This one is really hard for me because there’s a lot I want to say and it’s a very emotional topic so to be concise and be factual is going to take a lot of strength so bear with me.
When I first started my business, I did not even think about the fact that I’m an immigrant nor did I think it would affect my business in any way. I had a dream and a vision and I knew that I’m a hard worker and I’m capable so I was just going to open my business and make it happen. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that I’m a woman, and more importantly I’m an immigrant woman. So, let me explain why now looking hind sight, this was a big challenge that I would continuously work to overcome.
We all have businesses in our industry that we look up to. What are they doing right? What makes them so successful? Why are people loyal customers of those businesses? At the surface, it might seem like they provide good customer service, or they have a good service or product that they’re offering. Even though that is true, it’s a pretty small component of the actual business. Networking is extremely important. And when a local person (man or woman) starts a business, and they have lived in that area for so many years, went to school with people, known the city, town, people all their lives, they have a network and a community around them that I (or other immigrants who are new to the area) just simply don’t. Immediately friends spread the word, family is there to support, neighbors come rushing to the grand opening, and the word travels fast. Which is amazing, that’s how it should be, communities need to come together to support small businesses because that’s the only way we have any chance against big corporations. However, not all of us have that immediate support right off the bat, and we have to slowly build it grassroot.
I did graduate school in the States, so even back then I could see that all immigrant students around me, including me, had to work so much harder to compete against the locals. For example, when school is over, when it’s time to get a job, an immigrant has to stand out compared to a US citizen for the employer to go the extra mile to apply for work visa for them which is just a tedious process. An immigrant can’t be OK, or just good enough to justify the many thousand dollars in visa applications or months long processes to the company, they have to be outstanding. So, I was definitely used to this aspect, finding a job was hard and I knew it well going into it. However, once I had my green card, and my citizenship I thought I was on equal plain field and it was definitely an eye opener to start my own business and observe other businesses around me and their growth and their connections with each other, with customers, with new client’s vs mine. It’s definitely the biggest struggle I still have to this day, simply not being as networked as some of my competitors who have spent their whole life in US.
On a good note, as an immigrant employer, I get to be able to help my team who is also mostly immigrants and hope that their path can be a little easier than mine and we get to support and understand each other’s challenges quite well.