Annika Jones could not hold back the tears that welled in her eyes as she sat at her kitchen table last fall. She was stressed out. 

She felt trapped and wondered how she would make it through the imminent threat of unemployment and the long anxiety-filled weeks of quarantine began to suffocate her spirit.

With more time on her hands to reflect on next steps, her art became therapy while she worked to transform the ugliness of the COVID-19 pandemic into something beautiful. 

The 45-year-old Fayetteville, GA resident decided to take control of her future, monetize her talent and birthed Artful Hues Co., a premium wearable art apparel line.

“I used the time in quarantine to learn everything from logo and web design to the best e-commerce platform to build my online presence,” said Jones, who secured another gig as a public sector business analyst after being laid-off from her previous employer. “I am a working entrepreneur. I ramped up my search for a manufacturer that produced high-quality products that are comfortable and wearable.”

Her bet and belief in her product is paying off. She saw the unique way her clothing line connects to consumers during her first appearance at a pop-up marketplace this past November. 

She nearly sold out of bold and colorful designs and pocketed $5,000 in sales. Customers can purchase her pieces online at www.artfulhues.com or inside the following local retailers: Westside Market, EMEF Studio Gallery and Store, Deeply Rooted Natural Hair Care; and, Black Dot Cultural Center and Bookstore.

Jones is among a collective of brave Black metro Atlantans choosing to dive deep into the waters of entrepreneurship. 

That plunge into small business creation helped the state of Georgia witness the second-highest increase in new business formations in 2020, according to Census Bureau Jobs and Labor data. 

Although Louisiana outpaced Georgia to see a 77 percent increase in new business start-ups, Nevada trailed behind the peach state to place third with Florida finishing at fourth place. 

“The pandemic has forced everybody to look at life in a different way,” said Marc Parham, director of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta’s Entrepreneurship Center. “Folks will either sink or swim. The key to success for any entrepreneur is to identify their superpower– the thing they do better than anybody else– and then learning how to successfully pivot and partner in these dynamic times.”

Parham said she is not surprised by Jones’ story because people want services, convenience and solutions to their problems.

“Folks have been eating and cooking the same foods for months,” he said. “They have been locked down and now want to try something new. It’s no longer about the place anymore. It’s about the creating value in the experience. Consumers care about how these experiences and interactions with your business makes them feel.” 

The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 infections and fatalities within the Black community —combined with detailed demands for sweeping institutional changes to address systemic racism and implicit bias ignited by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black men and women by law enforcement officials– have reinvigorated investment in Black business and other social equity programs.

“Now is the time to access these investments,” said Parham. “And, utilize the knowledge, expertise and support provided by the Urban League’s Entrepreneur Center and other business coaching and mentoring service providers such as SCORE, the Atlanta Business League and the Small Business Administration.”

Beyond identifying the superpower that will help first-time entrepreneurs add value in the marketplace, Parham cannot underscore the importance of creating a clear plan of action detailed in a solid business plan.

“If your superpower is baking, that business plan needs to outline who your selling cakes to, how many cakes you will make, how much it costs you to bake each cake and what price you will sell them for,” said Parham.  

After spending 15 years baking cakes out of his home and catering weddings and other special events while holding down a full-time job as an educational support administrator for a metro Atlanta school district, Willie Swain, 55, of Stone Mountain is ready to seize this moment to realize his dream in the food services sector. 

Swain took advantage of relatively low-interest rates and an increase in commercial kitchen space now available as a result of the surge in recent restaurant closures the Covid shutdown spurred. 

He was able to secure a former dining space at 4779 Rockbridge Rd. for a bargain price where he is scheduled to open Uncle Willie’s Soul Food and Cakes this summer. 

“I want to deliver quality food with class and respect while providing stellar customer service,” said Swain now working hard to remodel the dining space for its projected June opening. “I also want to use entrepreneurship to create opportunities for our young people and those in need of life skills training. Uncle Willie’s will be a community resource dedicated to service and doing good Black business.”

To ensure first-time business owners don’t become overwhelmed by the pressures and demands associated with launching an enterprise, serial entrepreneur Marc Coley, CEO and founder of the Marc Coley Business Academy encourages these brave men and women to connect to a community of other like-minded individuals. 

“Entrepreneurs are typically visionaries, loners who may be the first in their families to do what they are doing. That can be isolating at times, said Coley who infuses spiritual principles into his coaching and mentoring sessions with owners and operators. 

In addition to online webinars and books where Coley shares strategies business owners can use to amplify their branding messages on social media platforms, one of his signature services is a paid subscription-based prayer and accountability call customers can sign up for at www.marccoley.com.

“You have to make sure you have the right support system in place to keep your mind right as you move through the different phases and cycles of your business.”

Jones agrees. While her art is therapeutic and helped her to handle some of the stressors associated with the Covid pandemic, she understands that her art is now commerce and she has all she needs to prosper.

“I am driven by my ethos to produce a high-quality, beautifully creative lifestyle apparel brand that meets the needs of my customers. And I am encouraged daily by my sweetheart, my rock, and partner in art, Tony Smart, who has been by my side during this journey,” said Jones. 

(Courtesy of Artful Hues Co.)
(Courtesy of Artful Hues Co.)

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