Hi, my name is Ola Agbaimoni also known as the Business Detective because of my Sherlock Holmes-like ability to solve problems by seeing the solutions hidden in the things that are often within plain sight. I’ve been working for myself since 2010 when I left local government. My background is in town planning and regeneration. So I’ve spent years shaping places and working with deprived communities, third sector organisations and businesses of all sizes trying to stimulate the economy of inner city London and improve the life chances of the most excluded members of society.
I am full of surprises when it comes to things that people wouldn’t know about me. I’m an ordained interfaith minister, I have a black belt in Tae Kwon do and I’ve run the London Marathon.
Now tell us about your business. What’s it all about, how do you think and feel about it now, do you have staff and premises or work mainly alone at home? What aims and ambitions do you still have for your business?
My current business has organically grown out of my activities over the last 3 years. If someone had told me I’d be running a marketing company when I left work I would have said no.
I left work because I wanted to change the world for the better- have a bigger impact and do something that mattered and made a difference. I had become extremely disillusioned with the public sector. Year after year we introduced programs that had little or no impact. After watching the same initiatives dressed up in new clothes recycle themselves with each new administration for the fourth time I concluded that nothing changed because no one really cared or wanted a solution. So I left, determined to have a real impact on people’s lives.
I have a real passion for people and love coaching so I initially set up a coaching business helping women to identify their own passion and a way to make money doing it. The problem I faced was that the people I most wanted to help were the people least able to afford my services. So naturally I ended up doing a lot of free 30 minute sessions but no much in the way of delivering to paying customers. In hindsight I think I decided to change direction just at the point that things were beginning to change. I gave up 3 feet from gold. However, I don’t regret it because spending time regretting things in business is wasted energy. It’s far better to learn from your mistakes and move on.
I decided to go into partnership with Lilach Bullock who is a social media expert. Her business, Socialable Ltd., provides social media management services and she was looking for a way to expand and grow her business. At first it seemed like we were a natural fit. But it turned out that we had different visions for the business and our roles within it. So less than 8 month after making thing mega shift I was back to the drawing board. I’d really enjoyed the social media and by accident rather than design we also provided coaching and mentoring for many of the businesses we worked with. Lilach and I had talked about creating a bigger marketing agency that offered a broader range of services, so in partnership with my soul sister, Carole Pyke, we set up Eélan Media Ltd on 03/12/12 which means my current business is less than a year old.
Eélan Media is a marketing agency that is passionate about HUGs, Stories, transforming business and celebrating success – in that order. We are all about putting the heart back in to business and making HUG-able Businesses. Businesses that Hear Understand and Give back incredible value. HUGging your customers makes them want to HUG you back. When a customer HUGs you back it means that they buy from you, more often and also become your raving fans. That is an unpaid sales force that is constantly referring friends and family.
As my business is so new right now my feelings for it are a mixture of excitement and terror. Excitement because of all the possibilities, I have visions of creating a global corporation that redefines how businesses do business. A world full of HUG-able businesses. And terror because starting and building a successful business (especially in tough economic times) is very difficult. I can honestly say it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Harder than running multi-million pound projects, harder than facing angry hostile communities who were being displaced by regeneration schemes and harder than running throughout “the wall” when I ran the marathon. I thought nothing could be harder than that.
Advice and information is everywhere. However, ironically, this seems to make it harder not easier because there is so much it can be overwhelming. Also if you’ve been very successful in the corporate world and you aren’t automatically successful in your businesses it’s embarrassing. There is a real sense of failure and shame that you have to overcome in the early days. Despite all this, I wouldn’t change it. What I love most about working for myself is being the master (or mistress) of my own destiny. The buck does stop with you but that means the possibilities start with you too.
My business is home based and I have one intern at present. I’ve managed to lose another business partner in the space of 12 months which has taught me a lot about how to choose a business partner.
This series of interviews is designed to inspire others, mainly women, on the same path. What tips would you share with them which would short-cut their journey to happiness being their own boss?
Given what I just said about business partners, my tip is going to seem a little odd. Don’t try to do it alone. If you can find people who share your vision, drive and passion, building a business is going to be a lot more fun and a lot easier. Doing it alone is a lonely journey, sort of like being a single parent. Many people raise highly successful, wonderfully well-adjusted members of the community as single parents – it’s possible but it is a struggle. Having someone to take over when you are depleted or re energise you when you want to give up makes all the difference.
This is what great business partners do so if you can find them I would still recommend doing it this way despite my personal experience. I’ve another tip for women who are currently employed who are thinking of starting their own business. Keep your job until you have built a customer base and you are earning at least enough money to pay your major bills before you go full time. It will be hard juggling the two but having no money because you have no customers will be harder. Alternatively spend a year building up a bank of cash (6 months’ salary) and then leave.
What did you struggle with most in your start-up phase, and how did you crack that?
I struggled with finding customers. I learnt a lot more about marketing and building a proper sales process where I track leads and devise marketing campaigns.
What have you learned about yourself while working solo?
I’ve learned a lot about my inner fears and how to deal with them. I’ve also learned that you have a choice about how you are in business. You can choose to be cut-throat and tread on everyone else just to make money or you can be ethical, share information and knowledge and genuinely be nice. The former seems to get you far faster but it is an illusion. Business is all about building relationships and giving value to other people. It’s the quality of your relationships and the amount of value you provide that will determine how successful you are.
Did you choose self-employment or did it choose you? Any regrets?
It was a conscious choice and despite the odd fantasy about having a 9-5 job where I just I turn up and then went home with my money, I’ve no regrets
What one encouraging thought sums it all up?
It’s impossible to fail in business if you don’t give up. The people who end up being successful are the ones who refused to give up not the ones with the best business ideas.
Do you have a current project you would like readers to know about?
I’m just launching my Social Media Marketing & Mentoring Program
Do you feel lonely or isolated when working for yourself? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you get your social needs met? What do you recommend to others in this regard?
I don’t feel lonely or isolated because I have an intern who works with me, I’m active on social media and I am friends with other businesswomen who work by themselves and we meet up or call each other if we need company. My new program offers a group mentoring package which has a FB group that is designed to address the issue of isolation.
Ola, you are a find! How can readers become fans and followers?
Business HUG Day is 28th November 2013
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