Founding Females is back with the one and only L’Oreal Thompson Payton, founder of LT In the City, a lifestyle destination for ambitious millennial women at the intersection of work and wellness. It started out as L’Oreal’s personal blog and has since expanded to a brand and media company with a loyal following.
ALV: What inspired you to start your business/brand?
LTP: At the time I started blogging, I was working full-time as an assistant editor for a luxury home and garden magazine. Let’s just say this was before I discovered my love of HGTV. I wanted to write stories that were important to me and I wanted to tell stories that inspired other women, Black women in particular, so I started blogging and freelancing for outlets that helped me do those two things.
I love this part of L’Oreal’s story. She didn’t overthink it. Nor did she need a 50-page business plan. She had a knack for storytelling and passion for inspiring other women, and so she started creating opportunities for herself to combine those things in a productive way.
LTP: At the heart of my blog is authentic, transparent storytelling. That’s the ultimate goal in everything I write — for women to feel less alone. And the response has been phenomenal, I think we all just crave that human connection and know that we’re not the only ones going through X, Y, Z.
I can completely relate to this on both sides of the computer screen. I too feel that sharing my thoughts, feelings and story is a powerful way to connect with others. Just ask my husband who will often say, “Are you sure you want to send that personal story to your whole newsletter?” Yes, yes I do. L’Oreal shares this philosophy, and I have felt connected to her through her words time and time again.
It has now been nine years of L’Oreal building her company and her following, and yet, it was only recently that she really started viewing it as a business. Like many of us, she has suffered from impostor syndrome.
LTP: Even though I’ve been blogging and freelance writing since 2010, I just recently filed for an LLC. Because I have a full-time day job, I never considered myself an entrepreneur … I definitely still carry some impostor syndrome around that word. But I also recognize that I have to practice what I preach, so if I’m encouraging other women to be about their business, I have to walk the walk.
These mental hurdles can defeat you if you let them, but I have to remind myself of my talents and what I’ve been able to do. And that helps build that courage muscle so I’m less afraid or intimidated next time I find myself face-to-face with self-doubt.
I love thinking about courage like a muscle that can be strengthened. More recently I’ve heard the comparison of it to a balloon. You start contracted and rigid, and all you need to do is expand a little bit. Push your boundaries a little further. You learn and can contract back to your comfort zone. The next time you’re more flexible and have the capacity to stretch even further. And then even further the time after that. But you need to start somewhere!
Luckily there has been someone there every step of the way cheering L’Oreal on and encouraging her to think big and act big too.
ALV: Who has been most helpful to you on your entrepreneurial journey?
LTP: Honestly, my husband. He’s much more business-oriented than I am (I’m definitely more of a creative spirit) and he’s been encouraging me to file for an LLC since forever. He’s always looking out for me, always cheering me on. A friend of mine once said, “The most important business decision you can make is who you choose for a romantic partner,” and I can certainly attest to that. I would not be nearly as successful in my endeavors if I didn’t have him in my corner.
One of my favorite mantras this year has been to “lift as you rise.” As ALV continues to grow, we are always looking for ways to collaborate with other female-founded businesses or support one another however we can. When you have a platform, why not use it to elevate those around you? L’Oreal lives out this mantra daily, and it really came to the forefront at her anniversary event last year.
ALV: What are you most proud of in your business?
LTP: Helping women and girls. Last year, I hosted a party to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my blog in its current iteration/my move to Chicago from Baltimore. I was committed to hiring woman-owned businesses as vendors, featuring woman-owned businesses in the swag bags and having the proceeds benefit Polished Pebbles, a mentoring nonprofit for young Black girls on Chicago’s South and West sides. The event was certainly a labor of love, but it was such a great feeling to support small woman-owned businesses and a cause I care about, all while having a great time with my friends and followers!
In any business venture, you will feel overwhelmed, lost, confused and conflicted at times. It can be easy to move toward the next shiny thing or tempting to quit when the journey gets tough. L’Oreal reminds us that the answers come from the inside out, not the other way around.
ALV: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a business but is scared to? What helped you get started?
LTP: It sounds trite, but this journey looks different for everyone. What worked for me may not work for you — and that’s okay. Get clear on your core values and don’t stray from them. Sure, they can evolve over time, but who you are, what you stand for — you mustn’t compromise that for anyone or any paycheck.