By Adenah Bayoh-
Like many women before me, I once saw defying the odds as an impossible task to accomplish. After I escaped the civil war in Liberia at age 13, I wanted to chase my dream of being a successful entrepreneur in my new home, the United States. I am the product of generations of strong women who risked life and limb to make things better for their families, and these values have since translated into the hearts and souls of my wonderful children. I am constantly asked for advice and tips on how to break the barriers around you in order to accomplish your professional and personal goals when it seems like the entire world is against you.
Here are some of the most crucial bits of wisdom that helped me become the entrepreneur I am today:
Find inspiration and purpose within your support system
If you want to know what it’s like to survive hell and still come out shining brighter than the sun, just look into the eyes of your children and remember how you refused to allow anything destroy you. My family is the thing that keeps the passion and ambition flowing through my heart. It is why I do what I do. Do not forget where you come from, or the village of people whose love and support got you to where you are right now. When I was growing up in Liberia, I had to walk almost three miles to and from school every single day. This was after I did my morning chores, which usually included cleaning the yard and bringing water from a community well to our house, which were also incredibly far from each other. It is important to always remember the people and life experiences that forged you into the unstoppable force you are today. Never be ashamed of your beginning, no matter how humble it may seem.
Put others first in all that you do, but take care of you
One of my most important pieces of advice for young women is to take care of you just like you care for your friends, family, community and career. While selflessness and a dedication to the community should be the main driver behind a business owner’s passion, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of others. The most important investment anyone can make is the investment you make in yourself. This means taking care of your state of mind as well as your body. I work out because my family has a history of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Our fates are not always predetermined by our family history. Take care of yourself like your life depends on it, because it does—and so does your business!
There will never be a “perfect” time to start your business
There are a lot of women out there waiting to get going on their dreams and the wonderful, beautiful ideas in their heads to make their world a better place. I can guarantee somewhere out there, a girl who looks like me is facing so much pressure and uncertainty in making her dreams come true. It gets really hard out there for people like us. You will keep hearing no after no, and you may end up questioning yourself and your dreams. Do not give up on yourself or your dreams. You just keep doing your part and keep pushing—you will get there. Maybe you’re facing a long laundry list of ‘to-do’s before you feel like you can invest your time and money into your own business. Maybe you are waiting for the perfect “aha” moment, the stroke of genius that seems to strike innovators and creators like lightning. The fiery ambition and drive to succeed is already within you and the time to start your journey will never be right or perfect—just do it and whatever universal power you believe in will reward you.
Surround yourself with other amazing and inspirational women
As a Black woman, I am constantly fighting against the odds and stereotypes that plague society. I am constantly being asked to prove myself. I am constantly the underdog. I am constantly being asked to make the impossible happen. I am not only asked, but expected, to do all of this and more, with a smile on my face. To all the women and young girls out there that are asked to do the impossible, I want you to know I see you and I feel you. Keep pushing to uplift other women, and in turn, they will uplift you as well. One of the most important things about being a woman in business is finding, supporting and networking with other women in your industry or scope of interest. I saw great success come out of a vision between Elzadie Smith and myself, which ultimately led us to co-found our spirited soul food concept, Cornbread. When we share our thoughts, ideas, struggles and wins with each other, it makes us more united. There is strength in our stories, and we need to share them more with each other.
Your community always comes first
The highest priority of any small business owner, veteran or rookie should be to prioritize and meet the needs of the local community. People are investing their faith, time and money in you as a business owner, in hopes that you will make things better. You have been given a platform and resources; therefore, it is your duty to do what you can to advocate and bring great change. If you want to close the wealth gap and make Black communities more equitable and sustainable, you must invest in Black people and Black businesses. Investing in minority-owned businesses means you are investing in that particular community by extension. It is an action, not just a series of empty promises to make things better. In short, your community is your family. Stick with them no matter what.
Adenah Bayoh, pictured above in the center, embodies the American dream. At age 13, she escaped the civil war in her native country of Liberia, immigrated to the United States and is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in her home state of New Jersey. Inspired by her grandmother, who owned a restaurant in Liberia, Bayoh is now the owner of seven restaurants, including four IHOP franchises in northern New Jersey. She opened her first IHOP in Irvington Township, New Jersey at the age of 27, making her one of the youngest franchisees in the country at that time. Because of the success of this flagship location along with her other business ventures, she is the second largest employer in Irvington.