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Running a business

Piper Anderson of Create Forward is changing the culture of work

Name: Piper Anderson

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Pronouns: She/Her/They/Them

Business: Create Forward

Describe yourself in three words: Perceptive, creative, determined

Piper Anderson

What is Create Forward? 

Create Forward is a social impact consultancy founded in 2016. We design experiences that advance equity and justice. Our services improve the culture of work for our clients through coaching, training, racial equity strategies, and community engagement programs. Ultimately, we’re on a mission to build thriving communities supported by equitable institutions and social systems across the U.S.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

I started my business out of necessity. I continue to run my business because I’m passionate about work and it allows me to live my core values. As disabled Black woman I spent so many years working in environments where my work and ideas were exploited, where too often I hit a brick wall when it came to professional advancement. Worst of all, I felt my own mental health compromised because of these workplaces. I started my company so that I could thrive and so that I could advocate for the kinds of policies and practices that would improve the lives of people like me. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Like many first-time business owners, it took a while to figure out just what I would need to successfully complete a particular scope of work for a client. I learned in that first year the importance of building those costs into my fee.

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I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur because even on the hardest days…I got up energized and ready to do the work.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

There’s a lot of risk involved in running a business. Some people will run themselves into the ground saying yes to everything that comes their way in order to avoid that risk. When you run a business, you learn to get comfortable with uncertainty. The first three years our cash flow runway was so tight I practically slept with my cash flow projections spreadsheet on the pillow next to me. But it turns out I really thrived on that. I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur because even on the hardest days—the days with so much uncertainty about whether we’ll make it through the end of month—I got up energized and ready to do the work. 

I never regretted my decision to run my business and never thought about going back. We’re in a much better place now. I no longer sleep with one eye on cash flow, and I certainly don’t want to go back to those days. Now the risks at this stage are more about the kind of new services and products we launch, the partnerships we’re building, and the impact we want to have in the world. 

How does running your own business make you feel? 

It makes me feel incredibly empowered. I get to build the kind of life that centers my wellbeing, where my work is rooted in what I value, and I know that what I put out into the world is improving the lives of so many.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? 

The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is the lack of capital available for Black women entrepreneurs. While Black women start more businesses than any other groups, we are grossly underfunded by traditional banks, venture funds, and investors. I self-invested every step of the way in getting my business off the ground and while it made me extremely resourceful I can’t help but wonder where Create Forward would be if we had been able to access the capital we needed to grow. 

What challenges do you feel are unique to Black small business owners? 

As I said before, Black women open new businesses at a faster rate than any other racial group, yet we receive less than 1% of financing. Many of those businesses had to shut their doors at the start of the pandemic because they were operating on extremely tight margins and simply didn’t have access to the funding, they needed to keep their doors open amidst a global health crisis that brought large sections of the economy to a grinding halt.

What are your proudest moments? 

Hiring my first staff person and setting up payroll. This past year, I worked with Audible for Business on an audiobook on Inclusive Decision Making. I also started working with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, one of the oldest community foundations in the country to design and launch a participatory granting making program that has now distributed 100,000s of dollars in historically under-resourced neighborhoods across the city of Milwaukee.

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

This year we’re growing our team. We’re launching several new programmatic offerings including trainings and an online group coaching program. We recently launched a new service area called “Thriving Culture” which includes a range of offerings to support companies in building a workplace culture in which everyone can thrive. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

I think about the women in my family. They are some of the most resilient hustlers I know. Growing up, I watched them do so much with very little for their families. I know that by building a business I’m creating a more sustainable future for the next generation of my family. 

How can Black business owners support each other and their community? 

Running a business can be lonely. It’s really important to cultivate a community of business owners that you can talk to when you need advice, to vent, or to find resources. Black business owners are extremely resilient and resourceful. We’ve had to be to succeed. If you’re doing well, then make sure you’re mentoring, coaching, or just cheering on another Black business owner following your journey. 

What advice would you give to other Black business owners just starting out? 

Focus on results and relationships. Provide a quality service or product and then cultivate relationships with your customers, clients, and communities that have integrity. Not just on social media but in real time. Listen and pay attention to what people need and be responsive to those needs through your business. 

What advice would you give new business owners about balancing work and wellness? 

When you’re setting your pricing and fees, be sure to think about the quality of life you want for yourself. How many days a week do you want to work? How often do you want to take vacations or time off to spend with family? Really factor that into your pricing strategy so that you’re not working 24-7 without a day off because you will burn out. 

How do you make time for yourself while running a business?

By taking time each day for exercise, personal reflection, and rest. 

What is the most important healthy habit you’ve developed that you feel makes you more successful? 

Structuring my day and my week so that I start and end my work day at a set time and I prioritize my own wellbeing throughout the day through exercise, eating well, and taking a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and how it aligns with my topline objectives for the week and for the quarter. 

What’s your “power song” and why?

“Feeling Myself” by Nicki Minaj and Beyonce for obvious reasons. To be a Black woman entrepreneur you better be feeling yourself. Because there will be a lot of people who will doubt you and try to discourage you. 

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