Movers and Shakers | Joanna Abeyie | Founder & MD at Hyden, SThree
Continuing our series of profiles on women of colour making their mark in industry and business.
Joanna founded the award-winning creative industry diverse talent recruitment business Shine Media in 2009, which recently morphed into Hyden as part of leading global recruiter SThree PLC. Hyden is a champion of diverse senior leadership talent in the creative industries. Joanna has helped to place more than 3,000 people from diverse backgrounds in permanent and freelance jobs in the creative industries.
What drove you to start your own business?
I launched my business by accident initially. I wanted to increase diversity within the media industry so I spent a large amount of time finding talented people and networking with companies and then matching these together. I realised I was good at this and decided that if I wanted the industry to be more diverse I had to make it so myself. And honestly that evening Shine Media was registered and born! Shine Media morphed into Hyden in October last year, at the same time it became part of the leading global recruiter SThree PLC, so it’s been a huge period of growth for my business.
Hyden specialises in hiring diverse leaders for the creative industry and I’m really proud of our approach – we provide on-boarding support for managers and executive mentoring or talent for the duration of one year to increase retention and diversity of thought at leadership level. It’s one thing to hire talent but to ensure that they are successful, able to navigate the senior leadership teams and progress means that they need the right support – i.e mentoring and for managers to ensure they are creating an inclusive environment they also need our support.
We also provide what I term ‘alternative recruitment practices’, these are a solution to specific business needs and challenges. Rather than using the usual ‘here’s a job brief’ and we provide a shortlist, we ensure that we choose a different way to recruit that will ensure you successfully, reach, attract and employ diverse talent. These have been hugely successful and have helped increase the hiring of female and BAME talent in particular at senior leadership level.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I have been a journalist for about a decade now. Started my career writing for women’s weekly consumer titles like Now magazine, Heat and Cosmopolitan to name just a few, then moved into digital and online writing for places like The Sun Newspaper, The Times Online and The Guardian and then moved into radio and worked with BBC Radio London, BBC Radio 5live and then moved into documentary making.
I made a show called Hip Hop Millions for Channel 4, then A story called Alcohol & Me for ITV This Morning and then another on Female Ex-Offenders for BBC Inside out.
I did all this from the age of 16, and subsequently co-founded youth employment charity Elevation Networks with seven others at the age of 19 and then founded Shine Media at 21… so I’ve been busy!!
Tell us about the business planning stage.
I did write a business plan, then developed it and then developed it again – it develops every day. As you grow, learn about your service, test the market and work on things you’ll see that your business will become the business it has to become in order to be successful and realise your dreams – well that’s certainly the case for me!
I surrounded myself with real mentors, I continue to attend business events, networking events and reading books. Never think you’ve learnt enough when it comes to business. Entrepreneurship and business is a very personal journey and each individual will have so many different experiences.
There are many start-up loans organisations, business plan templates, the British Library and local organisations that are providing funding and encouraging entrepreneurship. My advice to others would be to tap into these as soon as you can. Contact people you find inspiring and ask for their help. They will love that!
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
I plan all my aims for the year ahead and then I split it into monthly and weekly goals. I have real tunnel vision with what I want. Once something is in my head I become obsessed with it and won’t stop until I get it. I’ve never had to compromise my morals, ethics or treat anyone badly in order to do that, though. I’ve been told by those closest to me that I will always be a success because I’m like a dog with a bone that just won’t let things go – I have to realise everything I say. As soon as I say something out loud or write it down, I make sure I do it.
My good friend Francesca always says, ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ and I make sure I do that. I know what my prize looks like – I’ve visualised it since I was 15 and I’ll just keep picturing that.
Also, don’t sulk! Just work on the solution… take it for what it is, learn and keep going. ‘When you’re a diamond you’ll realise why God had to pressure you’ is what I often say to myself.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I start my day typically at 6 am and they start usually with answering emails, proof-reading documents I’ve written, reading lots of research, write relevant articles on my findings, running through contracts and T’s and C’s etc. Then between 10 -2.30pm I try to have all telephone and client meetings and then from 2.30pm-5.30pm I try to get things done i.e. brief candidates, meet candidates, complete tasks for businesses and clients and then from 6.30pm – 9.30pm I’m usually at an industry event related to my passions or the business.
This is what an ideal day would look like but invariably there could be more or less of the other with a large number of panel discussions and public speaking across the week. I’m going to sound boring but usually, when I get home I read one of the books I’m obsessed with at the moment, work on personal projects like my TV work or watch a TED Talk!
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
These are very tricky questions!! Too many moments and equally so amazing in their own right. I was over the moon when the TV industry FINALLY recognised me in Broadcast Magazine as a HotShot last year. I was very proud of Shine Media each time we won our nine awards.
But one feeling that I reckon surpasses all is when I ring up a talented candidate to tell them they’ve got their job!! I’ve heard tears, silence, screaming, running man dances, people fall off their chair and that feeling is the best I’ve ever felt. I end up in tears myself sometimes. I’ve seen my talent go through such a journey a lot of the time and they’ve worked so hard and have in many cases felt penalised for their difference so I’m bursting with pride when I call them to say they’ve got their job!
What has been your scariest moment?
I’ve never been asked this. But I honestly can’t remember… I’ve been racking my brain on this one and I’ve landed at: I’m always pretty scared. I have VERY high expectations of myself. I always want to push and grow and develop as a person.
I realised when I was really young that I was always going to have to be independent and therefore would always be a little scared but that just came to the realisation that I needed to feel the fear and do it anyway. Interestingly I’ve always felt that if my dreams didn’t scare me I wasn’t dreaming big enough. Every goal I’ve ever set myself I’ve achieved – always or exceeded my own expectations on it. So I take the fear and use it to motivate me to keep being the best version of me.
How do you work on making your business grow?
I start at the finish line and work backwards. I outline in my mind what good looks like and then work backwards… i.e. how will I achieve this? Then I map out who I need to help me achieve this. What experts? What processes? What brand I need to create, who I’ll need to hire and what I can realistically do this month, then next month and then a year from now and two years from now.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
The speed at which you can achieve things. Patience isn’t my best quality and so corporate life can be frustrating for someone like me, as there is so much process to follow and departments to align before things get completed.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
It’s an interesting question but I’d say that James Caan hit the nail on the head with something he said last week during an interview I went to see at the Entrepreneur Academy.
He said ‘the buck always stops with you when you run your own business. It doesn’t matter how many third parties you pay to support you including Lawyers, Accountants etc they might have a responsibility to do their job but you have a bigger responsibility to learn how to manage them’. i.e. don’t just rely on your accountant to have everything straight with your accounts. Learn enough to double check – they are human too, therefore, can make human errors. If something doesn’t go correctly with HMRC it’s you they’ll call… and saying your accountant signed off the accounts and you signed them just won’t wash!
So I’d say the challenge is finding a fine line between delegation and education. Delegate once you know how to do it correctly yourself so that when checking over something it’s not too big a task for you. I’m not saying go out and do an accounting and law degree but do make sure you understand the real mechanics of a business.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
One big business inspiration for me was the late Felix Dennis, self-titled Poet, Publisher and Owner of Trees. He was the founder and CEO of Dennis Publishing and I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times. He also very kindly spared me a morning of his time and he allowed me to ask him so many questions about business and what I was trying to achieve. He candidly shared with me his journey. He explained that he’d started his business with just £50 in his pocket and that it took him over 15 years to truly start making the kind of wealth that he was later fortunate to have.
He then explained that I would never become wealthy working for someone else – he continued that I might have a nice salary but not the real freedom available to me unless I earned my own way. He also told me that if I wanted to work for anyone I should only do so to grow expertise and knowledge and then depart and use that education to build my own. I couldn’t agree more!
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
‘If they value you – they will pay for you’ This has been said to me by many people but in particular it was told to me by Daniel Taylor. He said that the work I was doing with Shine Media was worth more than I was charging and when I heard the above quote I realised how true that was. Charge what you’re worth and don’t be worried about those who won’t pay for it – this is dependent on the situation but in my case I felt like it was relevant because the right customer will pay for you. I think it’s really important to know the difference between a bad pound and a good pound.
What are the three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
Brian Tracy – Bulls Eye, The Power of Focus
Prof Steve Peters – The Chimp Paradox
Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I LOVE horses and sponsor a horse called Zippy! He’s a beautiful Chestnut colour – a personal dream of mine is to have my own horse one day and to have the time to ride on a regular basis. And aside from that I’m happiest surrounded by my family, friends and their little people!
Joanna won Social Enterprise of the Year for Shine Media at the 2012 PRECIOUS Awards