In the early days of my life as a queer entrepreneur, I agonized about how out I should be in my business. I worried that if I came out to my audience, I would lose customers and revenue.
Finally deciding to be open about my sexuality, I sent a newsletter to my email list mentioning my wife. In the next few days, I had a record number of unsubscribes.
I was curious to hear if others had experienced the same thing, so I turned to an online entrepreneur group and shared what had happened. The majority of the group were not LGBTQIA+, and their responses surprised me: many told me that I misinterpreted what had happened and that people weren’t unsubscribing because I came out, but for other reasons.
This experience showed me that the discrimination of queer business owners, and the denial of this discrimination, are still very real.
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce estimates that there are 1.4 million LGBTQIA+ business owners in the United States, contributing $1.7 trillion annually to the national economy.
Yet, despite these numbers, LGBTQIA+ businesses, especially those who don’t identify as male, still face discrimination when obtaining funding and securing customers. A 2016 study by StartOut found that LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs that don’t identify as male raise less capital than their male counterparts and generate less revenue.
After my experience coming out, I decided to become more vocal about my identity and began showing up as an openly queer business owner. The result wasn’t an increase in profit or customers but building a more authentic business.
I had the opportunity to talk to other queer business owners questioning if they should come out and support them in making the best choice for themselves. And I was able to build a business aligned with my values and the community I wanted to serve.
Starting a business as an LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur comes with a host of challenges. Some are unique to the queer community and others common to entrepreneurship as a whole. I asked four successful queer business owners what advice they would give to someone starting a business. Here’s what they had to say.
Lianne Hope (she/her), Owner Hope Consulting Group
“It’s important to be open about our identities in professional settings. Our identities are assets to our clients, investors, and professional partnerships. We bring a unique perspective of historical and personal marginalization that can shape how we market our products and services and can reach certain target audiences through our queer networks.
Not only that, but with more queer business owners, we can create new business models that reflect our values and mentor other queer folks to build the capacity of those models. Basically, we are queering business!”
Isis Asare (she/they), CEO/Founder of Sistah Scifi
“Start it!! The world needs your gifts! Try starting it as a side hustle first to test out things and grow your brand.
Think about what’s most authentic for you. And that’s you as a person, and not necessarily you as your business. Your customers, your business partners, the universe wants you to move as your most authentic self, as that is right now, knowing that will change.
If it’s your most authentic self to scream from the rafters that you’re gay, then do that. And if it doesn’t feel authentic to you, then that’s fine. Do what most authentic to your truest self.”
Hear more from Isis on being a Black Queer business owner here.
Julie Wang (she/her), Owner of Julie Wang CMT
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your community. Even if it doesn’t have to do with your industry, it never hurts to introduce yourself. I’ve built a network of referrals just by introducing myself to others.”
Micah Riot (they/them), Owner of Micah Riot Tattoo
“Don’t fret about getting clients. You’re not for everyone, and everyone is not for you. When you put yourself out there in an honest and open way, your clients will find you. If they end up going with someone else, they weren’t your clients.
Invest your energy (and time and money) into making your business feel and look the way that makes you feel in alignment with your values and aesthetics. The more you put into it, the more output you get. That makes logical sense, but I also mean quite literally. Say, you spend an evening fine-tuning your website — within days you’ll get a new client or a few after a lull. Try it and track it, you will see! Your personal queer energy is magic!”
Andi Smiles, small business financial consultant and coach, teaches rad business owners to take control of their finances so they can step into their personal power.
She’s helped hundreds of self-employed folx organize and understand their business finances, while also uncovering their emotional relationship with money. Andi’s core belief is that when business owners are engaged with their finances, their personal awareness around money deepens, creating more sustainable and authentic businesses. She loves helping business owners connect with and feel good about their finances- no matter how many dollars are in their bank account.