Karen Spillers
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NM Chicago Hyde Park - Entrepreneurship Event Trailblazing panelists offer valuable career advice.

Northwestern Mutual - Chicago hosted an insightful conversation about entrepreneurialism in the African-American community. The female entrepreneurs discussed the forces that inspired them to turn their passions and ideas into successful businesses, the challenges that come with starting a business from scratch and benefits of self-employment.

The panelists included: Autumn Merritt, fashionista, and co-founder of Sir and Madame Boutique in Hyde Park, Lauren Ash, founder and executive director of wellness and lifestyle brand Black Girl in Om, and Andrea Williams, CLU®, CFP®, Northwestern Mutual - Chicago Financial Advisor who runs her own financial planning practice.

The group of trailblazers offered valuable career advice for those in any industry. Ash emphasized that without a support system, Black Girl in Om would not be reaching the same level of success that it is today. “Acknowledging your fears and hesitations by talking about them with other people is important,” Ash said. “Surround yourself with a support system of people who affirm you, rather than those who question or doubt you.”

Merritt advised that resilience and reflection are two important things to keep in mind as an entrepreneur. “Being in business for yourself requires resilience. However, every time you get knocked down, you need to look back and assess the situation. You are going to learn something from every win and every loss.”

An insight from Williams was that mentality and hard work is crucial in growing a career when cultivating one from the ground up. “Whether you’re working for yourself or for others, don’t ever have a lazy day. Always put forth 100 percent effort and work with the spirit of excellence. If you don’t, you’ll only be cheating yourself. Hard workers are building muscle memory that will only help them as their responsibilities increase down the road.”

The panelists also discussed the low but rising numbers of African-American owned businesses. “I found that not only was I often the only woman of color in a yoga class but that there was rarely a woman of color actually teaching a class - I thought, ‘why don’t I create something that speaks to this?” Not only did Ash create an inclusive health and wellness space but also created an online publication and podcast that focuses on conversations of self-care and self-love for women of color.

Williams spoke to this topic as an entrepreneur and as a financial advisor. “When I first started my practice, a lot of people had never seen a black woman in financial services,” Williams said. “Now after ten years, my practice has reached the Northwestern Mutual Forum, where only the top two percent of Northwestern Mutual advisors are able to be.”

As a financial advisor, Williams has built a successful practice that works with the African-American community not just in Chicago, but nationally. “It is very consistent in our community that there is a lack of discussion revolving finances,” Williams explained. “The way that we can bridge that communication gap is by having conversations like this. Build a relationship with a financial advisor you can trust, introduce them to people in your community. This will increase communication, awareness and ultimately be comfortable in your understanding of financial planning."

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