When I want to think most about how rapidly society and culture have shifted over the past 3-5 years, all I really have to do is look back at the short life so far of Brave Sis Project. What was in 2019 a way to organize myself, pay homage to women who inspired me from the past and maybe help a few women better learn how to celebrate ourselves and each other is today a platform for brave commentary, celebration and discovery about our place in society today, and how we want to emulate the amazing foremothers who have come before us.
Looking back, I thought it'd be interesting (at least to me) to create a Listicle about the 12 worst pieces of advice I've received around building this project. As I look back, I'm also encouraged to see how I have grown in my sense of purpose and direction in this work.
Number One: Keep Your Voice Out of It/Keep It Low-Fi/Make It Glossy
When I started this out, I had no idea that there would be more than maybe 50-100 people who cared. I was told to try and emulate "brand voice," meaning don't put myself in it at all. Use a sort of authoritative "voice of God(dess)" and keep yourself out of the picture. I guess the idea is that would make Brave Sis Project seem more serious.
But first of all, not showing up as myself is hard, and I found (especially on social media) that if I wanted the idea of Brave Sis to stand out, I needed to stand for something. Those of you who received my first e-newsletters definitely see a massive shift in tone and presentation, and given the amount of conversation and commentary I receive on various platforms and in email, I'm glad I let myself out. I'm a Brave Sis, myself, after all!
Similarly, I'd been told to keep it "artisanal," probably a result of the early coloring-book pages in the first two editions of the Journey-Journal. But then another chorus was advising me to hire fancy designers (which this project has not got resourcing to do) and make it look like the Mastodons of Planner World. I think we are landing somewhere in the middle, and it feels right to me. After all, if I'm going to be doing all this work as a labor of love (see last number) it better feel right to me... Which is a great segue to
Number Two: Aim Higher Than Erin Condren and Happy Planner
While I really truly in my heart believe that Brave Sis's planner and journal has more authenticity, pique, honesty and value than the unicorns, butterfly, and paisley set (and why I can't really forget Erin Condren's 2020 BLM mis-step; which is kind of typical of the kind of suburban white "wellness space" mentality I revolted against in even starting this project), the fact is those two entities are multi-million-dollar industries, with deep verticals, hundreds of thousands of fans, happy unicorns and butterflies all over the place; and I'm one person cranking this out all alone and barely covering my production costs (again, see the end of this listicle!)
I'm OK with not taking on the biggest names in the industry because I've realized over time that Brave Sis Project is not about becoming a #GirlBoss, it's about building community and celebration. Be that with one person (you reading this), five in a coffee shop, twenty on a zoom, or hundreds just passing through insta, it matters, and I'm proud.
That said, I'd still be open to a venture partner who sees the value and wants to scale it... :)
Number Three: "I Want You To Meet this Black Woman" Syndrome
This is all meant with good intention, usually a white friend who is impressed and excited by this project, or by me, and thinks I'd really get along with her friend/acquaintance who is also an amaaaaazing Black woman, and I have to introduce you. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I have to share two truths. First, I know a million people already, tons more through my day job, and unless it's directly related to my body of work or will help expand visibility and sales around the project, I have to choose my people on my own. I just cannot handle all the good ideas.
The second thing is, not every Black woman on Planet Earth is going to like Brave Sis Project (just like not every... anyone for anything). Some women don't like that it makes space for other BIPOC (a squishy, problematic acronym, I know; I use it for brevity's sake) women, and/or that my stance is more "bridging/finding what's good" than "call out/elevating the very much that is bad."
As I've said again and again, for the women who are in the militant or activist space, I salute you, and go find or make your own thing. We need more of all of it. But thinking this is a one-size-fits-all for every Black woman, or that it's only for Black women, or that we all really need to know each other is ... flattening, not flattering.
Number Four: It's Too Niche
Somewhat related to the previous one, and this was one of the angriest moments I have had so far. When I was mounting the first crowdfund (in 2020), I saw an ad for a Kickstarter booster platform guaranteed to make my campaign a 5X success (for only $5,000 plus a hefty percentage of pledge amounts). Still, the idea of clearing a six-figure crowdfund was too good not to investigate. The company connected me with their fine fellows, who took a look at my page and suggested I create a more generic, less niche product and try that out for a few years and then move into a more "small market" concept.
Do I need to even share how insulting this was? The whole idea of the Journey-Journal was to be different, and if that difference wasn't perceived as valuable or even viable to you (young white fellows of Salt Lake City; why would you know, ok, but why are you giving me such terrible advice? Keep that nonsense to yourself!) the very idea that I would want to engage all this time and effort creating something that was just like dozens of other things (and this is an issue I see on Etsy too, but in a different way) just felt like no one is even trying to be real in these spaces, superficial fluff is all that matters.
And lest this sound ranty, let me move on to:
Number Five: Crowdfunding, Period
Kickstarter is not a space where Black women and other women of color go to find their lifestyle jams. Women-specific (or Black women-specific) crowdfunding sites don't generate enough traffic. Remember, they are making money off you, so of course they encourage you to go for it, with the outlier success stories dangled in front of you like a weight-loss miracle drug.
Year One, the George/Breonna/Ahmaud year, I brought in $25K in crowdfunding. The following year, when it seemed a lot of people had other things to do, it was half as much. Given that most of the "incoming traffic" I received was from other small purveyors wishing to sell me services, I started to realize it's all just a merry-go-round of emptiness. Also, brow-beating your peeps to please help support your venture gets old, even for those who love it (and I thank you, and I love you!)
Number Six: The Retreat Bandwagon
Lookit, I love Costa Rica; before I started my amazing job for Camber Collective, I was dreamily counting the months to early retirement and peacing out for a quiet escape to Pura Vida (mathematically not viable at all!) And so when I started seeing the emails about how to plan a retreat, I went all in. I got as close as to almost making a non-refundable deposit on a five-day adventure (that would have been amazing; I put together a kick-ass itinerary of learning, creating, farm-to-table tourism, and pleasure on the beach). Dastardly Delta variant put the halt on it all. Since then, I realize that you don't make any money hosting retreats (more best-case scenario glorification from small businesses hoping to reel you in) -- maybe if you are lucky, you pay your way and reimburse yourself for the dogsitting expenses for while you're out of town.
I have come to realize that if I wanted to create a five-day learning getaway with women I love, I could just do it without all the bells, whistles, and insurance riders entailed in "building out your retreat business." Also, once I got busy with the 9-to-5 in doing truly world-changing, purposeful, and satisfying work, I suddenly found I had a lot less time to peruse online beach house listings and watch webinars about whether Tilos, Thailand, or Tulum was the best venue to deliver an unforgettable experience! (Honestly, we can do the Brave Sis work in your living room and have it be just as amazing, minus the palm trees)...
Number Seven: "Just build a NFT and Get Serena Williams to Sponsor It"
I'm not lying, a so-called venture specialist (a Black man it took months of waiting for me to get audience with) suggested that I just do this. I don't even know what that would be. And if Serena were my pal, I think I wouldn't be asking him for advice; I'd be hanging out with her and Olympia and creating cute collage murals of some of our favorite she-roes.
Number Eight: You MUST Start a Podcast
I remember being at a lovely home in the Oakland hills and being assailed by three women who INSISTED I MUST start a podcast, telling one story a time; they'd listen! I want to just say that I don't need more exponents to take up all my time, one, and two... none of you even ordered a journal, much less a t-shirt or a notebook so... thanks for the enthusiasm and oh would you look at the time?
Closely linked is...
Number Nine: Please Create a Children's TV Show!
We need to educate the next generation.
Right, I am totally positioned and skilled to do this. Lighter lift for all: you can read Our Brave Foremothers aloud to your children, redacting the parts about violence and struggle that are actually not for children (did we, by which I mean I, mention that the book is for adolescents and adults, primarily, despite Joelle's lively and colorful illustrations?)
Number Ten: What About a Fashion Line?
I hired a guy over the summer to help me with SEO, seeing if I could boost organic search results (which, are those even still a thing?) His report came full of "upsell" opportunities (for him, not for me) including “pick the top women and make them into a fashion line!” Well, I did end up choosing 15 of the Brave Sis foremothers whose stories always come back to me, and creating a series of t-shirts and totes with quotes by them, and I (and lots of you) love them, but they are print-on-demand, so they only get produced when someone asks.
I'm pretty careful about what I put on the store, and those who have followed the project for a while have seen some things come and go. We don't need any more waste in this society and I don't want to be part of that (Brave Sis mousepads, no). I did have a dog tag for a while, but well, dogs...
Number Eleven: I Know the Best Influencer
I love my friends who sent copies of the journal over the years to Issa Rae, Jane Fonda, Ava duVernay, Oprah (I don't think you really did that) and maybe five other amazing women from whom one little influency sentence would make a world of difference. But I am afraid that they probably never made their way to the final destination, and an underpaid PA somewhere enjoyed the freebie. Sigh.
Number Twelve: Passive Income Awaits!
This is the golden goose upon which a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, small businesses, consulting services, coaches, and blog writers depend (hoping for that ad revenue, baby). The one advice I give to anyone starting on any kind of venture is "you better love it so much that you can't NOT do it," (and not "you better do it because you gon become rich rich") because you are not going to be that person you read about in the articles.
The NY Times recently published an article about this that had me nodding my head so forcefully I almost hurt myself.
The articles always cite the exception as the rule. I am upfront about the fact that in three years of doing this "small business," I have never been able to pay myself a dollar. But yet I get up every day and repost my countdown stories to four platforms, and one weekend a month I spend both days researching, building and scheduling a month's worth of #sistorylessons.
Why? Because I love the discovery, I love the sharing and the nice feedback (always happy for more of that) and I just love these foremothers. They won't let me stop. So I won't. But as for this listicle, I now will.
P.S. this article was written by a human being, who can't even get off the AI waitlist to see what all the fuss is about.