Chicago native Candice V. Cunningham has always had an interest in Entrepreneurship. She attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and majored in business and marketing. After school, she came back home to Chicago and decided to study graphic design.

Candice Cunningham began her Entrepreneurial journey by attending conferences all over the world. She became interested in building websites at these conferences, and five years ago she started her own e-commerce business.

Today, she is successful with five different e-commerce stores ranging from jewelry, clothing, and other apparel. With her online stores, Candice V. Cunningham was able to reach six figures from sales within the first year.

Also, Candice Cunningham residing in Chicago, Illinois is the founder of The As One We Can Foundation dba The Black Ecosystem, a nonprofit she started to help her community because she was unhappy with the social situations around her. The Black Ecosystem focuses on providing several solutions to address common issues in poorer communities. It provides opportunities for teenagers and families to have experiences that will open their minds and allow them to reach their full potential.

The nonprofit offers Entrepreneurship training classes to teenagers ages 16-19, taught by Candice V. Cunningham. She works with them and partners with them to teach them how to build an online business and the participants can then use their share of the profits from the business to help them pursue their educational and life goals.

Between running her e-commerce businesses, her nonprofit, and training young entrepreneurs, when Candice V. Cunningham does manage to find some free time, she enjoys skating, painting, traveling, and thrift shopping.

How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?

I think it was more so a desire for me in wanting to help my family and my community. I’m not really sure where the inspiration came from and I wonder about that often. No one else in my family had a background in entrepreneurship. I just knew there were a lot of things in my community that I was unhappy with, so I started my non-profit, The Black Ecosystem. But I realized I needed a way to fund the things I wanted to do to reach my goals. I got sick of asking people for donations. I hate feeling like I can’t do what I need to do because of lack of resources and having to explain why I need money to help people (laugh). So, I used that as motivation to become a successful Entrepreneur.  I knew I’d probably fail several times but I didn’t care. I knew I could come up with innovative ways to generate income and fund my own non-profit organization and to also help my family so nothing was going to stand in my way PERIOD.

How do you make money?

I come up with a concept for an online store, then I create and build the online store, hook up the payment processor, and start marketing it. I would consider myself a marketing guru. At this point I feel like any project I touch is going to be successful because of my self-taught marketing skills. For example, I have an online t-shirt store where I sell shirts inspired by popular hip-hop songs and current trends. I won’t go into detail about my marketing strategies right now but my strategies bring a lot of customers to my stores. Then we get those customers on our email lists and we bring them back with promotional emails and they refer their friends to us as well. We use this same business model for all of the different stores, no matter what we’re selling.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

I actually set up my first e-commerce store about seven years ago, but I wasn’t able to make it profitable and I took a big hit financially. When I tried again, I challenged myself with the new formula that I had. I decided to set up four stores consecutively and see which one works best. They all earned over 6 figures “each” within less than 12 months, so I knew I had a winning formula.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

I definitely found myself doubting whether it would work or not, particularly after I lost my first store. After I lost that first store, I decided to take a break and do some more research before attempting to try again because I was worried afterward. I constantly educated myself and didn’t start again until I felt I had the proper education.

How did you get your first customer?

I got my first customer by sending out mass text messages telling everybody in my contact list to go check out my online store. I feel like Entrepreneurs skip the part where we directly ask our friends and family for support. I think it’s because we fear they won’t like the product. I didn’t skip this step I know it is important to get their feedback. They were my first customers.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

Advertising through social media websites. I generate a lot of traffic from with IG and FB.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

I’m still debating this decision, so I haven’t made it yet. I’m trying to decide if I want to expand my consulting company and hire people to work alongside me. The demand for my e-commerce consulting is so high so I’m constantly turning down new business. However, I don’t think I will expand. I’m going to focus on running my stores and consulting with others on a case-by-case basis because I do have a desire to help other women reach their Entrepreneurship goals. I see myself retiring in 3-4 years when I’m 35.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I think what makes me successful is my discipline.  If something doesn’t fit in line with the way I need it to fit so that it makes sense all around the board, I don’t entertain it. This goes for everything. people, projects, small tasks, activities done in my leisure time, relationships, literally everything. I ignore anything that doesn’t help me grow.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

My most satisfying moment in business was the first time I made over $100,000. It was so unreal. My uncle invested $30,000 into one of my ventures and my Granny invested some of her retirement money and I lost all of it. So being able to pay them back was such a relief. And being able to provide my Granny with anything she wants makes me such a happy gal. I do consulting, and for the people I’ve set up online stores for, seeing the joy and excitement they have from getting their first sale, getting their 10th sale, it’s just really rewarding.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

Millions ☺ . I’m also excited to continue to help others, especially women. I’m really focused on helping other women become Entrepreneurs.

What business books have inspired you?

The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone.

I love this book. I’ll read it over and over again. Grant helps you change your mindset. He breaks things down and explains some things that people need to hear. He talks about always going 10 times harder. If your goal is to make $10,000, change your goal to $100,000 because if you fall short of your goal you will still most likely end up achieving that original $10,000. But if you make your goal $10,000 and you fall short, you might get discouraged. That plays in my mind over and over again and I have found it extremely helpful. I always tell people that they should read this book because it will really help them in life.

What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?

I recently purchased a new software system that will automate everything in my business. It’s similar to a customer relationship management (CRM) system. It was created for my company. It will keep track of all of my clients, their information, and it can respond to them based on their actions and what they say to me. This way I don’t have to respond right back to them right away because I have a robot working in the background to assist me. It’s going to be a really cool addition to my marketing system.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an Entrepreneur?

You need to be very disciplined because you’re going to work a lot and not always be paid for your work, but you have to just keep going. It’s a lot of long hours. Sometimes I work 18 hours a day. It can get challenging and if you’re not disciplined, you won’t do the things you need to do and you will fail.

What is your favorite part of being an Entrepreneur?

My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is the fact that I am challenging myself every day. I think that it makes me a better person because I set goals every day and accomplish them. Another part I love is that I can pretty much work from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection.

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