In this business, you live and die by referrals. Great work is not enough to grow. You need an advocate who will fight for you. This system builds confidence among those lucky enough to enter, but it also widens the gap between established businesses and those just starting out. Without local connections and resources, minority and women-owned businesses without the capital to self-finance have no chance to compete fairly. This can deter would-be entrepreneurs from taking the plunge, and it shows: of Illinois’ 1.2 million small businesses, only 12.7% are minority-owned.
It’s easy to see the gap in opportunity in industries like mine; closing the gap is more difficult. But working within existing networks to allow entry of under-represented entrepreneurs can generate more jobs and better projects for everyone. Hire360 is ideally positioned as a resource for small business owners like myself as their mandate is to serve us and workers looking to enter the business or retrain.
I started this business to feed my family but also to build a legacy. But without fair access to opportunities, it is not easy and unfortunately women are always treated differently in this industry. People think we are just the face of the business but don’t know what we are doing. As a black woman, I find some entrepreneurs can be demeaning and the culture on the job sites can be unwelcoming at best and hostile at worst. Even when you join the union – and Twenty Eleven is in three, thanks to the help of Hire360 – you still need an overview of how contracts, billing, and insurance work. They even helped me get a loan, which opened the door for me to expand my business and finance larger projects.
I am now better able to support and develop the business. Through the program, I found a project manager and someone to help me write a business plan.
Programs like Hire360 level the playing field for small business owners like me. With his help, I am optimistic that we will soon be one of these top companies.
Vanessa Rhodes is President of Twenty Eleven Construction.