Community Connections Spotlight: Her Agenda
Community Connections Spotlight: Her Agenda
Dedicated to serving the community and helping small businesses recover from the economic impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Optimum Business has contributed to small businesses by partnering with grant programs such as the Save Small Business Fund and the Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB).
Rhonesha Byng is one of the grant recipients from the Coalition to Back Black Businesses, a multi-year initiative to support Black small business owners with the understanding that small businesses are critical parts of our communities. Byng is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Her Agenda, a digital media platform bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women. It uses the power of content and community to both inspire and inform. Publishing daily content on various topics like politics, personal finance, mental health, wellness, and career, Her Agenda is not only about finding a mentor, getting a promotion, or getting a raise; according to Byng, “we are making sure you're strong spiritually and mentally as your best self.”
Byng identifies as a purpose-driven entrepreneur. She is inspired to solve problems with a purpose. A precocious child, Byng taught herself to read and did well in school, but didn’t know what she wanted to do for her career. Yet she always felt that she had a mission larger than she could articulate at the time. Taking a journalism class changed her life when she realized that the stories she told could make a difference in the world.
Later, Byng took a Women’s Studies class that showed her that though there are powerful women who get things done, women are still underrepresented in positions of power and receive unequal pay. “Why aren’t we running the world?” she asked. It became her mission to change this. Recognizing how media can change how people see themselves and how the world sees them, Byng decided to create a website to feature women who are bosses. For its name, she used a slogan she created out of her own name, NESHA: "No One Ever Slows Her Agenda,” which she put on her earliest calling cards. Her Agenda became the company's name.
Her Agenda is a platform for women to come together, be inspired by each other, and help one another succeed. However, Byng found that her audience lacked access to professional groups and mentors – “if you don't have someone to invite you, how do you get that information?” You need to be at the room, at the table,” Byng says. Thus, Her Agenda started out as a database with a curated listing of webinars, conferences, and networking events happening across the country. Soon women from different parts of the country began building out the content on the site. To boost the company’s revenue stream without getting in the way of free content, Her Agenda also has a paid community, "Her Agenda Insiders." Here users can opt-in to a private group that gives them access to peer mentorship, exclusive job opportunities, and live events.
Starting out, Byng relied on a community of founders and entrepreneurs to learn from. “Having a community to lean on, to bounce ideas with, is transformative because they are thinkers and innovators like you,” advises Byng. “Just because you work solo doesn't mean you have to work in a silo. Being in a co-working space, when I first started, I saw it was possible to make a living as a founder. And here I am 13 years later as an entrepreneur who survived a pandemic.”
Leaning on the power of storytelling, Her Agenda's name recognition came from the company's work on social media and through organic partnerships from working out of a co-working space. Having hosted live events with over 200 women in attendance, other founders asked to partner with Her Agenda for marketing and space. The small business was able to produce events without any capital and overhead. Everything they needed was happening through the partnerships. “It really set a foundation to not just get those early dollars in but to make that lasting brand connection. So, we started doing an event every single month with key strategic partnerships,” affirms Byng.
But as a Black woman entrepreneur, Byng also faced roadblocks during her entrepreneurial journey that many other founders don't have to deal with, making it hard to raise launch capital. Byng explains, “I would get these questions and this pushback. It seemed so odd the way they would ask me questions. They don't ask white men founders the same questions they were asking me. As a Black woman founder, they expect proof versus betting on our potential.” Even though Her Agenda had an audience and a minimum viable product getting traction, it was still not enough. Byng would still be asked, “do you think this can scale?” She says, “The unconscious bias was rooted in racism because they had not seen a Black woman who had launched and scaled a media company.”
So, Byng pivoted her focus to what she knew she could do and turned the challenge into an opportunity. “I thought about the streams of revenue that I can use. I knew we had an audience. I turned to the audience for the revenue stream through event tickets and Her Agenda Insider subscriptions. I did this in 2015, and now in 2021, everyone has a digital community.”
However, having to shift their in-person events to an all-digital format during the 2020 lockdown still affected a significant part of Byng’s company. In addition to losing the profit of the in-person events and sponsorship packages, Byng’s biggest revenue driver, advertisers, stopped spending money in March 2020. Originally Her Agenda’s first 6 figure year was estimated to happen in 2020, but instead, 75% of the revenue disappeared overnight.
The Coalition to Back Black Businesses helped Her Agenda recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and chart a path forward. Of the grant, she says “It gave me hope at a time when it felt like there was very little hope. The grant was put out early in the year, and they got it together pretty quickly, kudos to them.” She had been applying to various grants every day and facing rejections, but after much perseverance, was awarded the CBBB grant. It gave her the confidence to keep pushing and help bridge her cashflow gap. “Getting this infusion of non-dilutive capital was powerful and gave me a lot of hope. It also gave me access to a community,” she said of the CBBB grant’s mentors and cohort. As an entrepreneur for 13 years, Byng says she is always looking to advance and grow.
The grant allowed Byng’s business to hire an additional developer, vital to keeping up with the requirements for Her Agenda to show up in search results. This investment provided an increase in traffic for the company. In fact, Her Agenda’s audience base has grown because of the digital transformation. They are now investing more in digital, buying ads on social media, running ad campaigns, enhancing and optimizing their SEO strategy. In addition, Her Agenda proudly pays all of its writers. "The capital from the grant was key to help us not miss any payments to contributors and bridge the cash-flow gap,” states Byng.
"It's been transformative," Byng confirms. "I never realized it would be possible to work from home and stay connected to our audience entirely.” Technology has played a pivotal role in keeping Her Agenda up and running throughout the pandemic. Byng says, “It’s been everything. I have a whole set-up, my home office is also a recording studio. I have everything I need to do what I want to do just down the hallway, I speak on panels, conferences, record content. All of this is only possible because of the technology that exists.”
To read more stories from small businesses like you or to find solutions to meet your growing business needs, check out the Optimum Business Digital Toolkit.