ORLANDO, Fla. – Petrona Ramsey says when she first heard about Black Business Orlando she was automatically drawn to the idea of helping young black entrepreneurs.
“I actually just started out as a volunteer just to offer my knowledge, offer my expertise, offer anything I can to help,” Ramsey said.
However, before long, the founder of the Facebook group was asking her to step into a position of leadership. Ramsey is now the President of BBO.
The group which started in 2014 as a hub for black business owners and supporters in Orlando has now grown to over 23,000 followers.
Ramsey says the group has helped members navigate the challenges of the pandemic, which has hit Black businesses especially hard. According to researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz the pandemic has forced 41% of Black businesses to close their doors. That’s compared to 17% of white business owners.
During this time, Ramsey says business owners who are staying afloat are changing the way they do business.
“I think the pandemic has actually forced people to work together as opposed to independently,” Ramsey said.
For many networking has gone online and Ramsey says BBO is helping people to expand their reach,.
“We don’t try to control you know what they do and how they are able to network, and I think that allows people to come in and organically make friendships, organically actually have access to their customer base,” she said.
In addition to providing a forum for networking BBO also holds workshops and mixers. Once a year they also hold a summit focused on helping businesses grow. This year the group also created lists highlighting “Orlando’s Top 21 Influential People” and “Orlando’s Top 21 Affluent People.”
The group shines a spotlight on Black business owners in certain fields and has recently released lists of Orlando’s Black Dentists and Orthodontists, Orlando’s Black owned Restaurants, and Orlando’s Black Midwives and Doulas.
BBO’s success stories are also featured once a month on a local radio station.
The president of the group says she enjoys popping into local Black-owned businesses to check on them personally. She recently visited the Paw Shop in Ocoee whose owner says it is the only Black-owned pet grooming shop in the area.
Ramsey says “she colors their hair, she paints the nails and it’s really, it’s dope.”
Foxy Fitness Studio & Pole is another Black business you will see represented on BBO. When Ramsey stopped by their Orlando location she says, “She actually got me to climb up on the pole. We had a good time.”
Ramsey dedicates time to celebrating the successes of businesses in BBO, but says it is also important to help those who are struggling. She says anyone who wants to join can do so for free and that they will come in contact with leaders who are very passionate about helping others.
She says women face their own unique struggles when it comes to launching businesses.
“One of the things that we tend to do more than men is we question our worth, we question our value and it shows up in our pitch and it shows up when we speak about our business”, says Ramsey.
She says it is important to “practice speaking about what we do, who we are, and how we make a change and how we make a difference, and say it out loud, say it often until it starts to roll off of your tongue.”
In addition to dedicating her time to helping other business owners Ramsey is also launching her own business. It is called Pleasurably Speaking and it focuses on helping Black women find what brings them pleasure.