By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. To make a business succeed, it requires hard work, determination, sweat, luck, gumption and an entrepreneurial spirit that can’t be put into words.
When the City of Milwaukee Health Department commissioned entrepreneur Tiffany Miller to make 36,000 face masks for its mask initiative, she knew she was up for the challenge. Miller has owned her own business, Fly Blooms since 2012, and she co-founded the Bronzeville Collective, 339 W. North Ave., with Lilo Allen in 2018.
After accepting the health department’s offer, Miller knew she couldn’t do it alone. For the first time, she began hiring employees.
“I went from a side hustle to a business and with the scale up opportunity I had with the health department, that shifted my business to a company and that has been transformative for me,” Miller said.
In the course of a month, Miller went from three employees to 12, using the revenue she received from the mask’s sales. It was an exciting yet strenuous time, as the order required Miller and her team to make about 3,000 masks a week.
To make sure her employees had the space to work and maintain socially distanced, Miller rented space at The Retreat, 2215 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. If someone was sick, the team took a few days off to make sure everyone tested negative before reconvening to get the job done.
After several months, Miller’s efforts paid off and she was able to complete the order; along the way, she learned some lessons about what’s required to be the leader of a team.
A lot goes into building a company culture, she said. As a self-employed person, Miller is used to doing the work.
“I will always work harder for myself for my business than I will for any other business that I’m associated with,” Miller said. “I’m always going to give myself more and that’s what I learned in this growth process.”
While Miller always had plans to hire one or two people down the road, the order required additional hands. Unlike most businesses, which gradually scale up overtime, Fly Blooms had no choice in the matter.
“I didn’t have the gift of time,” Miller said. “I had to figure things out when I was in it.”
Adding, “As a creative, everything exists in your head and I’ll always write down my patterns, but I had to release that from my head and teach people how to execute face masks to the quality levels that Fly Blooms is known for.”
It’s one thing to be a leader in a business, but it’s different when you own the business, Miller said. Fortunately, Miller could turn to her business coach for advice.
With advice from her coach, Miller learned what it takes to establish a company culture, express her expectations, build employee and employer relationships and when to have grace and when to make the tough decisions. There’s a lot that goes into it, Miller said, adding that she continues to get coached and seek advice.
Remembering to breathe and write things down, helped Miller establish herself in the leadership position. She also took the time to acknowledge the work she had done in a short amount of time.
Although the she’s completed the mask order, the work isn’t over for Miller. Since summer of last year, she’s been working as a business resource coach at the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation also known as WWBIC. She’s also focusing on growing the Bronzeville Collective.
In spite of the pandemic, the Bronzeville Collective has continued to rise. People are being more intentional about shopping small, Miller said, and right now, the store has almost 30 local vendors with plans for more.
Now that’s she’s completed the mask order, Miller is taking the time to create for joy instead of creating for an order. Currently, she’s working on two fabric posters called “Trust Black Women” and “Black Boy Joy.”
“I’ve just been focusing on creating joy right now,” she said. “The growth will come, but that creative joy piece has been really important to me and it’s been helping to keep me sane.”