Michiel Perry is a South Carolina girl who love all things Southern and stylish. She became inspired to start her own lifestyle brand focused on African-American women with a Southern connection called Black Southern Belle while planning her wedding in Charleston, S.C. and decorating her first home in Maryland.
Perry is creating an online and offline resource for lifestyle inspiration for African-American women in the South. In 2015, Black Southern Belle developed an editorial division, ambassador program, online store, and jobs database for the brand. With major sponsors and partners, plans are underway for the November 2016 launch of The Black Southern Belle Collective™, the first-of-its-kind resource for top, minority-owned vendors in the South!
Before launching her business, Perry managed marketing and partnerships at Lillybee, a collegiate and sorority lifestyle brand where she launched a collegiate ambassador program and managed the blogger outreach program, and has also been a political event planner and relationship manager for Google.
How did you know it was time to start Black Southern Belle?
I knew it was time to start my business when I realized that there wasn’t a media outlet that focused on the lifestyles of African-American Southern women.
Is that why you moved back to Charleston, S.C.?
Yes. I wanted to move back to my hometown. My business was growing, and I was falling in love with the idea of moving back to the South. I really wanted to be a part of the growing community in Charleston and give back to hometown through Black Southern Belle, so moving back was a no-brainer.
My husband and I purchased a historic home in South Carolina, which I absolutely love. This home has everything a Southern belle could want (pictures coming soon). I plan on using it as the headquarters for Black Southern Belle and some unique photo shoots and projects with some of our favorite Southern brands to develop original content for my website. I love decorating and there will be plenty of decoration stories in 2016.
How is Black Southern Belle preserving Southern culture through online platforms and brand expression?
The South is so unique and inspiring. From our culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Southern food, Southern style, and historic homes, Black Southern Belle loves and embraces it all. We showcase all aspects of the Southern woman’s life from her wedding to her family, home, and business. Through submitted personal stories, profiles, collections, and photos, we take our readers on a journey through the South with the click of a button
What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
Learning to say no has been my biggest challenge an entrepreneur. A lot of people will share their opinions about the direction of your company, but it’s your company. You have to focus on short-term and long-term goals and execute. Time is important, and as an entrepreneur, and you have to decide what requires your focus and time.
Talk about your experience at Google, Inc. How did your experience there prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Google operated as a startup, and I loved the culture. Each day, I had a new task. From working on issues related to YouTube and music to planning networking events. There was never a dull day, and there was always something new to work on. I really love the energy of working on a lot of projects and Google sparked that love, which prepared me for entrepreneurship. No day is the same, EVER!
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is interested in launching a brand?
I would tell them to take their time to develop their brand. Sometimes I receive offers from advertisers, and the product they want to advertise may not be a good fit for the brand. As a new business, you want to make as much money as you can, but don’t do it at the expense of your brand, specifically with lifestyle brands. Almost as soon as I turn down one opportunity, the perfect one comes along.
Explain the transition from corporate to entrepreneurship?
I never really worked a traditional corporate job, so the transition was easier than most. The biggest thing I miss is having the team environment at an office. I love being around people, and I miss that daily experience. To supplement, I have a lot of Google Chat and Facebook friends I constantly check in with to bounce off ideas and get support personally and professionally.
If you had to start over in this journey, what would you change?
I would change nothing about how this journey started. I loved every party of the process, the good and the bad. From learning how to launch and manage the website, to hiring vendors, opening the online store, I’ve learned a lot from the start of this business.
What is your work-life balance philosophy?
My work-life balance philosophy is that you must take care of your health and value your friends and family. I work a lot of hours. It is important to spend time with my husband, family, and friends. Sometimes I invite everyone to meet at my house if I can’t make it out to see them. Sometimes when I need an extra eye to review something or help with a project, my friends and family are the first folks to offer take a look.
How do you balance married life and entrepreneurship?
Date nights are a lifesaver. We have date night once a week and make sure to unplug. My husband also loves helping with Black Southern Belle. From putting up art in the office to modeling in a styled shoot, he is always up for lending a helping hand.
Was it tough leaving an executive-level position to start your own company?
It was, but it wasn’t. It was tough because I loved my previous company and my boss, but in a funny way, my Vice President of Marketing and Business Partnership role prepared me for Black Southern Belle. My previous role was at a startup, so I was always doing a little bit of everything. From filing taxes to managing and ambassador team, there no role too big or or too small.
What advice do you have for women who want to start their business in 2016?
Determine why you want to start. Is it a passion? Will it secure your financial future? Will this opportunity allow you to manage your own schedule? Just remember the reason you started and make sure your business goals align with your personal reason for choosing to start a business.
What financial advice do you have for women who want to start a business?
Make sure you are comfortable with the lifestyle you are choosing. Everyone says to go full time, quit your job, and take the leap, however, this isn’t everyone’s story. If you need to stay at your job while you start your business, make sure you invest in your business and hire people to help it grow. If you want to get a part-time job and make your business your full-time job, feel secure in your decision. Just because many people take a leap with no salary doesn’t mean that is the only way to start a business. You also need your financial sanity to start a business, and only you know what you need to be sane.
What’s the future for Black Southern Belle?
Black Southern Belle will continue to showcase the lifestyle of Black southern women in a fun and inspiring way. We have some unique business-focused events planned for 2016 and home decoration product launches. Visit www.blacksouthernbelle.com, and sign up for our mailing list for upcoming events and unique opportunities.
What makes you so fierce?
It is my hope that Black Southern Belle inspires women. Black women in the South contribute so much to Southern culture and lifestyle. I want to display us in as many positive ways as possible.
How can women get involved with Black Southern Belle?
We are alway searching for BSB Ambassadors to contribute stories. We also love to feature new products and brands. For business inquiries or if you need some simple advice, email me michiel@blacksouthernbelle.