Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tasheea Nicholson, Founder of Camping Noire, located in Woodbridge, NJ, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Camping Noire is a minority-owned, female-owned outdoor recreation organization that curates an ongoing calendar of hikes, camping trips, and other outdoor experiences for Black and Indigenous women of color. Our goal is to build a sisterly community of melanated women embracing nature, reaching for adventure, and becoming more present in our hearts, minds, and bodies. We are releasing ourselves from these self-limiting narratives of what we don't do so that we can see ourselves as an intrinsic part of the outdoor narrative and recipient of nature's benefits. The women who contribute their energy to participating in Camping Noire events are creative, ambitious, engaged, educated, health-conscious, and adventurous. Many are mothers, wives, executives, and small-business owners looking for ways to infuse positive, natural energy into their lives and build a community with like-minded women with whom they can be vulnerable (and collaborative) and improve their overall mental and physical health.
Using nature as our mentor and through the planning of nature-focused outdoor events, Camping Noire is working to change the relationship between nature and these women of color from one of fear to fun. We are also establishing a focal point of representation within the outdoor recreational space, creating an inclusive community of like-minded women, and realizing that nature has the power to promote healing.
Tell us about yourself
Sixteen years ago, two friends and I embarked on the first of our camping adventures. We immediately fell in love with it and decided to continue going at least once a year. Every time I'd mention we were going camping with friends and colleagues, I was often met with one of three responses:
- Are you not scared of being out there at night with the animals?
- Are there any other black people out there?
- Black people don't camp!
It didn't matter the race, nationality, gender, etc., of the person I was talking to - if they were black, I could expect a combination of all three statements. My non-black friends would simply land on the latter.
I received all of this feedback in love, but one night, I decided to address it head-on and started writing The Black Girls Guide to Surviving A Weekend Unplugged. Once I started writing the book, I became less focused on why my non-black friends subscribed to this notion that black women don't camp and more concerned about why we felt this way. In questioning close friends, I became acutely aware of a few things:
A simple google search of black women camping rendered almost zero results. Heck, google black women skiing, hiking, snowboarding, fill in the blanks, and you'll be hard-pressed to find stock photos to back it up. The lack of representation of black, indigenous, and people of color in outdoor environments has affected fundamental cultural beliefs and allowed widely accepted yet stereotypical narratives around what demographics people do or don't do. Fears of encounters with wild animals, even though rare, outweigh the perceived risk of engaging in natural experiences (something I'd never thought about because I've been immersed in nature since I was a child. We weren't aware of the scientifically proven mental and overall health benefits of immersing ourselves in nature.
Uninterrupted ancestral trauma is undeniably a barrier between black people and the entire expanse of natural experiences. The lack of representation of women who are not seen as being "skinny" has affected groups of women to believe they exceed a weight requirement for natural experiences.
So in writing that book, I realized that the mission was bigger than debunking ridiculous myths of black women in nature - it was now about changing our relationship with nature from one of fear to fun, establishing representation, creating an inclusive community of like-minded women, and realizing that nature has the power to promote healing. And those four things have become the pillars of Camping Noire.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
The launch of Camping Noire coincided with the onset of the global pandemic. Talk about poor timing! However, because we use Mother Nature as our "office space," we were able to continue executing a modified version of our camping and hiking events according to CDC guidelines and with minimal risk to participants. And during the highest times of the pandemic, we continued serving our community, providing much-needed social outlets through live outdoor recreational events while most other businesses were forced online or closed. We also implemented a bi-monthly virtual Campfire to help foster relationships, especially for community members who were isolated alone, and serve as a safe space for members to communicate mental health challenges.
So one of the biggest things I consider a big accomplishment is the number of health professional, social, cultural, and intergenerational (because we've drawn women ranging in ages 18 to 75 to our events) connections we've been able to - and continue to - foster. In close second is the number of women who've been exposed to nature through hiking and camping. On average, 50% of our event attendees are first-timers, and it is an honor that they utilize Camping Noire as the means of doing not only so but also extremely fulfilling to see them overcome fears and soften in the natural environment.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One of the hardest things to do as a business owner is to stick in there when things get rough. The harder part about that is that not only is "rough" inevitable, but it's going to mean different things on different days. One day it might mean that you have absolutely no clients and no prospects in the pipeline - on other hand, it might mean that there is more work than you have hours and resources to handle. I've found that it's especially important to practice gratitude in these moments. It thwarts the depression, doubt, and negative thoughts that will want to sneak in and help inspire creativity and room for the universe to conspire to make magic happen.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
When I speak to college students about starting a business, 3 of the 7 tips I give them are:
- Find a mentor: I've come to realize that entrepreneurship is more than starting a business and living out your dream of being a mogul or making money - it's a journey. And while business 101 can be taught through traditional educational methods, preparing and surviving the journey of being in business for yourself cannot. So, in my opinion, it's critical that you find and align yourself with other successful entrepreneurs who have been where you want to go, succeeded in what you want to do, and have built their businesses in real-life. Yes, you can learn from your peers, but the growth process will be so much slower if you surround yourself only with those who know about as much or not much more than you do – it's the equivalent of "The Blind is Leading the Blind" and if everyone is working to figure this entrepreneur thing out, WHO is pushing you beyond your comfort zone?
- Surround yourself with people who give you "LIFE": Have you ever noticed how much better life is when you have upbeat and positive people surrounding you? If you've never paid attention to that, just think about how draining life is when you have nothing but negative people pouring negative energy into the space around you. When building a business (as well as in business), it is just as critical that you watch the company that you keep and surround yourself with people who give you energy rather than drain it and are passionate and ambitious. Why? Because vibrational energy rubs off on you and everyone around you. And trust me, there will be enough people in your atmosphere that will cast doubt on your decision to become an entrepreneur so take control where you can, and one of those areas is by carefully hand picking who you surround yourself with throughout this journey.
- Charge what you're worth: The same eager spirit and desire to build your business will sometimes lead to another no-no: discounting your rates to secure business. Just don't do it. I remember reading a post on social media that said something to the effect that the person had experienced far more drama with clients they discounted services for than the ones they outright charged what they were worth. And that is 100% the truth. I remember reading another post that said something like no one has ever gone into the Bentley dealership looking for a discount on a car. Again, another TRUTH!! And let me also add that this rule should apply to everyone, including friends and family, because, I hate to say it, but they can be some of the most difficult clients to manage.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I am a community leader, doula, and herbalist who is committed to holistically improving the overall mental, physical, and spiritual outcomes for women, especially women of color. As the founder of Camping Noire, my passion is rooted in first-hand knowledge that nature, whether experienced on a camping trip or as a hot cup of herbal tea, has amazing healing properties. This knowledge and relationship is not often a focal point in communities of color; however, we continue to rank higher for mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression.
So while Camping Noire is an outdoor recreation company, a growing community of amazing women, a book, a political statement about the importance of representation, and a disruptor of nature-related fears, it also presents an organic way to engage in conversations around mental struggle.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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