In the run up to the Black British Business Awards 2016, we will be showcasing business insights, key learnings and successes from the BBBAwards community. To kick-start, we have our co-founders Melanie Eusebe and Sophie Chandauka providing us insight on what it takes to start and grow a new business with “10 Lessons We’ve Learned from Launching the Black British Business Awards”.
Discover more below:
- Choose your partner carefully and wisely!
When I approached a mentor about the BBBAwards idea, the first thing he said was ‘You can’t do this by yourself’. He knew that I liked working in a collaborative style, and he also knew the community that we wanted to celebrate. Sophie and I were then introduced, and the rest is history. It was simply a blessing that led the two of us to come together and share the creation of the BBBAwards. I thank God that I was partnered with a woman with the same values, vision and work ethic. I love Soph, she is my sister, and together we birthed a baby that has grown faster, bigger and better than our initial aspirations. – Melanie Eusebe
Melanie is probably the biggest relationship risk I have ever taken. We were not even friends when we started the conversation in 2012, and so it was like getting married before you go on a date! Not advisable. But it worked out beautifully; Melanie is the only person in the world I could do this with. She is passionate, rock-solid committed, disciplined, obsessive about the small stuff, crazy fun and wonderfully insane. She is a big dreamer but also an executor. She will stay up all night, all week and all month, if she has to. That’s my girl! – Sophie Chandauka
- Trust your instinct, but listen carefully!
Melanie and I began the conversation about working on the BBBAwards in 2012. It took us almost two years to bring the ceremony to life, not least because we both have very demanding careers. Since 2012, however, we have managed to carve out time for thousands of conversations with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, sponsors, executives at all levels of corporate, public sector and third sector hierarchies, policymakers, press, creative entrepreneurs and perfect strangers. Although we have been very clear about the purpose and place of the BBBAwards from the get-go, we have found that these conversations have taught us so much. We trust our instincts, but we also listen very carefully, because we know the future legacy of the BBBAwards depends very much on an accurate assessment of “what really matters” to the community we wish to serve.
In listening, we have learned at least two very important things:
1) The subject of race, even in the context of a conversation about inclusion, is a rather uncomfortable subject for many people. Some organisations actually do not use the expression “black”, for example. But if you don’t even have a word for the issue, how then can you have a conversation about “the fix”, the solution, the intervention?
2) Notwithstanding the first point and the sensitivities and concerns about being “politically incorrect”, we have been surprised time and time again by the generosity of spirit and support in very concrete ways from what I thought would be the least likely quarters. It only goes to show that I certainly can’t purport not to have some unconscious bias. But I’m working on it! – Sophie Chandauka
- The new economy is about collaboration!
At the heart of collaboration is diversity. You do not have to be everything to everyone (we will send ourselves to an early grave if we try to be everything to everyone). Do what you do well, and collaborate with others in what they do well. Everywoman is fantastic at delivering diversity awards programmes that change the industry. Our PR team is fantastic at creating key relationships that bring value for all participants. We started with the core vision and goal, and now we have been able to expand it by collaborating with others and making room for everyone to contribute their best. – Melanie Eusebe
- If you build it, they will come!
The BBBAwards has exceeded our expectations on many levels, and Melanie and I are hugely thankful to our families, friends, colleagues and the amazing group of sponsors that has grown over the last three years. We are so very proud of the phenomenal stories of pioneers and rising stars that we have celebrated so far, and continue to follow with great interest as they chart their courses in life. We have been very clear that we must harness this momentum and community power to positively affect changes to ensure the greater prosperity and influence of those that are coming behind us.
It is really important to realise that, as one embarks upon a journey such as the BBBAwards, there may be a lot of ‘naysayers’ and many difficulties. The conversations relating to BBBAwards sponsorship in this economy, and for a subject that is often in the “too hard to do” pile for many organisations, are very tough (physically and emotionally). However, we passionately believe that there are much more positive, inspiring and powerful stories to be told about our people, past and present, and that it is very important to showcase these talents that exist in this country. What is the point of complaining if we don’t do anything about it? So, Melanie and I do our best, improvising if we have to, but we certainly never give up! – Sophie Chandauka
- You must evolve and grow with the market requirements!
When you succeed and make it look achievable, you will attract others to the market to attempt to do what you do. See it as a compliment when others enter the market after you. Keep your eye on your vision and goal, instead of diverting your gaze to look behind you. When companies focus on competing or replicating rather than innovating to meet the needs of customers, they don’t perform as well. There have been so many initiatives launched since the start of the BBBAwards, however we are all pushing towards the same vision and goals in different ways, and so we seek to innovate and collaborate. – Melanie Eusebe
- This is not for the fainthearted!
Branding, planning, creating, producing and executing the BBBAwards to the level of excellence that Melanie and I demand is jolly hard work. We have been very clear that we must do our utmost to represent the legacy of our forefathers, our community and future generations with joy, pride, great dignity, authenticity and truthfulness. As a result, we are not only “all over” the strategic stuff, we sweat the small stuff too. So, for example, it will come as no surprise that most establishments are geared to deliver a program for “the mainstream”; consequently, Melanie and I have had interesting/memorable conversations with venues about treble checking and ensuring correct pronunciation and spellings on name badges, appropriately configured lighting, catering options, music etc. Yes, we are very much on the case but, thank goodness, we have the best in-synch team imaginable! – Sophie Chandauka
- Empower your team to operate in your absence!
Lead with principles and values, rather than specific operational processes. Start with principles and values, such as how you want to make people feel and how you want the ceremony to be, and then go into how you would specifically do that. This empowers a team to operate in your absence, rather than you having to look over their shoulder at every moment. This type of environment fosters innovation, as team members are freed up to think about how they can make things better, rather than worrying about adhering to a process. – Melanie Eusebe
- Magic circle!
It is so easy to forget about family and friends when life gets busy. We have not necessarily been getting top marks in the “staying in touch” departments, but we have been very conscious of the fact that, at the end of the day, we are sisters, daughters, granddaughters and friends. We came from somewhere! It is very important to love and be there for our friends and families, because they have really given us the space to do something that they know is important to us. Very rarely do they complain, and for that we love them all and are forever indebted and thankful. – Sophie Chandauka
- Starting a new project/initiative will take up all the room you give it!
If we are not careful, the BBBAwards could be all consuming, and so we have to continuously work at putting it in a box so that we can work at our day jobs and take care of our mental, spiritual and physical health. When we don’t prioritise our own health and wellness, we put everything else at risk. – Melanie Eusebe
- Music and laughter are key!
Thank goodness the whole team is ready to share a smile or laughter. The jokes, music, and warm words that are shared amongst team members lay the foundation for times when we are stressed (out) and words and messages may be short.” – Melanie Eusebe
Do you have a success story or business and leadership learnings you would like to share with the BBBA community? Submit a blog post by emailing melanieandsophie@thebbbawards. com