Five Questions With: Danielle Spencer, Founder of Some Creative Agency and Baby Essentials Brand Balu Organics
She believes that emphasizing the word 'and' in our thought process is transformative as it signifies a positive redirection
Danielle Spencer is a seasoned entrepreneur, speaker, mentor and marketing expert. She is the founder and CEO of the small business development hub, Some Creative Agency, and Director of Strategy at BrandEQ Agency. Also the founder of baby brand Balu Organics and committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Danielle serves on various non-profit boards and is recognized for her innovative strategies tailored to diverse communities. As a trusted industry voice, her insights benefit both established brands and budding entrepreneurs.
As CEO of the small business development hub Some Creative Agency, Director of Strategy at BrandEQ Agency, and the founder of the organic baby brand Balu Organics, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a leader? How has this shaped your leadership style and the next steps in your career?
In my journey across businesses and roles, I’ve come to understand something crucial: if you want to grow something significant, you need people. And, just as importantly, you need to trust them to do their thing. There’s a world of difference between just managing people and truly leading them. Imagine planting a seed — while that seed might be your vision, it’s up to the whole team to come together and make it thrive. My way of leading is all about empowerment. Micromanaging is just not my style. It gets in the way and honestly, it would send a message of distrust and frustrate my team. I’ve always believed that while I might plant the seed, it’s the collective hands that nurture and grow it. At the end of the day, the beauty of what we create is a reflection of everyone’s input.
Can you discuss a specific project or initiative you’re particularly proud of and how it has made a difference in the lives of those you serve?
I’m immensely proud of Some Creative Agency as a whole. It’s a manifestation of my multifaceted journey as an entrepreneur, creative, mother, friend, woman, person of colour, first-generation Canadian, and an individual starting from the ground up. The agency embodies everything I yearned for when launching Balu Organics, particularly when I was a new mother juggling school and work with no solid community or resources to efficiently realize my vision. Though Balu Organics achieved six figures in its first Black Friday/Cyber Monday season, imagine if I was able to fully tap into the value of community and resources.
One of our key agency initiatives, ‘In Her Bag,’ resonates deeply with me. Aimed at uplifting women entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creatives, our recent inaugural cohort and event were beyond fulfilling. The creation of this nurturing space where women could genuinely be themselves, find inspiration and discover like-minded souls felt like I was living out my life’s purpose. The stories I’ve heard, and the sheer audacity and self-belief these women possess are nothing short of inspiring.
At another one of our events, ‘Clique + Create: A Conversation with Creatives,’ I met two dynamic women who started a business together and now meet regularly to brainstorm and strategize. They met at our ‘In Her Bag’ event just four weeks earlier. Their unimpeachable faith in themselves and each other was palpable, it still gives me chills (in the best way of course)! Similarly, another attendee, with a background in hip hop and the music industry, shared his vision of a luxury lacrosse wear line infused with culture, reminiscent of the way Ralph Lauren revolutionized Polo, but with a distinct fusion of Black excellence.
The entrepreneurs I cross paths with have such groundbreaking ideas, all converging for a shared need: help with finding ‘the next.’ Whether that pertains to inspiration, relatability, or a sympathetic ear, they yearn for human connection, especially that which sees them, understands them, and supports them. People truly need people, and it’s deeply gratifying to see them find their tribe within the community and spaces we’ve curated. Witnessing their evolution is nothing short of humbling. Their trust in me, their faith in the platform — it’s an honour I cherish deeply.
Can you share a particular setback you experienced as an entrepreneur? How were you able to overcome it?
Pinpointing a specific setback is challenging because I am a firm believer in the power of the pivot. Instead of perceiving challenges as failures, I view them as opportunities to recalibrate and grow. Some years ago, I made a conscious decision to reframe ‘failures’ as vital learning moments. It’s crucial to differentiate between accepting a situation with a passive, ‘it is what it is’ mindset and adopting the proactive stance of ‘this happened, and here’s what I’m going to make of it and here’s what’s next.’ Emphasizing the word ‘and’ in our thought process is transformative; it signifies a positive redirection.
In 2018, I launched a lash business. By the end, I had only amassed $40 in sales against a loss of $6,000. This venture underscored the importance of marketing and strategy in business for me. Today, I still have a significant stock of lashes stashed away, which has its comedic silver lining. Back then, I grappled with feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.
Fast forward to a recent event I hosted; I invested $30,000 and recouped $400 in sales. Instead of feeling defeated, I’m brimming with excitement and anticipation for the future endeavours this investment will catalyze. The version of me from five years ago might have been disheartened and would never understand such an expense with no expectations or intentions to break even and would look at me today like I’m absurd. Today, I recognize the value in every experience (in both cases, the value of investing in your brand). It’s imperative to understand that there’s always a ‘next’ in our journey. The question is, how are you preparing today to ensure that your ‘next’ is even better than your ‘now?’
When it comes to diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice, what are some of the unique challenges Black entrepreneurs face and what can organizations do to support them?
When examining advocacy for Black entrepreneurs, I delineate three stages: Performative, Peace, and Liberation.
Performative: This is characterized by hollow declarations of commitment. Organizations might claim to champion Black entrepreneurs, but their actions don’t mirror their words.
Peace: Here, we witness a semblance of effort, albeit often minimal. Organizations might roll out programs with modest budgets, offer internships, fulfill diversity hiring quotas, or host unpaid Black speakers for panels. Such endeavours enable them to operate under the guise of impact without truly committing. They avoid major investments and sidestep ingrained organizational challenges. However, genuine growth often emerges from discomfort and friction. Think of the discomfort of wisdom teeth emerging or a seedling pushing through the soil — growth isn’t always painless.
Liberation: This stage marks a genuine shift towards inclusive initiatives. To illustrate, the Stratford Festival, one of my clients at BrandEQ, produced a comprehensive 106-page document highlighting anti-racism and DEI strategies. Now in our third year of collaboration on moving this document and its mission forward, we’re making strides in cultivating a more inclusive environment where people of colour feel safe, acknowledged, nurtured, and most importantly, welcomed. Many enterprises reneged on their DEI commitments post-2020, so it’s wonderful to work with a company that is steadfast in its mission, especially with a long-term vision and commitment. Another phenomenal example is Dr. Wendy Cukier, the founder of The Diversity Institute and The Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, two organizations that work to create resources and opportunities for marginalized individuals and create a data-driven impact on these individuals and their communities across Canada.
True liberation necessitates a confrontation with the roles organizations have historically played in perpetuating exclusion, and the individuals within them to recognize their privilege and offer a hand up to those whom the system is not designed to benefit. It’s about allocating resources generously to truly empower Black entrepreneurs. Consider the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund. While promising, the loans are not interest-free. This implies that even when striving for equity and equality, the system that necessitated such an initiative still profits from the marginalization of Black entrepreneurs. A genuine push for Black liberation would entail interest-free loans, compensating for years of denied access, or even outright grants.
In conclusion, if organizations aspire to genuinely uplift Black entrepreneurs, they must reckon with their past and present inadequacies. It’s not just about granting access to contemporary resources but compensating for decades, even centuries, of systemic neglect. A genuine commitment requires a magnified investment in Black communities, especially after having been sidelined for so long.
What are some key skills or qualities that are crucial for aspiring entrepreneurs? Are there any specific experiences or opportunities that you recommend seeking out?
Learn the power of saying no! I wish I could echo this sentiment to my younger self repeatedly. It’s crucial to understand yourself — both who you are at your core and what you genuinely desire from life. Familiarize yourself with your gut instincts and become comfortable declining offers that don’t align with your vision or values.
For me, decision-making boils down to three primary areas of alignment:
- Energetic Alignment: Do our intentions align to create something authentic and meaningful? I recall an incident during my tenure as the Director of Strategy at BrandEQ, where a prospective client, after the tragic event with George Floyd, wished to position himself as a DEI thought leader in corporate executive hiring. However, the noticeable absence of diversity in his team raised red flags. The client and the work didn’t feel right. The clincher was a meeting where his associate questioned the “return on investment” for our proposed DEI initiatives. That was a defining moment for me, prompting me to sever ties. I invest a significant amount of care and passion in my work, and authentic intentions are paramount.
- Strategic Alignment: Do our goals align, and, do we have the resources to support the initiative?
- Financial Alignment: Is there a genuine commitment backed by appropriate funds? I expect partners to genuinely invest in the causes they claim to support. If someone approaches me at the end of January, intending to exhibit support for the Black community during Black History Month but their financial commitment is paltry, their authenticity is questionable to me. I firmly believe in ensuring that commitments are backed up with appropriate resources, especially given the individuals I work to uplift.
In essence, empower yourself to say ‘no.’ Anchor your decisions in what aligns with your core intentions and passions. Embrace this clarity, and you’ll find your path.