Being a small-business owner isn’t easy, and no one knows that better than Sheila Williams.
The owner of Shewins Bookkeeping Service, a Las Vegas accounting and tax firm with a focus on educating all sizes of businesses on their finances, helps dozens of small-business owners stay afloat – all while doing the same for herself.
The stress can be overwhelming, and it actually led to a brief hospital stay for Williams, a self-described overworker. It was during that time when she learned that the Coalition to Back Black Businesses had awarded her a $5,000 grant, which she could put toward operational expenses.
“What really impresses me about the whole situation is, I know that they had a lot of people to choose from, and then for me – little old me – to get it?” said Williams, laughing from behind her desk at her office in the southwest valley. “I was excited, and it wasn’t a lot, but it was something and … those little things right there say, ‘OK, you’re doing something right.’ ”
Williams was one of three business owners in Las Vegas and more than 300 nationwide to receive grants in February from the Coalition to Back Black Businesses.
The coalition, a four-year initiative co-founded by American Express and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2020, provides funding, training and other resources to Black-owned businesses as they continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and our economy,” Shanique Streete, senior director, corporate relations and strategic partnerships at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said in an email. “They employ nearly half of the American workforce and keep our neighborhoods running.”
The Black business community was hit especially hard by the pandemic and was disproportionately faced with challenges like obtaining loans, fears of permanent closure and anticipated declining revenues, Streete said.
Because of the pandemic, roadblocks are something with which Las Vegas grant awardee and local hair stylist Danitha Williams is all too familiar. Danitha Williams, who said she also dedicated her time to serving people experiencing homelessness and other marginalized communities, is working to recover her business, which she lost during the pandemic.
She has been doing hair, nails and sometimes even cooking for clients from her house ever since – including some free sessions for youths who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.
“I just love giving back to the community and stuff, because there’s a lot of families that struggle that can’t afford certain things,” she said. “So now, I’m just trying to save money to get back on track because it’s really hard and we don’t get that many opportunities.”
Her grant from the Coalition to Back Black Businesses has helped a lot, Danitha Williams said, emphasizing that every penny she saves right now goes toward reopening her business.
“I just pray, and hope things get better, and it’s getting better now,” she said.
Access to capital and inflation were among the leading concerns for the 2022-23 awardees of the coalition’s total $1.62 million in grants, Streete said.
The grant program is dedicated to helping Black-owned small businesses that need the most help, particularly those owned by women and those located in economically vulnerable communities, Streete said. The coalition also supports awardees through business coaching and mentoring, to enable long-term success.
“Behind every small business, there’s a risk-taker that wants to enrich their community with a service or product they can provide,” Streete said. “It’s important to foster expansion of small businesses and ensure that Black entrepreneurs are given equal opportunity to thrive because they create jobs and opportunities while strengthening the fabric of local communities.”
Funding can open many doors for small businesses, and it’s especially important for minority business owners, said Las Vegas grant recipient Javbro Patton.
“Stuff like this gives us a fighting chance, you know?” said Patton, who heads the development of a travel and entertainment booking app called Exprezzo. “It’s definitely a godsend.”
The grant and others like it are extremely helpful, Patton said, adding that he used the $5,000 reward to support his businesses aiming to launch a beta version of the app by the end of the year.
For Sheila Williams, the grant funded marketing efforts that successfully scored some new clients for her accounting and tax firm.
Small businesses don’t have the same opportunities for large bank loans or other types of funding like their corporate counterparts, Williams said, so applying for grants – again and again, even if it’s slow to pay off – is integral.
“I try to take advantage of any grants that are out there because, whether people realize it or not, those grants – when people use them the right way -they are so important for small businesses,” Williams said.