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Celebrating Black Businesses And Talking About The Challenges They Face

Promoting and using Black-owned businesses is a way to support the Black community beyond Instagram posts. We spoke to four business owners about their brilliant businesses to celebrate their successes and talk about some of the challenges they’ve faced along the way. 

 

Angela Lyons, Owner of Lyons Creative

Tell us a bit about your business  

My business is Lyons Creative. It mainly specialises in designing magazines for consumer and trade. Our products also include report design, infographics, branding and digital design for online platforms. It’s a one-woman business and I bring in extras/help when needed. 

How did you become a business owner?

After graduating from Central Saint Martins I became a graphic designer and worked for several companies. After 11 years of working at a publishing company, I decided to take the plunge, get my own clients and set up my own graphic design business. I had been working in central London and had a senior position as Deputy Creative Director. After my second child, I decided I needed more flexibility and freedom to work when I wanted. I carried on doing what I knew best and loved which was graphic design.

What challenges have you faced, particularly in relation to being a Black business owner? 

I meet my clients online and much of the relationship and all of my work is done online. Potential clients can see me on my LinkedIn profile and Instagram. I know this is a weird thing to say but I prefer that as occasionally clients want to meet face-to-face and it can prevent the look I sometimes get when I arrive. My name does not give away my colour. Years ago, I would go to interviews or meetings and the look of disgust or utter surprise when I arrived was shocking. I have had someone look me up and down from head to toe and then we had a meeting that only lasted 15 minutes. No surprise that I never heard back from them. I knew it was to do with the colour of my skin. 

As a Black woman, I hold my head high when people ask what I do and I say, “I’m a graphic designer”. They sometimes look shocked that I hold such a position. But I do have Imposter Syndrome. I used to ask myself ‘Is this really me?’ And I used to worry about people hiring me to fulfil their diversity quota. However, after many talks with friends and clients they say – “You are brilliant at what you do. Just be you.”

I’m the daughter of immigrant St Lucian parents who arrived in the 1960s. They were hard workers and did manual jobs not having had the education that they probably would have wanted. They instilled in me and my sister that you have to work hard and treat people how you want to be treated. My children see how hard my husband and I work and I talk to them about doing their utmost, as they will have to work harder. I hated having the conversation with them about being a young Black person growing up in this world but I told them when they started school that they will have to work to their maximum capacity, actually beyond that capacity. Schools must educate the young to have higher aspirations.

Tell us about your journey and successes 

Success for me is being called back by clients for more projects. It’s about knowing that I have done a job to the best of my abilities. It’s about being grateful for who and what I have and taking the opportunities that I have been given. My success has a backstory involving a supportive family, encouraging friends, friendly and funny colleagues from all walks of life; many of whom became lifelong friends. It’s about celebrating the journey with its ups and downs and taking each day and each week as they come. The looks, treatment and responses to my colour are also part of my story and experiences that somehow brought me to this point. I’m still in business after all these years and to me that is success. 

Connect with Angela Lyons on LinkedIn.

 

Tim Glynn, CEO & Founder at Adodo Consultancy Services 

Tell us a bit about your business  

Adodo’s main focus is delivering digital marketing strategies to local businesses in Nottingham to help them transition from the analogue world to the new digital environment. All our processes are mapped out for our clients to help demystify the activities and they are given a client dashboard so they can monitor the added value we bring. 

We still have a telecommunications division and the award-winning Adodo Community Initiative is helping local businesses to increase their exposure in their local communities. We contribute 5% of what a client spends with us to the school or charity of their choice.

How did you become a business owner?

My sabbatical year as Union President was more important to me than my degree since it was my first real taste of management. After three years of graduate training in sales and marketing with Rank Hovis McDougall, I decided I had to be my own boss. That was in 1980. 

I decided to bring all my financial planning, consulting and telecoms experience together to help businesses with their digital marketing strategy, making sure that the foundations of online marketing are in place. Listening to their problems and coming up with solutions.

What challenges have you faced, particularly in relation to being a Black business owner? 

I arrived in the UK as a 4-year-old in 1959 as part of the Windrush Generation. From a small beautiful Caribbean island to a mining village in South Yorkshire. I remember it was bloody cold! Being the only black kid in the pack I stood out like a sore thumb. Despite suffering racial slurs at every turn I had a wonderful school life and my infant school friends are still friends today. In the 1980s, I had to pay a fee to remain British even though I was a British born citizen. That really got under my skin.

When I got into business, as a financial planner, I was the top new associate and received many accolades. I was on target to hit my ‘retirement plan’ at 40. Then in 1989, racism caught up with me. Compliance officers walked into my office, lied in their report and had us shut down. Two years later they turned around and said carry on trading. With what? My business had been destroyed. Two further years passed and I moved back into financial planning and one year later after helping to take the branch from the bottom of the pile to number one, I walked into the branch managers office one Monday morning and he was ashen-faced. He was reading a letter and he turned to me and said, “I’ve got to let you go”. When asked why, he said, “I can’t say” and that was the end of that chapter. To this day I have no idea what that letter said. And that is the problem with racism right there. Being good and standing out had worked against me. It’s hard to fight a government body when you are on your own. That episode ended 26 years ago and this is the first time I’ve shared it publicly.

Tell us about your journey and successes 

I’ve had many successes over the years, from being president of the Nottingham City Business Club, winning awards for our company Community Initiative, developing software for a British telephone company and 5-star company trips flying into Monaco on a helicopter!  

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. That’s the same for all businesses but life’s experiences shape how you deal with them. What I’ve learned so far is that if you are always trying to do good, the mountain may be steep sometimes and the weight on your shoulders a little heavy but if you have good people around you they can always lift you up. I am fortunate and blessed to have the family and life-long friends that I have.

Connect with Tim Glynn on LinkedIn

 

Abadesi Osunsade, Founder & CEO of Hustle Crew

Tell us a bit about your business  

Hustle Crew give talks, training and mentorship to make tech more inclusive. We’re based in London and have been going since 2016. It’s me and a team of eight contractors and freelancers.

We teach teams about bias, privilege and structural oppression so they can mitigate their impact on everything from recruitment to product design and optimise for equality and anti-racism in everything they do.

How did you become a business owner?

I solved a problem that was directly affecting me by launching my company. I worked in a startup with a toxic culture and so formed a community of women and people of colour in tech. We soon realised we all had experienced toxic cultures that had made no effort to educate themselves about bias. That’s when I realised there was something I could offer companies to help them attract and retain diverse candidates.

What challenges have you faced, particularly in relation to being a Black business owner?
When I first launched my business I would go to networking events and pitching events and be ignored, or often mistreated. I recall an event where I told a founder who happened to be a white male that I was trying to fundraise – he immediately cut me down insisting “you’re either fundraising or you’re not so which one is it?” It’s horrible to be the only person in the room being ignored and being made to feel like you don’t belong.

Tell us about your journey and successes 

It’s a rollercoaster but being a community business I’ve always had the support of individuals who believe in the mission of making the tech industry more representative of the society it serves. As we’ve adapted over the years I’ve learned to leverage our community more and more and make myself available to their experiences and challenges so we can be as helpful as we can be and turn that insight into the solutions we design for clients.

The main success has been building a community of peers from the Black community who share similar lived experiences and can relate to the unique challenges I face as I attempt to achieve success in a society that was not designed to favour people from my identity.

Follow @hustlecrewlive on Instagram. 

 

Tracey Louis-Fernand, Owner of Mothering the Mother

Tell us a bit about your business  

Mothering the Mother is a Doula organisation, supporting new and expectant families from conception and birth preparation to attending labour and beyond in London and Essex. Mothering the Mother offers confidential, emotional and practical support from a fully trained, qualified and experienced Doula and Birth Coach. Supplying evidence-based information so that families can make informed decisions that best suit them. Mothering the Mother is not about smothering the mother, instead, it is about helping to empower families to make informed decisions for them and their loved ones. I have been told I have the ability to share knowledge and information in a way that everyone understands and that my voice is extremely calming.

How did you become a business owner?
My journey started a number of years ago with a chance meeting on a train which, although I did not know it at the time, would quite simply change my life forever.  After helping a stranger on a train, who it turned out was in the early stages of her first pregnancy, I felt really moved by her gratitude. Soon after, I stumbled across an advert calling for volunteer Doulas to work on a community-based project working with vulnerable women in need of perinatal support but without the capacity to employ a Doula. Had it not been for that act of kindness on the train, I firmly believe I would not have seen the advert.

The idea for my business came whilst attending a perinatal mental health course. I was working with vulnerable women who would not otherwise be able to access a Doula service. I remember hearing a stark statistic that the highest rate of suicides among women took place within the first year of giving birth. Can you imagine? I remember being asked who we thought these women were and answering they were likely to be the vulnerable woman I was working with, but I was wrong; instead, these women were typically successful, middle-aged, professional women. This statistic haunted me, and I kept thinking to myself ‘but who is mothering the mother?’ And I guess that is really where the seed was sown.

What challenges have you faced, particularly in relation to being a Black business owner?
The biggest challenge for me is quite a personal one; the role of a Doula is nurturing and empowering not only for the families I work with but also for me. And so, I find it really hard to watch the disparities in maternal mortality where Black women, here in the UK, are currently five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This is a heart-breaking statistic. These disturbing figures revealed in the MMBRACE report have been in circulation for a while now.  The work I do is my passion, I believe we are only as strong as the weakest among us and if one falls, we all fall. So, I struggle with the fact Black lives are being lost without any clear indication as to why. At the moment there is a petition to raise awareness and try to bring positive change to this awful tragedy and I give this campaign, led by Fivexmore, my full support.

Tell us about your journey and successes
The transition from being employed to working for yourself is huge.  For me, it was a massive decision to leave behind a lucrative career and pursue my own business, but I can honestly say I love what I do and I have no regrets.

Prior to having my own business, I had neither social media accounts nor a website and, despite changing my line of work completely, in addition to word of mouth, a number of clients have found me either through my website or via Instagram. Because of my experience as a Doula and Birth Coach; my skill set has allowed me the benefit of working as a Doula on an exciting project with asylum-seeking women. The reality may be that I cannot change the world but, I can make a difference one family at a time. 

Follow @Tracey.Doula on Instagram

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Sophie Cross

Sophie Cross is a freelance writer and marketer specialising in business and travel. She is the editor for London Revealed magazine and her clients include lastminute.com Group and Merlin Entertainments

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