Trafficking survivor builds a small business with just $400.

It started with just a few hundred dollars. Entrepreneur Nakia Vestal escaped human trafficking as a teenager and started working in beauty salons and shops. After gaining experience and disliking her job opportunities, Vestal decided to start her own business.

In 2017 and with $400, Vestal founded DollMaker Lashes, a beauty studio in Houston, Texas, that offers eyelash extension services. She started modestly and built her client base from her home. But with perseverance, discipline and confidence, Vestal transformed her business into a full-service eyelash studio, with her own product line.

“I started out with just an eyelash bed and my tools that I needed. And I had no marketing,” she said. “Everything was word of mouth. I started from home in my dining room.”

Vestal’s company has been hit by the economic slowdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, but last year it received a $10,000 grant from Verizon’s Digital Ready program, which she says will help it expand.

The Verizon grant is helping small businesses affected by the pandemic, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities. Nearly 800 small businesses have received grants of up to $10,000 to pay for staff, rent and other financial needs.

Here are four tips that have helped Vestal succeed as an entrepreneur:

1. Apply for grants

2. Use Social Media

According to GlobalWebIndex, 54% of regular internet users use social media to research products. And that percentage is only expected to grow.

“Social media is free marketing. You’ve got Facebook, you’ve got Instagram, now you’ve got TikTok. These are free tools that you can use to really target the audience you’re trying to reach,” Vestal said.

3. Look for Free Resources

In the digital age, you can find almost anything on the web – from free courses and advice columns to virtual mentors and networking events.

“There are free resources. Don’t think there is a stupid question,” Vestal said. “You really have to speak up and you have to look for it.”

4. Distinguish yourself

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