My Entrepreneurship Journey
First, let me say that entrepreneurship was never an option or thought for me when I went off to college. My dream was to be an early childhood teacher and one day move up to Principal and eventually a college professor. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure. I always loved school and my favorite 1st grade teacher was the one who inspired me to want to teach. She was filled with so much Joy and made school so much fun! I never really thought about being or doing anything else.
No one in my family before me ever went to college so it was something I felt proud about and was excited to accomplish. But as I was going through college I started to feel a shift. I felt a major lack of purpose and was no longer clear about why I actually wanted to become a teacher. Or even what I wanted to teach and why.
I knew I wanted to make a difference but the classroom became a confined place that made me feel small and I wanted to impact and make a difference on a larger scale.
I had no answers though, I just felt confused and the plan was to finish school and hope that I found clarity in the process.
It wasn’t until dancing for NBA Cleveland Cavaliers that I started to step into realizing my potential. I had such a bad experience with the organization that it brought an even larger problem to my attention.
The lack of confidence and self-esteem that young girls and women have in themselves due to society's standards of “beauty”.
I struggled so badly with this that I remember thinking, “I can’t be the only one dealing with this”. I started to think about all the women out there who could be struggling with loving themselves, feeling beautiful and being comfortable in their own skin.
Moms who just had a baby and are experiencing something different with their bodies. women who leave abusive relationships and are used to being told they are worthless. Women who never had high self esteem because of their daddy issues. Women who were sexually assaulted who feel like they are just an object. The list and problems go on.
I felt like this was the thing that I could help make a difference with. If I could help myself, I could help others. So I went out on a personal mission to regain my confidence, build my self esteem and be an all around shameless woman who loved herself no matter what!
This is when I started to think out of the box. What does this look like? Would I start an organization, brand or business around this? What would that look like? Could I even do it? But remember, I was working on building my confidence so I forced myself to believe that I could actually do it!
When I really started to think about it, I had multiple side businesses in highschool and college. I used to make money from sewing people's clothes, making custom tee-shirts, doing private things for girls who wanted to cheer, writing papers in college (probably shouldn’t share that information but it is what it is) haha.
So I’ve had experience with spreading word about something and being able to profit from it. At the time, I didn’t look at those things as businesses but that’s what they were. Things that came natural to me but I never took the time to fully develop or commit to them.
I also didn’t know anyone who started their own business and was successful so it seemed so foriegn to me. That’s when I started to research. I started learning about different people who started business and how they became successful. I looked up the different types of businesses you could have and the differences between them.
In order to make the CAVS Dance team, I had to take private dance classes in order to learn the techniques that the other girls learned at a young age. I was a quick learner and picked up things quickly which made the classes really enjoyable.
The classes got me thinking, what if I could use dance as a way to help women build confidence. Building your self image can start with loving the woman you see when you look in the mirror. I thought about teaching a simple heel 101 class that’s all about having confidence when you walk into a room.
That heel 101 class blew up! I was teaching classes in 3 different locations 3x a week. But what most people don’t know is, this was not my first class. I didn’t get lucky on my first try! I tried multiple things until I found something that worked and felt right! I used to teach youth dance classes, cheer camps, all sorts of youth classes. I never felt like any of them felt right until doing a class with women. I liked how easy it was to connect and relate with them and their insecurities. I opened up about my experience of never feeling good enough for the Cavs Dance Team and even opening up about my past relationships and how I learned that I struggled with Daddy Issues I never even knew I had. Women could relate to these stories and use what I taught them to help build their confidence just like I have.
Those heel 101 classes turned into what I called “Shameless Dance Heel 101 for Beginners”. The classes did so well and I started to have women from other states and cities reach out about me doing a class where they lived.
This is when I started to learn how to utilize social media as a free way to spread awareness to women in the cities I wanted to target.
I built my following and started to travel to major cities like New York, Atlanta, DC, Tampa, Columbus, Chicago & more teaching my Shameless Class!
This is when my mind started to imagine even bigger! What if I opened a studio of my own! Shameless Studios. A shame free space for women to explore their shamelessness, try new things and meet new people. Mind you, I knew nothing opening my own facility. But something inside of me would not let up. I HAD to make it happen.
I dropped out of college to focus on bartending and waitressing and did everything I could to stack up my money. I looked for potential spaces for a couple of weeks until finding what I thought was the PERFECT space. It was a 3,500 square foot warehouse in Downtown Cleveland. It was completely empty, needed complete renovation and was way out of my price range. But like I said, I knew I had to do it!
I had this vision of having multiple dance spaces, a photographer space, glam space, special events space, a private office I could work out of and no longer having to rent other spaces in order to have a class or event.
I wanted to offer a wide range of fitness and dance classes for women while offering youth dance classes at the same times so they could enroll their children to take a class at the same time. At first I wanted to offer a day care service in the space but that came with a whole other legal obligation I wasn’t ready for. So this was the next best thing.
I set out on a mission to find investors so I could make this happen! In a matter of months, I found 3 individual investors and was able to get the building and start the renovations.
Renovating was a NIGHTMARE. Everything that could possibly go bad, did. I felt so defeated. Self-doubt started to creep in as I began to feel like “what was I thinking?”, “I can’t do this”, “this is crazy”. I struggled at times to be positive and had a lot of moments where I almost gave up. But I have to remember the vision I had, I knew I didn’t have it for no reason. I was committed to giving it my all and that’s exactly what I did.
We almost didn’t open on time because I had expensive equipment stolen from the building just days before having the security systems installed. I had to come up with a way to re-buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment just to make our launch deadline.
On top of renovations and equipment, I also had to hire staff, train instructors, hire cleaners, finalize all our marketing material, manage the social media, organize street teams for guerilla marketing, offer free memberships to select women who were helping to promote the studio, get our website up and running, handle the legal stuff like waivers, liability forms, class policies, payment policies, all with no experience or help from professionals.
At times, it was very overwhelming but I found excitement in the challenge. I learned A LOT in a short amount of time. The best learning came from mistakes that had to be fixed. I was constantly problem solving and learning each and everyday about my business. I was a true self taught entrepreneur and business owner. I spent a lot of my time on YouTube, reading and doing google searches.
The real growth came when I had a couple of months where I struggled to pay the monthly expenses of the studio which were around 3-4 thousand dollars a month (depending on how much the space was being used). When I had a struggling month, I couldn’t afford the cost of website maintenance, branded flyers or social media management. I was all on my own and had to figure out how I could do it so that it would be 1 less cost to worry about.
This is how I got into branding, websites and social media. It was not good when I first started lol. I look at stuff from back then and can’t believe I was putting that stuff out there. It took me a good couple of months to get comfortable with the technology and systems and finally start to look like a pro. Once I got the hang of it, I kind of enjoyed it. Especially because it allowed me to save money. It also took the hassle of communicating back and forth with someone and having to wait for them to complete your work.
If I needed something, I could do it the same day and make sure it was exactly what I wanted.
And with everything I learned about social media, I was able to grow to 10k and then 20k in no time. Pretty much everyone in Cleveland knew Breanna Aponte or Shameless Ladies or Shameless Studios.
I got really smart and creative with marketing. I would host nightclubs with ladies from my studio and while everyone was turning up, I would walk around collecting emails from all the women in the club in order to send them a free shameless dance class. Then after the club, I would walk up and down the strip handing out my flyers and giving live heel 101 demos in the middle of the street. I was bold! I was promoting myself proudly and didn’t care what anyone had to say about it.
Soon, I started offering private parties for women who were celebrating birthdays, bachelorette parties or just wanted to have a fun girls night! I was building my brand to be known as the shameless girl who teaches sexy dance classes.
That in itself became a problem. My long term goal for the business was to help young ladies and women build confidence in order to gain control over their lives and create the life they want. But it quickly grew into this sexy girl movement and it was hard to break away.
I also ended up renting the studio out for private events and it became more of an entertainment space than an intentional space for women. I was doing what I had to do in order to pay the bills but it wasn’t what I wanted.
After 2 years of operating the studio I decided I wanted something different. Something more. I wanted to make the same type of impact without all the overhead expenses of a physical location. All the liability and responsibility of such a large place started to take its toll on me. I didn’t feel supported in Cleveland and felt like I needed a change in environment. I had ended friendships, had a really bad break up and kind of wanted a chance to start over.
At the time, I had done 2 years of touring with my class and DC was 1 of the locations that had the best turn out as well as felt like somewhere I could easily expand Shameless. I could run classes in DC, Maryland and Virginia and begin re-building the brand the right way this time.
If you listened to the last episode where I talk about being in jail for 5 days when I was visiting DC, this was a moment where I had lots of time to think and I felt like it was a sign to make the move. I had to come back and forth for my court dates and each time I came back to DC I fell more and more in love with the DMV area.
I met amazing people and could feel such a difference in the support that the black community has for one another. Something I never experienced in Cleveland.
So 1 day, I had the feeling that it was time. I knew closing the studio would make me look like a failure but I was not about to continue something I knew wasn’t right for me just because I cared about what people thought. I made the choice that I knew was right for me and for my future.
I closed the studio and up and moved to the DC Metro Area. My move was pretty sudden. It’s crazy because as soon as I moved I felt a difference. I felt like it was the beginning of the rest of my life.
And it was! A couple of months before, Dre and I were talking and building a relationship and he asked me the day I moved to be his girlfriend! New city, new boo, new opportunities, I was ready!
But! Life happened! I had some legal issues with the studio and investors in Cleveland and financially wasn’t in a space to invest what I needed to in order to make Shameless quickly grow in the DMV.
If you don’t know anything about business, know this, it takes money to make money. I was not in a position to do what was needed or what I had planned and after a month and a half of living there, Dre offered to move me into his place so that I could focus on becoming financially stable again.
This is when the journey of our social media business All About It began.
Dre and I were brainstorming the best route for me to take. At this point I had been a full time entrepreneur for 3 years and the last thing I wanted to do was get a job. So, I set a couple dates to teach classes and those went really good but Dre challenged me to think bigger. It was his idea to start brand and social media consulting. He had seen what I did with Shameless and figured I could take what I learned and help other aspiring entrepreneurs create and build a brand just like I did.
I started off offering free consultations where I would give people simple tips and information regarding booking a strategy call which at this time was $30 or an insta-makeover for $50.
Let’s fast forward 3 years, that same strategy call is now $950 and the Insta-makover starts at $1,297. So it’s safe to say that we have been successful with getting people real results and providing real value.
6 months into starting social media and brand consulting, Dre and I built the business and its profits to the point where Dre was able to retire from his job and join me full time. He handles the email marketing, strategic planning and financials for the business while I handle client management, branding and consulting. We are now at the point where we are building our team and perfecting and honing in on what makes us different from any other social media company.
What most people don’t understand or think about is the years of hard work and struggle I endured during my first business and the years it took to build my brand and social media following to where it is now.
I’m blessed by the fact that I am known as an expert in my field and don’t have to spend money on ads and marketing in order to gain clients but I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for those untraditional businesses in highschool, the years of dedication and commitment to Shameless and the skills that I forced myself to learn instead of giving up on my dream.
Nothing about my journey has been easy and I’m nowhere close to where I ultimately want to be. But I have learned to love the process and share the process along the way!
So if you haven’t had a chance to check out out our Branding and Social Media business visit allabout-it.com or visit us on IG @allaboutitllc. Also checkout our online university where we provide step by step online courses to create, launch and grow a successful online business. You can checkout it out at allaboutituniversity.com
So remember yall, nothing in life worth having will come easy. But when you have a vision and a goal, you have to commit to the process and never give up!
Until next time, be shameless.