lisap.jpgSisters Supporting Sisters/Brothers is dedicated to men and women of color living out their entrepreneurial dreams. Sisters Supporting Sisters/Brothers was started due to a lack of outlets to feature the immense talent and creativity of men and women of color. It is important for people of color to be more supportive of one another in business and life in general. A strong network of relationships amongst minority men and women would definitely help make the climb to the top a little bit easier—especially if they just happen to be going after the same dreams. Honestly, there is enough money for everyone to do their thing and still be supportive at the same time.

The Sister to Support: Lisa Peyton-Caire
Name of Business, Website, or Service: SisterSpeak Online
Website: www.sisterspeakonline.com

Clutch: Why did you decide to start SisterSpeak Online?
I started SisterSpeak Online to fill what I saw as a serious and inexcusable void in quality online content that spoke to the issues, concerns, experiences and desires of Black women. I originally conceived the idea for SisterSpeak Online in 1998, though I would be compelled nearly five years later (in 2003) to actually move on the idea. At the time I was experiencing a really rough patch in my life and needed to release my thoughts and reach out to other women really as personal therapy. So I started sending out a weekly ‘SisterSpeak Newsletter’ email to friends, family and other women I met online, at work, or in the community. The reception was surprisingly positive and I did this for nearly 2 years. I would later experience another ‘trauma’ in 2006 in the unexpected passing of my mother, Roberta Peyton, who had only months earlier encouraged me in my desire to take SisterSpeak to the next level. Losing her changed my life dramatically but was also the catalyst behind SisterSpeak Online’s rapid evolution. We launched the official web site in January 2007.

Clutch: Tell us more about the women behind your site?
(Smile) Well, on most days I am the woman behind the site with support from a handful of wonderful, talented contributors who are listed on our web site. Leading up to our launch, each of these women were instrumental in helping take SisterSpeak Online from a very informal but well-received personal newsletter to an official web site. Each of their voices helped set the tone for what has become a readily recognized, widely dispersed, and award-winning e-zine (we were the proud winners of the 2008 BlackWebAwards Best E-Zine honor). We also rely heavily on the voices of real women who come across our website and have something important to say. They submit their work, and when we find a jewel, we publish it. This is one of the unique features of SisterSpeak Online in that we truly represent and echo the voices of real, everyday Black women. And of course, we are always on the hunt for new voices and talented contributing writers (hint-hint to gifted sister-writers reading this)!

Clutch: What is the story behind the name SisterSpeak Online?
Goodness, I’ll try to give you the short version. The term ‘sisterspeak’ holds very personal meaning to me. I came up with the name back in 1998 while pursuing my Masters degree in education. I was studying in the Midwest and was very aware of my ‘minority’ status on campus and in my department as a Black woman. Having come from an HBCU where a great many of my professors were powerful, articulate Black women, and where the work of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and other seminal thinkers in womanist/critical theory were prominent in my training, I felt at times that my voice had become more of a whisper in the background. My need to speak and assert myself in that environment took on a new importance and I developed a renewed respect for sisters who used the spoken and written word to assert their voice and point of view.

Long before this, however, was my experience as a little girl growing up among my mother, her three sisters and my grandmother as well as the hundreds of women who patronized my mother’s beauty parlor. There was something sacred, soothing, and healing about the ‘speak’ these sisters shared and I felt even as a little girl that I was witnessing something powerful unfold before my eyes. Often times they would come into one another’s presence with heavy burdens but would leave one another’s presence refreshed, relieved, and ready to face the world again.

It was clear to me that ‘sister’ and ‘speak’ had to go together so I combined the two and added online knowing that we’d be internet based, hence SisterSpeak Online Magazine.

Clutch: Who are some notables that have graced the online pages of SisterSpeak Online? Our notables to date are primarily real women, everyday women who are shaping and crafting lives for themselves—working women who are breaking through barriers, raising families, making inroads in their chosen careers, and blazing trails in business and industry; ordinary yet extraordinary ‘sheroes’. This is the beauty and the commitment of SisterSpeak Online, to be a voice of real Black women who are making their way through life, whoever they are, CEO extraordinaire, accomplished author or budding writer, homeschooling mother, globe-trotting diva, postal clerk, public servant, whoever, wherever—these are our notables. And of course, we welcome the voices of sisters with more public profiles. Readers can expect to see more features of well-known sisters as we continue to grow but they’ll have to wait and see!

sisspeak1.jpgClutch: What has been your biggest challenge in starting SisterSpeak Online?

As a relatively young enterprise, of course, finding creative ways to finance the work as we grow is a challenge, as well as keeping the content fresh and current for our wide base of readers who span in age from 25-60! The latter is a great challenge to have and we find common ground in all of our readers’ desire for quality content which I think we consistently deliver. Another challenge personally is managing the work among the many other hats I wear as an entrepreneur, educator, mom, and wife. My goal is to move the magazine to the point where I can concentrate on it full time without the need for a ‘day job’ and I know we’ll get there in time.

Clutch: As an online magazine publisher, how do you feel about the state of magazines for African American women?

I feel incredibly optimistic now in comparison to 5-10 years ago when the options for online material were very slim or non-existent for Black women. I share with folks often my experience back in the late 90’s and early 00’s in typing in the words “black women’ in the search engine. I would get back a slew of porn sites with explicit titles and less than flattering headlines and thought to myself, is this what the world associates ‘Black women’ with…porn, lack, filth, depravity, body parts? I knew then that I had a duty to create something that spoke to the Black women I knew, the Black woman I am, and that portrayed Black women as I knew us to be…intelligent, principled, pioneering, accomplished, beautiful, spiritual, diverse, hard-working, industrious, inventive, outspoken, independent…I could go on and on. Gladly, the range of quality content for us via online magazines has grown exponentially in a relatively short period of time. I’d like to think that SisterSpeak Online, Clutch, and the others of us doing this work from our own unique approaches have contributed to this growth and change in a meaningful way — and there are indeed many of us doing great work that represents sisters in all of our diversity. I also think that online publishing has replaced print publishing as the medium of choice for readers, though several veteran and contemporary magazines are still widely read and again have expanded our options dramatically. But, clearly the online market will grow in its dominance. The future looks very bright and it’s up to us to ensure that we continue to shape and craft these options that cast us in a light that truly represents and respects ‘us’ as Black women and not who others perceive us to be.

Clutch: What is the mission and purpose of SisterSpeak Online?

Our mission is really quite simple…to inform, inspire, and empower Black women everywhere to craft and pursue lives of boundless beauty, passion, power and purpose. We believe that it is our inherent right as Black women to live happy, healthy and purpose-filled lives — whatever that purpose may be for each individual woman, and that SisterSpeak Online plays a unique role in inspiring that sense of purpose among our readers. An important part of this is providing a space where sisters have voice and permission to speak freely, to let our hair down, to celebrate our accomplishments, and to draw strength, meaning, and inspiration from one another’s experiences. It’s also a gathering place for sisters to build alliances and networks with one another as we pursue our individual and collective vocations.

Clutch: How often do you update your site with new material?

As often as possible, and it’s a daily job of course. At minimum, we add new content monthly, though we work hard to keep our readers engaged weekly with a special feature, commentary, or preview of what’s coming. Sometimes I wish I could clone myself and our contributors so we could push material out more quickly, and we’re constantly on the look out for more writers to build out our team (hint- hint again to gifted sister-writers out there!). Right now our contributors write for the pure joy of it as we don’t compensate them—we hope to be able to in the near future. But the exposure is wide and the satisfaction is high, knowing that our writing is touching real women. Beyond this, quality is our first priority in any and all of the content we present to readers, and we won’t publish anything new until it’s ‘ready and worthy’. As we grow in the months ahead, we plan to make a few changes to our infrastructure to make updating easier and faster.

Clutch: Do you incorporate any social media tools (blogs, network, bookmarking) into your site, if not do you plan on it?

We have several networks and blogs that are tied to SisterSpeak Online, though not posted on our site. We have a Myspace page, a Facebook site, a new WordPress blog, a Business Network, and a new SisterCircle Network which we invite sisters everywhere to join. It’s free and all about networking and supporting one another’s ventures. We share these primarily with our subscribed readers and will incorporate them on our site in the near future.

Clutch: What type of woman reads SisterSpeak Online?

Wow, our reading audience is so very diverse; it’s hard to describe a typical reader. I would have to say first that our readers are smart, worldly, educated, independent, and tech savvy and range from graduate student to CEO and everything in between. They’re largely professional women seeking balance, meaning, and connection as they juggle multiple responsibilities and priorities. They’re creatively carving out inroads for themselves in every segment of society and represent a host of religions, cultures, and backgrounds within the ‘Black experience’.

Clutch: What issues and subjects do you cover?

We really try to cover a wide range of issues keeping in mind those topics that are most relevant and current in our lives. Health and wellness are huge priorities for us given the disparities we face as Black women, and really deals with mind-body-spirit-material balance. We also highlight the work of Black authors and cover a bit of beauty, fashion, and entertainment and of course business development and entrepreneurship. Our readers are incredibly entrepreneurial and there is a big demand for tips, advice, and success stories of real sisters who are making things happen in business. We’ll be streamlining our departments soon, though, to really zero in on what readers are demanding, so readers will see less coverage in some areas, and a lot more in others.

Clutch: What do you think the biggest mistake or misconception women make when starting a business?

I think the biggest mistake women make is in doubting our ability to be successful in business on our own, or feeling that we don’t know enough to get started. We think we must know everything about everything, when in fact we need to know enough and be open to learning the rest as we go. What we find in the process is that we know a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. We also often fear asking questions or seeking help and advice out of a fear of appearing incompetent. I’ve had to learn to get over that and to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of others who’ve been where I’m trying to go. It’s a learning process.

Clutch: Do you have any advice to women contemplating or who have just started a business?

Yes…my biggest piece of advice is to have a concrete plan and understanding of what your business is, what you’re trying to accomplish and who you’re serving; and to map out the trajectory of where you’d like to be over time and follow it while still being flexible and open to change and necessary detours. This is in addition to the most important plan of how you will finance your business venture through prosperous and lean times. It’s also imperative to do your research and to know your field, genre, and audience inside-out so you can appropriately carve out your niche and perfect it over time. Then have faith, trust your instincts, and work hard as hell to bring the vision to life.

Clutch: What’s in the future for SisterSpeak Online?

Oh my, let me pull out my laundry list (smile)! Wow, there are so many things in store for us and so many things we’d like to do, not the least of which is updating the look and feel of the site over the next several months, launching a radio show, and hosting events that extend the experience beyond the website with the focus being on empowerment, personal growth, and wellness.

Clutch: What do you want someone to walk away with after visiting your site?

I want readers to leave SisterSpeak Online informed, inspired, empowered, refreshed, validated, and assured of their worth and their right to pursue a healthy, happy, passionate, and purpose-driven life — without apology. I also want women to walk away with a genuine sense of rejuvenation and confidence in their voice, their beauty, and their ability to do and accomplish whatever it is they desire. I want sisters who are struggling in some way to find strength and those who are in search of answers to find the information they need to make empowered decisions and choices. Finally, I want visitors who come across our site to leave with a fuller understanding and respect for the tremendous intellectual, spiritual, and material contributions Black women make to society and the world. If we can achieve these things through our work, then I know we’ve fulfilled our purpose.

For more information about Sister SpeakOnline Magazine please visit www.sisterspeakonline.com

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