renovations. I was able to buy some inventory for my event space, which actually helped me increase my hourly rate, which increased my overall income in this business.”

The pandemic unearthed systemic disparities that Black women-owned businesses have been facing for decades. One challenge has been gender equality. “When you think about income earning potential, they earn about 70 percent as much as a White man, and White women earn about 83 percent of what a White man earns,” says Angela Dingle, President of Women Impacting Public Policy. “If I have a smaller amount in savings, that means I don’t have the same amount of money available to me to bootstrap or start or grow and expand my business.” Dingle has observed the difficulties that Black women have faced in getting capital with ease. They are more likely to apply for outside financing to cover operating expenses and less likely to receive full or partial financing.

Yet, there’s been a shift. The newly-released 2024 Impact of Women-Owned Businesses report finds that Black/African American women’s small businesses grew to 2.1 million between 2019 and 2023, generating $98.3 billion in revenue for the U.S. economy. Average revenues for these businesses increased 32.7 percent to $47,300 between 2019 and 2023. “There’s heartening data there,” says Dingle. But we also know that there’s some work that needs to be done so that we can continue that trend.”

The research purports that Black/African American women-owned businesses would bring $361.2 billion in revenue if earnings were equal to White women and $1.5 trillion if on pace with men. Despite average revenue percentage growth between 2019 and 2023 for Black/African American women, the average revenue between 2019 and 2023 for all women-owned businesses was $192,600.

Partnerships have been one way for small businesses to sustain themselves in recent years. Local non-profit organizations and local community development financial institutions (CDFIs) have disbursed grants across markets for essential and non-essential needs.

For Shauniece Wallace, research has been the most powerful tool in guiding how she approaches her business and the market.

“Really dive deep into the type of business that you’re doing. Be innovative. Be creative,” says Wallace. “Pay attention to your expenses, your income. I would also advise that you have a proper business plan. If you don’t plan anything, you plan to fail.”

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