Describe your business in one paragraph
The Big Secret Company is a new social enterprise organisation, which delivers playful learning communication experience to young people, working professionals and family groups at their locations or by attending our open events.
We use our unique resources: The Big Secret – a very short story and Shhh or Tell it – a family fun and educational learning board game. My other business ‘Atiti is distinctly different’ which provides a range of services including business mentoring and creative design.
When was your company founded?
Atiti is distinctly different was founded in 2011 and The Big Secret Company in 2012.
Why did you decide to start your company?
Both new businesses have emerged out of the journey which I started in 2000 when I formed Distinctly Different Limited. It was a pre-recession, high growth business and under this company I built up a distinct brand delivering a unique personal development offering. We worked with organisations such as Islington Chamber of Commerce, London Metropolitan University and The Big Issue. Distinctly Different Ltd ceased trading in 2011.
What I took away from Distinctly Different were the priceless kernels of learning, business experience, an in-depth knowledge of product development and a clear recognition that I need a different business vehicle to get ‘The Big Secret story’ and ‘Shhh or Tell it –the board game’ to the market I was targeting.
Setting up as ‘Atiti is distinctly different’ serves the purpose of offering me manageable blocks of work within my fields of expertise as well as opportunity to network more and raise my profile.
I started my new organisation – The Big Secret Company because I took knowledge legacy away from my previous company. I am a creative social entrepreneur passionate about personal development with a vision for a world where we are never too busy to help each other get through the dilemmas of life. This company will use playful learning at game play events to promote this objective. Playful learning has the advantage of working with an engaged captive audience.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
Post-graduation, my first job was working with an architect who had an interior design,furniture design and a furniture making business. This was great as it allowed me to revive my passion for art, design and creativity. Following on from that, circumstances led me to discover opportunities within the Voluntary Community Sector and I worked with charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Brent and Westminster, London East AIDS Network (LEAN), London Lighthouse and Blackfriars Advice Centre. I had various roles in this sector and developed lots of new skills. I left paid work to set up Distinctly Different in July 2000.
In terms of having a specific direction I would prefer to say I was very much on a journey of self discovery.
Did you always know that you would become an entrepreneur?
Not for certain, but I guess you could say I discovered who I was along the way and with that the realisation I came to understand how I think and deliver best.
Tell us about the business planning stage
I have accessed business support from the Leonard Cheshire Enabled 4 Growth programme E4G and from within my network of friends, colleagues and associates. The business planning stage provided me with a framework to test the concept of The Big Secret Company with a minimum viable version of the business. This approach is less expensive and less onerous because it is a ‘lean’ approach and it means that I am in a position to start engaging customers sooner and access immediate feedback from early customers (adopters) to my business.
What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
Under Atiti is distinctly different – I am fortunate to have some projects ongoing which are well spaced out and not demanding because the majority of my time has been taken up with my work in setting up the new social enterprise. I am working on a few things at the moment including the development of a children’s animated character – Tiddles and I have developed a Facebook app – Shhh or Tell
My day starts at 5.20am. I spend my personal quiet time till 6.00am then I get my family up to ensure they’re all out by 8.00am. My day could consist of business meetings, delivery, development or design work, networking or event participation of some other kind e.g a lecture or speaking engagement.
I generally have a book to read throughout the day and I have about 3 hours of Social Media interaction throughout the day.
Most days I aim to be home when my children get home from school as I made a commitment to myself when I started my business that I would work around my family’s needs. I try to be available for homework support and dinner and after everyone has gone to bed my downtime is spending quality time in good company.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
I would say that running my business has given me an opportunity to demonstrate the stuff I’m made of.
Taking my previous business from the house into an office, growing my staff team and working though product development, recognising that I needed to pivot in a different direction and use a different vehicle to achieve the social business goal I had in mind for my products and now setting up a Social Enterprise would definitely be the highlight of running my own business. I have had to be skilled, versatile, competent and responsive.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
I can think of quite a few things:
– Learning to say no in general, it is really hard, but necessary,
– Having to accommodate and work with people who don’t share your work ethic, passion and zest for either what they do, you do and sometimes life,
– Learning not to beat yourself up when things don’t go they way you planned, hoped etc and
– Making your money last and stretch (cashflow)
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
Life, my faith, my family, my children, listening to the stories of other people.
How do you work on making your business grow?
I engage the expertise that I and my business lack and seek advice from people who know more than I do or who have done something similar to what I’m trying to do and LISTEN intently to what they have to say. I invest in my personal development and business development and take time out away from the business to return with fresh eyes. I also continuously prune and refine my offer and take on board customer feedback.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt as an entrepreneur?
It’s okay to get it wrong and make mistakes; it’s not okay not to learn from this!
What other passions do you have away from your business?
My faith is one. I describe myself as a ‘faith-walker’, this is what I lean on daily and it gets me through the really tough times. Another passion of mine is family time. I miss not being with the people I love when I’m busy working, but I look forward to the quality time we spend together talking, listening, learning about each other and doing things together means so much.
I have a passion to create beautiful things like shoes, jewellery and sweet-smelling perfume. As a past time, I design shoes and jewellery and have had samples of my brand of perfume developed. Some of my accessories currently sell to order. I also have a passion for helping others, supporting children, and empowering other women.
My passions remind me that I am all woman, just without the complexity.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own business?
A business is different from a passion and not all great ideas are great businesses. It is vital to sit and discuss your business idea with an experienced business advisor or mentor. It may take time to get your business going and it is a lonely and hard reality, but the rewards are immense especially when you see the added value your business, product or service makes to the life of someone else. The journey to success will teach you a lot about yourself, but it’s a good idea for you to start off with self-exploration as this will give you a very good indication of how you are likely to perform and where you are really going to need help.