Human trafficking survivor builds a small business with just $400.

It started with a few hundred dollars. Businesswoman Nakia Vestal escaped human trafficking when she was a teenager and started working in beauty salons and stores. After gaining experience and not liking her job opportunities, Ella Vestal decided to start her own business.

In 2017 and with $400, Vestal founded DollMaker Lashes, a beauty studio in Houston, Texas that offers lash extension services. She started small, building her client base from her home. But with perseverance, discipline, and faith, Vestal transformed her business into a full-service lash studio, complete with her own line of products.

“I started with just a bed of lashes and my tools that I needed. And I didn’t have any marketing,” she said. “It was all word of mouth. I started from home in my dining room.”

Vestal’s business has been hit by the economic downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic, but last year she received a $10,000 grant from Verizon’s Digital Ready program, which she credits with helping her expand.

Verizon’s grant helps small businesses affected by the pandemic, especially in historically underserved communities. Nearly 800 small businesses have received grants of up to $10,000 to help 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 networks

According to GlobalWebIndex, 54% of regular Internet users access social networks to search for products. And that percentage is only expected to grow.

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

3. Look for free resources

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

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

4. Set yourself apart

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