Madeline Familia, founder and CEO of Creative Voices PR, used her good credit history to make credit cards work for her as she started out in her business.
Madeline Familia, CEO of Creative Voices PR
Across the U.S., Hispanic-American business owners are a powerful force, creating wealth for themselves, their families and the country’s economy.
According to a 2020 study from Stanford, Latino-owned businesses are emerging as the fastest growing segment of the U.S. small business ecosystem, from being the nation’s employers to raking in the profits. In the two years prior to the study, Latino-owned firms grew revenues an average of 25% annually, compared to 19% growth by white-owned businesses.
Credit use and access to capital are different for Hispanic-American business owners, found the Stanford researchers. Compared to white-owned employer businesses, Latino entrepreneurs are more likely to seek and receive funding from sources that expose them to greater personal financial risk. Just 20% of Latino-owned businesses that applied for national bank loans of more than $100,000 received the funding, while 50% of white-owned businesses did. Closing the lending gap will create even more opportunities for entrepreneurs of Hispanic heritage.
Madeline Familia, founder and CEO of Creative Voices PR, is a self-taught credit card expert who makes sure her accounts work for her rather than the other way around.
“Public relations was my first job out of college,” said Familia, who started her firm in New York City in 2017 after being in the business for more than a decade. Storytelling comes naturally to Familia, and so does hustling.
“I fell in love with communicating with the media,” Familia told us. “So while I was working for another company, smaller businesses would reach out to me and I would do their PR on the side. One client became two, then four.” She eventually realized that she could start her own agency. “And that’s what I did. I mostly represent women and minority-owned businesses. There’s a void. They don’t get the exposure they deserve, and I use my abilities to make sure they do.”
Familia is an Afro Latina who is half Puerto Rican, half Dominican and 100% ambitious. “I have had my own business since I was eight, selling pencils in the second grade!” she said.
“That’s just me. I didn’t have access to certain things because of my background. Growing up in the Bronx, I went to some of the worst public schools in the country. In my high school, only about 30% of the students graduated, and a lot were illiterate,” Familia explained. “I didn’t see one white face in any of my classes. I didn’t realize how segregated it was until I went to college, the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was a huge culture shock. I felt like I didn’t belong, but I worked really hard and succeeded.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. What was your start like?
At first, Familia said, it was just me doing all the work, but I knew that in order to scale I needed help. I had to hire people. It was tough to pay that first person because I was barely paying my own bills! I remember running my credit card debt up so I could stay on top of everything.
The financial struggle lasted about six months. I didn’t want to be a freelancer, though. I knew that to get the clients I wanted, I needed to be a team. Now it’s me, my assistant, and a writer.
Did any costs surprise you?
Yes, quite a few. First, there was payroll. If I’m paying someone $35 an hour, with payroll taxes it’s $45 an hour. Travel is another big cost in this industry. I have to attend conferences, buy plane tickets, pay for hotels, all to win business. In the beginning, I thought I had to go to every conference out there to network, but I learned to be strategic.
Then, there’s entertainment. When I meet clients for dinner, we go to nice places. A glass of wine in New York City is at least $14 and I can’t expect them to pay. Everything adds up. Liability insurance, software that costs $2,000, and things you need to buy that you’ll get compensated for later. In the PR world, it all comes into play.
So you’ve been using credit cards?
Yes. I have the American Express® Business Gold Card. It’s great because it grows with you. The more you use it well, the more you can charge. The rewards are 4X the points in some categories, which is really high. I use the card for everything, and the points accumulate fast. I either trade them in for travel or use them as a statement credit.
My other credit card is the The Platinum Card® from American Express for personal use. I may even like this card more, because it comes with free airport lounge access, CLEAR passes, a $200 credit for hotels, and so much more.
How do you handle the financial angle of running your business?
I’m very good with money. When I was 16, I took classes in tax preparation and got a job as a tax preparer. I understand the language of taxes. While I’m hands-on with our finances, I do have someone to help me now. Still, my mindset is to always be really careful with money and credit. Within my family there wasn’t a lot of financial literacy or knowledge about credit cards, so there was a fear about it all.
For my cards, I always try to pay in full at the end of the month. That’s how my limit has gone up so much. I refuse to go into debt. I’m building assets for myself and my future family.
Is keeping good credit important to you?
Definitely. I’m a credit guru. I started reading about it a long time ago, and learned how to build a credit score. I was intent on using credit wisely. That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes, though. When I was 18, I got my first card and maxed it out. I had terrible credit when I was younger.
In my mid-20s, I rebuilt. I started with a small card. I paid on time and carried no debt, and my credit jumped from there. After that I added different credit cards, and on those I make just a few charges a month to establish credit history and make sure to pay them off every month without carrying a balance.
I check my credit score once a month. When I watched it go to the 700 range, I got the American Express cards that require very high scores. Building credit takes patience, but anyone can do it.
What are your future plans or hopes for Creative Voices?
I want to continue to elevate Black, minority and women-owned businesses. This is what I’m super passionate about. I want to see my clients become the next Fortune 500 companies.
I also want to work more with social justice clients, and help causes that are important to me. Jay-Z is my dream client. He breaks barriers.
Can you offer tips on great credit card usage?
You don’t need a lot of upfront money to launch a business. I was poor when I started. Having solid credit and a good relationship with banks and creditors will get you there.You can use credit cards to fund your business but you have to use them responsibly.
We are blessed in this country to have this system. Yes there are barriers for underrepresented groups that need to be resolved, but anyone can use credit cards well.
Take advantage of the rewards and don’t stress about the annual fee if your card has one. Focus on what you’re getting back. As long as you use the cards and pay at the end of the month, you’re adding to your income.
Any other advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
When you start there is a lot of fear. You have to overcome it and just do it. That doesn’t mean you don’t plan; you have to be prepared. Find out what small business resources are available to you. I guarantee that there’s something where you are located. Do your homework and plan your finances out for the next six months.
Finally, embrace who you are. If you adjust your speech to conform, you can’t perform in the best way you can. When you are truly authentic, you will be more confident. You don’t need to change who you are at the core to be successful.