A business’s digital footprint is the new word of mouth, the founder of KC Black Owned said, emphasizing that getting noticed is just half the fight for many Black-owned businesses.
“It is so hard to find Black-owned businesses in certain professions and industries. But there’s a demand for it,” said Chelsey M., the mind behind the KC Black Owned business directory and a planned series of digital-first workshops aimed at early entrepreneurs.
“Maybe these are business areas that don’t have a heavy social media presence, but people really do want to know if there’s a Black-owned moving company or a Black-owned farm or a Black-owned gas station,” she added, speaking from her Lee’s Summit home. “They want Black-owned everything because of the moment we’re in.”
Click here to explore the KC Black Owned directory, which boasts more than 200 local businesses, and new entries every day, Chelsey said.
Editor’s note: Chelsey does not publicly identify her full name because of the sensitive nature of her work on social media, as well as for online privacy and security reasons.
The free KC Black Owned directory — which only accepts ventures with official business licenses — is the first step in Chelsey’s mission to help Kansas City businesses, she said, detailing an in-the-works ebook to aid business owners in strengthening their digital presence via social media.
Her KC Black Owned Insagram account has amassed 2,500 followers in just a few months, serving as a showcase for entrepreneurs, as well as a lead into the actual online directory.
Click here to see KC Black Owned’s latest highlights on Instagram.
“We’re serving both the consumers and the businesses by connecting the two user bases,” Chelsey said. “We need people to know you have a business at, say, 3000 Troost Ave., but we also need your business to have a great digital footprint, so that when someone — whether they’re from Lee’s Summit or Wichita — looks you up, they actually want to come see you.”
Perception is reality — especially as people increasingly use online tools to make purchase or visiting decisions, she said.
“Business owners need to know how to present themselves,” Chelsey said. “If you’re selling cupcakes on your Instagram page, it’s not the best idea to be posting Reels or photos about how you just changed a baby’s diaper. Let’s focus on making this truly a business page, so you’re taken more seriously. Realize you’re being observed and noticed by others. Change the narrative.”
Searching for answers
KC Black Owned developed from Chelsey’s own curiosity about the businesses around her, she said.
A traveling literacy coach when the pandemic hit, she was laid off in March 2020 — using the time at home to work on her doctorate in education curriculum and instruction. Protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in late spring, however, gave her an additional focus, Chelsey said.
The search for a restaurant provided even more inspiration.
“With all the injustices being highlighted last July, and all of us being in quarantine, I told my husband, ‘Let’s support a Black-owned business. We haven’t been out much. We’re in Lee’s Summit, and most of the obvious opportunities are in Kansas City. Where do we look?’
“But when we hopped on Google to start searching, we encountered all the same questions: ‘Is this place actually open?’ ‘Wait. What even is it?’ ‘Oh my gosh, is it really two hours away?’ We were really trying to find answers that just weren’t there.”
Taking a lesson from Chelsey’s education world, she framed the situation in terms of a “reflective practitioner,” she said.
“So let me think: What’s the problem? Black-owned businesses are not being supported, and part of the issue is that people just can’t directly figure out how to connect with them,” Chelsey said. “Then comes a solution — one where people can locate these business quickly in a way that is fast, fun and easy. I related it back to my millennial mindset. We want something immediate, where you can just go boom, boom, bam and you have it in front of you.”
Instagram provided the best platform to reach the desired audience, she said, noting her work began at 11 p.m. one night.
“I just said, ‘I have nothing but time right now, and I’m going to do it,’” Chelsey recalled. “And I did. From July to now, things have progressed quickly. My five-year plan has developed within a matter of months. I’m very systematic. I’m a planner. But I’ll get a phone call from someone that jumps us forward or completely changes what I was imagining.”
“People are asking me, ‘How are you able to do this?’ I’m a teacher — sixth-grade; I’m writing a dissertation — I’m on chapter three; I’m a newlywed — he’s fine, he’s an engineer. But I’m very organized, which makes it easier to deal with things even as they change so fast.”
And then there’s her co-founder.
“I’m a firm believer in God,” Chelsey said. “I know that God is really helping me through this.”
Filling in the gaps
Chelsey sees the directory — aided in its development by Kelsie Lauck at 816 Creative Studio — as a user-friendly, modern-day phone book, she said. But in the age of social media, that isn’t enough.
“Highlighting and featuring is just a small part of it,” Chelsey said, noting Instagram features each Thursday that focus deeper on a select entrepreneur. “We take a look at the actual business owner, entrepreneurship mask off, and talk about what it’s really like out there.”
It isn’t easy, she said.
Her own expertise learning how to play within and take advantage of Instagram’s algorithms came from months helping with her husband’s side hustle: a vending machine business run out of the family’s garage, she said.
“It’s attention to detail, building connections, Instagram audits — the right kinds of engagement,” Chelsey said, noting that digging into the analytics can help entrepreneurs understand how to make the next right steps for their businesses.
“We’re seeing more engagement Thursday through Saturday. People are looking for things to do,” she said.
The goal is for users to also explore the directory as a tool to find more every-day-of-the-week businesses in industries as far-flung as jewelry, legal and health.
“And we’re not there yet, but as we make more connections, we’ll find out what’s actually available and see what’s missing in Kansas City,” Chelsey said. “Beauty, fashion, hair, restaurants — we’re there. It will take time to fill every category.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.