Black girls run (and build businesses), too.
What does it take to run a national organization that brings women together and empowers them to make their fitness and health a priority? I recently caught up with Ashley Hicks, co-founder of BLACK GIRLS RUN (BGR). The mission of BGR is to become the leading resource and source of inspiration for generations of African-American women seeking to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In the following chat, Ashley talks about what it’s like running an organization with members nationwide. She also discusses the key components you need to consider when building and setting up one’s brand for success.
BRANDMAKERS is a series highlighting individuals who are SHINING (aka killing it and raising the bar) in the creation of their personal brands. These people have great stories and advice to share about the important steps involved in growing one’s brand.
Rana Campbell (RC): Is Black Girls Run (BGR) a company or a movement?
Ashley Hicks (AH): I think it’s a movement and a business. The goal of our business is to encourage women to of color to get active and healthy. If we are able to have thousands more women who are taking care of their health and making that a priority, we would feel like we accomplished our goals.
RC: Where did you get the inspiration to create Black Girls Run?
AH: We started back in 2009. At the time, I’d been running for 3 years and Toni (our other co-founder) just started running. We were talking about the lack of women of color in distance running. It was a lonely experience at races. From there we decided to start blogging about our running experiences. That’s when we launched Black Girls Run. We blogged for two years and we had our first meet-up in Atlanta in 2011. From there, everyone was like I’d love to have something in my local area. We launched a running group. We initially had 30 markets and now we are at 70.
RC: You have a huge following on social media and a lot of active groups across the country. What has been the key to your success with launching active communities?
AH: Being genuine and honest with people. We teach a lifestyle of moderation and making your health a priority. That resonates with people. It comes from a place of love. We love our members. Everyone’s health journey is individual. This is isn’t about shaming people or using fear to motivate them to run. It’s about we want you to live the best life you can live and that includes being spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy. We are a resource and a support system for you in that way. It’s all of those things that have encouraged people to stick with the movement and join and tell others.
RC: What kind of challenges did you face when building Black Girls Run?
AH: When you grow, it’s a challenge to keep up with the pace. Having a structure in place that you can grow and making sure you don’t outpace your growth is always difficult. It’s about building a strong team of people that work with us to help support the business. Then, it’s always a challenge of continuing to reinvent yourself. That is what we are going through now. How do we reinvent ourselves? How do we make this bigger and better than what it’s been?
How do we make this bigger and better than what it’s been?
How do we keep people in engaged? Do we need to just focus on running still? Our members go from running to cycling to triathlons. It’s about supporting people along their fitness journeys and other sports as well.
RC: What caused you to stick with the “no men allowed” rule and how has that helped build and solidify your brand?
AH: That was our rule from day one. For a lot of women, they like to have a safe place to go. We call it a running sisterhood. When there are men involved, I think it adds a different element. We wanted to keep it all about the ladies and as a sisterhood empowering each other. There’s a lot of things that people talk about on the pages and the groups that have to do with being a woman such as, “Has anyone had a hysterectomy? I need advice.” Then, there’s instantly people there to give you support. Men don’t know anything about that. We have a lot of moms who need a place to escape. This is my time. My time for myself. My time with the girls. No kids. No husband. You can talk about everything that is going on if I want to, but you wouldn’t have that opportunity if there were men involved.
RC: How important was building your brand around the idea of creating a community for black women?
AH: At the core, that’s who we are. As a black women, I am very familiar with the challenges that we face in America. It’’s truly a way that I feel like we are giving back to the community and we are supporting it. Not to go too much into the political and social history of America, but we’re a marginalized group and we have been forever. That sisterhood is an amazing feeling. People respond to that. On the flipside, we definitely have White, Asian, and Latina women who run with us. They enjoy the sisterhood. At our core, we are still able to speak to black women and our needs.
RC: How has you and Toni’s individual brands helped to create the BGR overall brand?
AH: You have to keep your own personal network and your own personal voice. Personally, I should do more of that. For a lot of entrepreneurs, you can become consumed with your business. It becomes a 24/7, 365 affair. You get to the point where you are so overwhelmed with all the work that you are doing.
For a lot of entrepreneurs, you can become consumed with your business. It becomes a 24/7, 365 affair. You get to the point where you are so overwhelmed with all the work that you are doing.
You throw yourself into the business. At this point, I’m at the point where I’m like… “How do I create more value into my life?” I have a husband now. When I started, I was single. Along with personal branding is, “How do I keep my brand in-tact?” I was five years younger when I started this. I’ll be 31 next week. So much has changed. It’s always about reinvesting in yourself.
RC: What’s missing in the fitness and lifestyle market for Black communities?
AH: The nutrition piece is something that hasn’t been fully tackled. In our experience, we realized that although people are working out, it’s still getting people to change their eating habits. Getting people to understand how to eat healthy on a budget. People automatically start thinking about Whole Foods and it being a “whole paycheck” when it comes to healthy eating. I used to live in Harlem. When I first moved there, I was in shock about the lack of healthy produce. Even in the grocery stores that they do have and the price that people pay, it’s extreme compared to what you pay in other places. People talk about food deserts that really affect our community. That has to be addressed. At the end of the day, it’s food that is killing people. Not to name brands, but it’s people over-indulging in processed foods that is hurting our communities.
RC: What has surprised you about the impact that BGR has been able to make on the community?
AH: What has been a pleasant surprise is just how much people have embraced us in the running community. People enjoy having the girls at their races. Also, the growth.
RC: You’ve had great press. What’s been the key to getting good press?
AH: Alot of it has come to us. We got our first big article in Runner’s World. One of our members in Little Rock, Arkansas was out running in one of our shirts. The writer stopped her and asked her, “What is BGR?”. From there, we got alot more press. We were on Michael Baisden. One of members kept tweeting him and writing him saying he had to interview BGR. Once you get the word out, people start getting interested.
Once you get the word out, people start getting interested.
We’ve been really blessed. We haven’t done a lot of media outreach. They’ve come to us.
RC: That shows the importance of community. People are out there and speaking positively on your behalf!
AH: Yes it does.
RC: What advice would you give to the entrepreneur who wants to start his or her own business?
AH: Create a great team. I always say if I am the dumbest person in the room, this is good. If I surround myself with people who are smarter than me and are experts in their subject matter, that is setting the business up for success.
If I surround myself with people who are smarter than me and are experts in their subject matter, that is setting the business up for success.
I never want to be the best thinker in the room. I want people who are bringing new perspectives and challenging the way I think so that the business can grow.
Mentorship is important. Find people who have been there and done that. They can give you their wisdom without emotions attached to it. You aren’t making a decision out of desperation or anger. That makes way more sense than you figuring that out on your own.
RC: You have an idea for a business. Is testing and validating it important before you decide to launch?
AH: Testing is extremely important. I wouldn’t run with an idea because to it sounds good. Are there people who want to buy your product? It also depends on what your risk is. If you’re investing $100,000, I would do so much due diligence and research. If it’s something that costs you $1,000, I think you can be a little bit riskier.
RC: What are your future plans for BGR?
AH: Our plan is to triple (or quadruple) our membership in the next year and a half. We want to continue to do more events. We want to do a community run/walk to engage the community on a higher level. We want to incorporate men and everyone in the community to come out and run. We’re looking to expanding into other sports. We mentioned we have girls who are doing triathlons, yoga, Crossfit, and other stuff. It’s about understanding what that would look like.
RC: What’s the most satisfying part of being an entrepreneur and running BGR?
AH: The most satisfying thing has been seeing the lives that you change and impact. That’s been really rewarding.
RC: What’s something you do make your personal strengths shine?
AH: My personal brand has been about helping people. You have to collaborate and be apart of the team. That’s where I’ve always shined. I’ve always been a team player.
Got a question or know someone who should be interviewed for BRANDMAKERS? Send me an email at email@example.com
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