Spotlight: Film maker Saudat Sanusi and her film production Company

Sysan Productions is an independent film production company which creates films and provides audio-visual content and script writing services for organisations. The company was founded by Saudat Sanusi, a Nigerian-British film maker, screen writer and script writer in 2014.

Film production is at the core of this business from development through to principal photography and post-production. Sysan Productions also provide audio-visual content and script writing services for organisations who want to increase brand promotion and raise awareness. Whether it be event filming including product launches or conferences, promotional videos, investor relations and testimonial videos, Sysan is your go to production company. They have a talented team which is able to visually bring to light ideas and help to create a memorable image.

Saudat’s passion for film making grew out of her love of watching films. “As far as I remember, I’ve always loved films”, she says during our interview. As her passion grew, she became intrigued by the film making process and wanted to learn more about its different facets, which led her to taking on an MA in film. After completing her studies, she started off as a producer, working with talented writers/directors to produce several short films and an anthology which focused on five connected stories.

However, as time went on, she felt the need to tell stories from her personal perspective and so began to write and direct projects. Some of her previous projects include True Ripples which is available on Vimeo.

We caught up on all things related to the film industry and the challenges of being an entrepreneur.

Do your films have a particular theme? If so what is it?

I was born in Nigeria and live in the UK so, my aim is to tell stories about people like myself, those who feel caught in between different worlds, whether it be culturally or figuratively. 

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What was it like moving to the UK from Nigeria and why does it play such a big part in your films?

I was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK when I was six years old. Whilst I’ve spent the majority of my life here in the UK, my mum and most of my family still live in Nigeria and I try to visit them whenever possible.

As a Nigerian living in the UK, I recognise that there are vast differences between the two cultures whether it be music, food or language and it is these differences that affect and shape my everyday life. By focusing on the realities of these two cultures in my films, I am telling stories about my own experiences, with the hope of relating to others that also feel caught between different worlds, whether it be culturally or figuratively.

How did you go about setting up a production company? Did you need any licenses or permits?

Once I had a company name, knew my niche and the types of films I wanted to create, I incorporated my company at Companies House. Next steps included drafting a business plan and setting up a business bank account. Filmmaking is a collaborative process so I’ve made sure to build a network of filmmakers and creatives, who I can call on to work on projects with me.

In regard to licenses / permits, permits are required to film in public places and the cost depends on the type of filming and the location. Also, for all film shoots, it’s important to have film production insurance and to do a production risk assessment.

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What are you enjoying the most in your entrepreneurial journey?

Being an entrepreneur is extremely rewarding for me as I am able to turn my passion for filmmaking into creating a business that is aligned with my personal values. Although there are many challenges and it can take time to build up a business, I have found that I’m constantly learning. Also, I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy connecting with entrepreneurs and organisations from not only the film industry but also various other industries.

I also love the collaborative aspect of being an independent filmmaker. Every project is different, and the size of a film crew can range from a small team to a team of thousands. This keeps it interesting as you never know who you might meet or what you might learn on a project.

What do you enjoy the least about being an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is a risk. However, I always keep in mind my vision for the company and make sure to always have a positive outlook. This enables me to take the necessary and sometimes risky steps that are required in order for the company to succeed.

How do you obtain actors /actresses for your films?

It varies.  Casting agents are great as they have a wide variety of talent on their books. There have also been times when I’ve watched a film and thought that an actor/actress might be suitable for one of my upcoming projects so, I’ve reached out to their agent. I’ve also posted acting jobs on casting call websites and /or social network groups for actors/actresses. After receiving submissions from the actors/actresses, I call them in to audition, which could be in person or by video, in order to get a sense of their ability and suitability for the role.

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What challenges have you faced so far and how have you dealt with them?  

As in any business, having enough capital at the offset has proved vital as it can take a while to generate income. Fortunately, I’m a qualified accountant so, I’m familiar with managing financial records and budgeting.

Whilst building a business has its challenges, the unpredictability and lack of monotony makes it exciting and worthwhile. I’m as passionate and determined as ever.

Where can people find your films?

Information about my films can be found on my website and on the Sysan Productions website. My work is also on platforms such as YouTube (for trailers) and Vimeo.

Any business or individual(s) wanting to connect with Saudat can do so on the following social media channels:

IG: @saudatsanusi or @sysanproductions

Twitter: @saudatsanusi or @sysanpro


A New Way to find your favourite Wine and Tapas

Eligant is wine and tapas discovery business that introducing customers to exclusive wines and tapas through its online shop and club at The business was started by Gisely Dias as she wanted to share her passion for delicious wine, tapas and the Mediterranean with the world. The business selects, sources and handpicks exclusive Mediterranean wines and Spanish artisan tapas from amazing people and local businesses.

Currently, there products include wines from Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, which are only available in the UK through Eligant. They also sell artisan tapas such as Iberian ham, manchego cheese and much more.

Eligant also hosts wine tasting sessions (currently held online) and sell celebration packs, which are the perfect gift and worry free box for those speecial moments with friends and family.

I caught up with Gisely to talk about this new venture

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What makes Eligant different from other wine subscriptions?

Transparency. With Eligant you can read more than just a label. Our customers have the opportunity
to learn all about the product before committing to buy as we have collected and curated the
relevant information about our products: flavours & aromas, wine profile, food pairing suggestions
and handling, leaving no doubts about what to expect. You can imagine how a wine will taste just by
browsing on our website.

Discovery. Those who subscribe to the club will receive a handpicked selection of wines and tapas every month. Customers enjoy variety and expand their horizon and knowledge of original and local Mediterranean products.

Exclusivity. Most of the wines and tapas in our online club and shop can only be bought through us. Eligant club connects the British people with local Mediterranean producers awaking memories and dreams of a perfect holiday. We have personally visited the wineries and tasted hundreds of wines and have partnered with an incredible wine expert with 15+ years’ experience to select the best products.

Knowledge. On our website, you can learn about the main grapes in the Mediterranean, the regions and how to pair wine with food. Soon we will be sharing yummy recipes that go along perfectly with our wines.

I understand you launched the business a few months ago, during the pandemic. How was that?

We launched Eligant shop 3 weeks ago, and plan to launch Eligant club in May 2021.

I believe when life gives you grapes, make wine J. We all have the power to react positively to adversity. I am passionate about Spain and used to go there on holiday twice a year. During lockdown we all felt stuck, and I’ve decided to do something to bring that Mediterranean feeling and experience to the UK.

I wanted to create something special by offering high quality products made with passion by local and in the UK unknown producers. British people ought to have great Mediterranean products in the comfort of their home with or without travel restrictions.

What are you enjoying the most in your entrepreneurial journey?

The passion that I have for Eligant gives me the energy to work incredible hard. The power to move forward and the inspiration to do something special only happens when you genuinely believe in what you are doing. Wine is my fuel.

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When I embrace a challenge, I always give my best. Prior to launching Eligant, I carried out some market research and received positive feedback on the products, online shop. The same has occurred since went live and customers started buying wine and tapas. Receiving such positive feedback from customers gives me a boost of motivation. Their excitement and joy when they open an Eligant box and taste the products fuels my passion every time.

As a Financial Controller I was previously only focused on my professional niche. As an entrepreneur I became curious about everything; now I want to learn more and more about the entrepreneurial world every single day and connect with people to understand their journey.  I really enjoy this curiosity and ability to solve problems and quickly move forward. Every day is a unique day.

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How do you source the wine and tapas sold on your website?

This is actually the really fun part of my job!

We visited the producers in Spain back in July 2020 and learned about their story, their products, their methods, and traditions. We have tasted over 120 of wines and selected a range from sparkling to fortified wines. Currently we offer 50+ wines on our website.

We have also partnered with two exclusive wine importers and carefully selected a range of Mediterranean wines. Like us they have visited the wineries and picked the best selection. However, the main focus lies on wines and tapas that can only be sourced through

What challenges have you faced so far and how have you dealt with them?

As an entrepreneur every day brings a new challenge. There is always something to figure out or to fix.

But my biggest challenge at the moment is brand awareness. We launched 3 weeks ago and so far brand awareness has been through word of mouth, from people who have enjoyed our products and recommended us to their friends and family. This has been great so far but there is still more to be done.

Now a suitable marketing strategy and realisation is crucial: How to spread the word without spending a fortune is a challenge for a self-funded start-up. I now need to find a way to communicate my passion and make people curious to try and fail in love with the experience as much as I have.

Enjoy a Mediterranean experience in the comfort of your home when you purchase wines and tapas from ! Order now and get 15% discount on all products using the code WELCOME. Customers also get free delivery for orders over £60!

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Not your average Jewellery brand

ELXNAY is a jewellery brand that was started in 2018 as a hobby by a mum, whilst on maternity leave. She was used to being busy and wanted something to keep her occupied in her spare time, this quickly became a passion. She identified a niche in the market and the brand now provides high quality tarnish free jewellery, which means customers can have affordable and fashionable pieces that will last them a life time.

Here is how the conversation went, when I caught up with founder Naomi McGann on how she started this great business

Have you always worked in this industry and what motivated you to start your own brand of Jewellery?

I haven’t always worked in the jewellery industry. I am a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and I qualified at 21 years old. Although I was proud of my achievements, the excitement quickly wore off when I realised I did not want to work 12 hours shifts for the rest of my (working) life. I knew I wanted to start a family and be present for my children.

I fell into owning my brand but my motivation to keep on going is my daughter and my little sister (I call them my little helpers). I do this for them to give them the best start and to show them that black women can run a successful business, there are no limits to what you can achieve when you put your mind to it

Necklace by

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What makes your jewellery brand different from others on the market?

What makes ELXNAY stand out is that the business thrives off representing our customers. We specialise in country map jewellery. Our pendants allow people from different cultures and backgrounds to carry a piece of home with them wherever they go!

Being of Caribbean heritage it has always been important to feel close to and be proud of my background. Wearing my St. Kitts and Jamaica necklace achieved this for me. This was a feeling I wanted everyone to experience.  With over 90 country map pieces available we allow many people from all around the world to feel connected to home. We also provide trendy pieces that make the perfect go to jewellery collection for everyday wear. 

For those that are not aware, tell us about the jewellery market and where your brand is positioned

The Jewellery business is a competitive, billion-pound market that is projected to grow rapidly in the next few years. Though the trajectory is mostly reflective of high-end brands, mid-range brands like ELXNAY are also expected to do well. Despite the fragility of the high street the purchasing of jewellery has gone up, with research showing two-thirds of people in the UK buying jewellery for themselves or someone else…. Overall there has been a 5% increase in comparison to 2018!

I think this is a profitable market, especially when you discover your unique niche and in the age of online shopping there’s some evidence to suggest online brands may have a stronger advantage.

Why did you decide to sell your jewellery via your own website and move away from Etsy?

When I started ELXNAY it was a hobby and Etsy seemed to be the best place to dip my feet in the water and see what people wanted. After obtaining almost 7 thousand sales with many returning customers, it became very clear that there was a demand for our product and in order to gain more control over our business and to truly establish the brand in its own right, I recognised it was time to move ELXNAY to its own domain

Pendants by:

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What are some of the challenges you experienced whilst moving to your own website? 

The biggest challenge about starting over was starting over! I felt like I had mastered Etsy. I knew how to list products in a way that guaranteed traffic to my store, how to interact with customers quickly and effectively and how to unify this to generate sales.

There’s a lot more work that goes on behind the scenes of owning your own website, things I hadn’t yet encountered. My first challenge was designing my website, whereas Etsy is like a cookie cutter one-store-fits-all well as your own website is essentially a blank canvas that you have to paint on to create your brand identity.

Then came the challenge of generating sales, because once you navigate away from ETSY you also leave behind the customers Etsy brings to its platform. Every visit to my store is now generated by me and so, I had to learn how to really utilise the power of social media and online advertising. It has been a journey… challenging but most definitely rewarding. 

Do you design it yourself?

initially, when I started ELXNAY as a one (wo)man brand I wore many hats, which included penning my own designs ready for our manufactures to transform into amazing pieces. However, I quickly discovered that I’m not a jewellery designer (as cool as it would be to be one) and there’s a reason people go onto further education to study this intricate skill. I’m thankful now that I can maintain creative control over my designs however can rely on skilled designers to capture this for me!

Do you have any advice for aspiring jewellery designers?

There’s no better time than now to get started in the jewellery industry. With so many mid to high range jewellery brands finding their feet and expanding their territory, many are on the search for keen and hard-working jewellery designers to join their teams.

Reach out and pitch your unique selling point, highlighting what you could offer to a brand. Alternatively, if being the boss of your own brand is more suited to you, once you’ve established your desired brand identity, take time to build a great working relationship with a manufacture. It is always important to have trust in your manufacturer to deliver exactly what you’ve asked for especially after investing so much of your time and money into something you love!

Necklace by:

What are your plans for the brand this year?

This year I want to continue to grow the brand’s collections to represent more countries around the world whilst also connecting with the wider community. I will be hiring more staff to support the growth of the business and collaborating with others to grow the brand identity.

More importantly we want to decrease our carbon footprint and ensure our business is friendlier to the environment!

Thank you so much for sharing the journey of ELXNAY. Checkout this unique jewellery at and get 20% off your purchase with promo code: BOB20

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This Expat is taking her passion for travel to the next level

Melanin Travels Magic is an online travel tour operator providing Group Tours & Travel planning services to the African and Carribean diaspora worldwide. Founded by marketing consultant Christina Belloge, the company specialises in Black heritage tours in countries with a major afro descent population. Melanin Travels Magic aims to primarily encourage the diaspora to reconnect with its heritage as well as get enducated and empowered by it.

Ok, what makes this tour operator any different from what you’ve seen before?

Melanin Travels Magic specialises in black heritage and leisure group trips. This means they have a strong focus on connecting travellers with the local culture. This can be through visiting villages, favelas (Brazilian shack or Shanty town or slam), landmarks and cultural immersion through fantastic experiences and historic tours.

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Photo by Christina Belloge

Christina’s love for travelling goes back to when she was a teenager. Her dream was to travel while studying languages. “I always wanted to have an international career, learning languages and travelling to get to know people”. Christina was introduced to travelling while in High school in France. “We used to take discovery trips to Europe with your class”. Prior to that, her trips mostly consisted of travelling to her native country Guadeloupe to visti family. These rituals got her hooked on the experience.

It’s therefore no surprise that Christina has spent the last 14 years moving around Europe. Her expat journey began when she moved to London at age 22 to be with her British boyfriend.

“When I first moved to the UK, I had to start from scratch and learn the basics, as it was my first time not living with my parents. I had to find a job and a place to live. I had to learn how to cook and take care of myself. My boyfriend soon left to study in Birmingham and I stayed in London having to navigate the big city alone.”

“I eventually found my way, and in just a year, I became fluent in English, which helped me tremendously. For the next few years, I bounced between the U.K. and France as I worked on a Double Franco-British Master in international trade, and then landed a job at a start-up after graduating“.

One of her fond memories as an expart is when she moved to Gemarny. “In Germany I got the best expat experience as my company at the time, a major German fashion retailer, provided an agent who took care of all my admin needs.

I felt a big sense of national pride and found the people to be straight talkers, which was a shock at first. Overall, I really loved my time and took advantage of a romantic trip to Hamburg, the Cologne Christmas market and Berlin cultural museums!“. These types of expereinces have encouraged Christina to take her passion for travel to the next level.

Photo by Christina Belloge

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So why start a travel business during a Pandemic?

It’s very challenging because of all the travel bans in UK & Europe and Canada“, she says. “The only market still travelling is the United States.”

Despite of these challenges, Christina was motivated by the Black Live Matters movement following the death of George Floyd last year and the Black Business renaissance movement that is happening in UK. The awareness around developing and strengthening the Black community via business ownership has been popping recently literally. Therefore I decided to launch with both the vision to leverage my passions for travel and black history as an empowering and healing tool for the black diaspora.

I was also influenced by the Afro American #blacktravellersmovement and the need for African and Caribbean diaspora to uncover their history and culture.

Christina believes in passing on her passion of travelling. For her, its a way for people to connect with the rest of the diaspora, contribute to black economics and grow their sense of self value by understanding how connected we are as afro descent people. With Melanin Travels Magic they get to learn about common cultural traditions, history and value the privilege they have in the Western World to make a difference by leveraging education and business opportunities.

Looking for your first destination post lock down? Or maybe you need some help planning it…You can connect with Melanin Travels Magic via the following links



You Tube


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Learn how to invest in stocks with Stock Pickers Academy

Meet Debodun, founder of Stock Pickers Academy, a non-advisory community of beginners and experienced investors
coming together as one to leverage each other to create wealth. At SPA, beginners have information about their respective fields and life experiences, whilst experienced investors have the technical expertise to turn those trends into investing ideas. Debodun manages other people’s ideas by applying safe entry and reasonable exit price points in a non-advisory manner. He is also transparent with every single transaction that he makes. The community gets to see the ups and downs of his investments and track record.

At SPA Debodun provides group courses, where he teaches specific proven strategies, mentoring – for ongoing learning and support, an alerts service and provides a portfolio review service. Joining Stock Pickers Academy provides a good entry point for stock trading beginners and those interested in learning about the stock market.

Here is how the conversation went, when I caught up with him.

What were you doing before you started the business?

Up until 2018 SPA has been running concurrently whilst I was working as a way to give back knowledge. It only became a business during lockdown. In addition to this, I run UrbanFounders to connect startups with Investors, and City Jobs Coaching where I work with Diversity recruitment agencies and universities to coach ethnic minorities both graduate and experienced hires into roles around the city and Investment Banking.

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How and when did you get into trading?

I first started trading at university but it was virtually and mainly forex trading. I was doing very well and winning so many competitions. However, it wasn’t real money and after securing highly competitive summer internships on trading floors of Santander and Barclays Investment Bank I eventually landed a full time job at Goldman Sachs.

Which charater from ‘The City’ reminds you of yourself when you used to work in the city?

I would say Harper but only her character inside the office not the socials – The serious side.

After a decade of working as a trader, why did you give it up?

My last role was at a Quantitative Hedge Fund in the Channel Islands – I was there for 3 years and eventually got bored of the Island and decided to relocate back to London. It was a bit of a gamble but I thought I’d be ok and land something here.

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What were some of the challenges that you faced when you first started Stock Pickers Academy?

The stock market is always moving so time management and prioritising questions for existing clients on their positions, managing money and teaching new clients is always a challenge. It is impossible to just turn my eye away from the markets for long periods of time. Lockdown has helped me to focus but some aspects of what I do are not scalable. First movers got a big advantage as my model switches from 1-2-1 service to groups and online

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How do you decide which stocks you buy?

This sounds like a simple question but a lot of thought goes into my answer – I have combined my own ideas with those from the diverse community I have created. I like to keep my methods simple and that is what makes it easier to pass on. I find an industry I believe in and prioritise stocks in that. Then I diversify by lots of different factors, volatility, beta, market value and so much more which I teach on my course. Then I have a strategy on how I execute on my transactions. My portfolio returned 129% last year and I have published that on Instagram. This is despite holding 35% as cash.

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What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a position and what went wrong?

Realised loss of £4000 – company went into administration. Canadian Lithium mining company which was meant to be a play in Electric Vehicle batteries raw materials. They still exist under a different trading name so I feel share holders were cheated but hey. That was 15% of my portfolio but still managed to return 129% in the same year so no complaints.

What are your thoughts on the future of banking?

We are moving more into a Big Data/Ai/Robots world as part of this technological revolution. More investment is going into tech and automation. Less risk is being taken and Regulatory reform is the order of the day. Block chain is also here to stay and getting more institutional attention. On the recruitment front diversity is getting more attention and hopefully that lasts.

What advice would you give to a recent graduate who wants to become a trader?

Start putting in the work and study from 1st year of uni. It is so competitive that you need to be on top of the knowledge and getting experience early. Work hard at uni too as a good degree is important for the entry criteria.  From a technical perspective commercial awareness is very key. Download finimize and follow @StockPickersAcademy on Instagram to get 34% off the annual subscription. Invest in yourself as having good commercial awareness and genuine interest is so important. Learn about the products and there is a good book called All you need to know about the City.

What are your plans for Stock Pickers Academy this year?

I just want to see people winning financially. The plans themselves are still a bit go with the flow – I didn’t expect the demand I’m currently facing so finding solutions on the fly has been interesting and fun. I would like to create SPA kids/teens at some point as well as put a bit more work on the podcast and the other non-investing fronts. I want to get some of the black celebs involved and really diversify my client base. Long story short I want to scale and carry others along the journey with me.

If you are interested in investing in stocks, learning how to trade or simply looking for a community you can discuss trade ideas with, then visit Stock Pickers Academ here

Flavour like Fancy, a gift shop with a difference

Flavour like fancy is an independent gift shop and online shop, which was started in July 2019 by Tasha Grant. The shop sells unique gifts handmade and produced by small UK businesses, with a focus on Leeds based makers as part of a bid to support local makers. Flavour like Fancy stocks a variety of items from cards to jewellery and ceramics to prints.

Here is how the conversation went, when I caught up with founder Tasha Grant on how she started this great business.

What were you doing before you started the business?

Before opening Flavour like Fancy I’ve worked in a variety of roles within the creative industry including account management, managing art events and marketing and communication. It was through these roles that I gained the experiences and skills necessary to run a business, which I am so grateful for such as budgeting, managing people, and problem solving. In my spare time I also created jewellery under the name Loon Moon jewellery which was an opportunity for me to express myself through wearable pieces.

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What differentiates flavour like fancy from other gift shops

At Flavour like fancy I aim to celebrate work that is bold, colourful and speaks with passion. Everything we stock is something that I like and admire, and in ways it’s an extension of my personality formed by the strong creative community that I am surrounded by. In terms of the décor I was keen to capture that same level of fun and excitement from the stock we sell in the overall shop layout and aesthetic of the brand. Which is why our brand colours feature vibrant pastel shades of pink, yellow, and turquoise.

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I understand you moved to Leads to pursue your passion in Jewellery making, when did you decide to create a shop for creatives and why?

I started making jewellery in 2015 and by 2016 it became a growing passion that I wanted to pursue and once a decision was made to move up North, I saw it as an opportunity to try and make my hobby into something more. Once set up in Leeds, I was able to meet a lot of talented makers. I was able to identify a gap in the market for gift shops in Leeds selling unique and locally made work that reflected the fun and vibrancy of indie markets and popular craft fairs. Fox example DIY Art Market and Crafty Fox to name a few. Seeing the lack of opportunities for makers really inspired me to set up the shop and create a space which I loved.

What has surprised you the most about running a gift shop?

I am mostly surprised by the support received for Flavour like Fancy by the makers who form the indie businesses that stock within the shop and the local community. When I initially set up the shop I had researched, planned and felt fairly confident that I had forged a unique proposal but to some extent I was completely unaware of how it would be received. Fast forward a year later, I have gained such a positive response, which I am grateful for and has   made me feel good about the future of the business.

What were some of the challenges that you faced when you first started?

Upon opening Flavour like Fancy everything was a challenge as it was all new to me and outside of my business plan. I quickly realised that I had to adapt ways of working to suit the area and customer demographic.  I spent a lot of time trialling items as part of a sale and return proposal and building a range of items which suited the customer needs once I was able to see trends in what was being brought / requested.

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What were some of the mistakes that you made at the beginning and how did you rectify them?

The biggest mistake I would say is going against my instinct. In every new business I think it is important to gain advice from other businesses and listen and learn from their mistakes. When starting out, I made a point to avoid doing things that had not been successful for others. In a way, this hindered my own progress in terms of stock and promotion gained from attending markets. I just decided one day that it was important to see how things went for my business and in so doing regained confidence in myself.

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How do you handle running a business and raising a family?

In October I became a first-time mum and while in many ways, lockdown has made things a little easier it has also had its difficult moments. I’ve realised that I am not superwoman nor should I endeavour to be, the most important thing Is health, well-being and not being afraid to ask for help. I think in particular when you are self-employed it’s easy to feel like you have to manage everything in spite of what goes on personally. I have recently taken on a member of staff to support during the first few months which is such a relief and gives me a chance to settle into family life whilst working at my own pace from a distance.

How did you handle marketing when you first opened?

Initially the majority of marketing activity was done online via social media, community groups as well as old school flyers. I found these were the most cost-effective ways to support my new business and reach my target audience.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business in the same space?

Do your research and really consider your proposal and how it differs to that of your competitors. I recommend completing a business plan even if you do not require funding, as this helps you to formulate the necessary questions in your mind, to determine whether this is the right business idea for you. It’s also worth thinking about whether you are prepared to be self-employed – Having your own business carries the reward of being your own boss but it’s also very risky and has no holiday allowances etc, so it’s important to really want it and be 100% invested in your vision.

If you are looking for a birthday present for someone or you want to support creators, then visit flavour like Fancy here

Meet the founder of award winning interior design company MDC Group

Daniel Taylor MBE is the founder of MDC Group, an award-winning office design agency with over 20 years of experience in designing truly inspiring workplaces for some of the world’s leading brands. The company takes a ‘cradle to grave’ approach to design and works with clients of all sizes and at different stages of their business. It’s therefore no surprise that MDC Group boasts an impressive client list that includes Facebook, Dolby, Harley Davison and JN Bank –The first Jamaican cashless bank to operate in the UK. Some of MDC’s award-winning projects include the South-Central ambulance call centre, which was awarded a silver award by the Home office.

Over the years the company has prided itself in creating modern working environments that encourage productivity, while providing a level of comfort that one would expect when at home.

“When I started the business, I wanted to create a legacy business, not a lifestyle business” Daniel Taylor explains.

With such an upstanding successful business, I couldn’t help but wonder when and how it all started for this entrepreneur.

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Unite HQ

Daniel started his design career at Westinghouse, currently known as TECO-Westinghouse and then moved on to Allsteel, a subsidiary of BTR Group. While at Allsteel, Daniel followed his mentor as he moved up in the organisation to the positions of CEO for Europe and Middle East, a role that required a lot of travel. It took him to places like Czechoslovakia (before it became known as Czech Republic), Qatar and Moscow to name a few.However, travelling for work wasn’t as easy, flexible and sexy as it is nowadays. “when I used to travel for work, I used to take a suitcase full of gadgets in order to stay connected. For example, I had a laptop, modem, satellite phone and so the whole process became exhausting”, Daniel remembered.

When Allsteel was taken over by another company, Daniel saw this as an opportunity to build the legacy he’d always dreamt of. “I am an unusual designer in that I am a very creative person but I am also financially driven and always wanted to own and run my own business”, Daniel explained.

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With a degree in products for commercial offices and a successful career at globally recognised companies, he had built the contact list and expertise to start MDC Group. His talent of being able to articulate an interior design project has continued to win clients over the years.

“I always look at my clients as my friends, because people buy from people” – Because of this analogy, Daniel was able to start the business with a few clients he’d worked for on previous projects. However, after a number of successful months, through the help of his accountant, he realised that his business was reliant on two customers. This was a high risk in an industry that can easily be impacted, especially by economic downturns.

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As such, he decided to re-invest in the business and to make it a family business, because “I had identified earlier on that the UK government was not going to create a provision for me during retirement. Therefore, I had to make that provision for me and my wife (of 30years).”

Optivo Housing

Today, MDC-group is flying the flag for gender representation at board level, with 3 out 5 of its executive board members being black women. “I wanted to work with family because no one has my back like my family does. It just happens that my family is predominantly female”.” When you work with people who are committed to the cause, especially black women, who are strong mentally and physically, they think more methodically and give you a clearer direction, which helps me a lot in the business”.

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Unlike most businesses, the Corona Virus Pandemic hasn’t slowed MDC- Group down. The business was “in a very strong financial position before it happened”. The company continued to win contracts during the period and has re-branded its self as a one stop shop for all property development needs required. Therefore, it has increased its offerings to include design, construction development and interior design.

Some of MDC’s projects to look out for in 2021 include the Dartford hill hub by Rehoboth, who I interviewed in this article (insert link here) and a high design gym with a fight club theme (i.e., catering for sports such as Jiu Jitsu, kick boxing). The Gym is to be placed in a high-density area where It will be used by the surrounding local community.

If you are involved in the construction or property development business, make sure to reach out MDC Group.

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10 lessons from entrepreneurs that I am taking into 2021

2020 was not the easiest or fun filled year that we had all planned for. However, I am grateful for having had the privilege of interviewing some great entrepreneurs from under represented communities. From Barber Shop to Care Homes, these founders were all from different backgrounds and shared some tips that they’ve picked up during their journeys. These are the top 10 lessons I will be taking into 2021 from them.

  1. If you want to start a business, just start it and don’t worry about every little thing – Dan and Tenesia from Earth to Earth Organics. Click here to read their story

2. If you find someone who is doing something that you like, don’t be afraid to approach them and ask them for advice – Carla Sealey, founder of Naked Clay Ceramic. Read her story here

3. Make sure that you have a plan A, B and a plan C before you go ahead – Island Delights’ founder Wade Lyn. This is his story.

4. Be flexible with your plans and be ready to grab opportunities when they arise – Theresa Roberts, founder of Jamaica Patty Company. Find her story here

5. Keep the momentum going, even if it’s just for yourself – Carla Sealey

6. Be a tireless innovator who is always looking for new and faster ways of doing things to improve process and the core product – Wade Lyn

7. Business is about people and the people around it. Therefore, it is important to build relationships with your staff and understand how they work – Roger Waluube of Pelham House Care Home. Click here to findout more about him

8. Understand what financial tools really matter for a small business. For example, Finance at the frontline is not about P&L or balance sheets. A cash flow forecast is what you live by as a small business – Roger Waluube

9.You need to find the right staff to work with. People who can continue to carry out your vision, even in your absence. – Mark Maciver from SliderCuts. This is his story

10. Be open minded and willing to try new things in business – David Adjei, founder of Cognition London. Read David’s story here

If you think you may not be doing something right in your business, have a look at the list above for some ideas on what to change. Are there any other lessons that you’ve learnt but are not this list? Share them wth us!

More than a barber: Meet Mark Maciver of SliderCuts

Mark Maciver is the founder and owner of renowned Hackney based hair and beauty studio SliderCuts. Maciver, 36, opened the salon in 2018, but has been cutting hair since he was 14 years old- A long side attending school. Today SliderCuts provides a rang of services, including haircuts, braiding, dreadlocks, pedicure and manicures. Mark is also the author of ‘Shaping Up culture’, a collection of inspirational and practical how to guides.

Unlike most beauty studios, SliderCuts also offers a ‘runners’ scheme, which provides a positive environment and role models for 16 to 17year olds from the local area. He also offers an apprentice scheme, where aspiring barbers get to learn barbering and business skills from Maciver himself, whose clients include boxing champ Anthony Joshua and rapper Stormzy to name a few.

It’s 7:00am when I speak to Mark. He’s waiting for his first appointment of the day at 7:30am, but before then, Mark talks about his path to success, early determination and paving the way for others.

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How did you get started?

I started cutting hair as a hobby when I was 14years old. Although I was still in school, I’d get requests from friends, family members and friends of friends to cut their hair. This continued when I was at college where I was studying performing arts. Eventually, I got an internship in a barbershop when I was 18yrs old, which turned into a part-time job while I finished my college course.

After college I decided I didn’t want to pursue university to study drama, so I continued working as a barber. During that time, I took an online course in social work, which I passed but decided it wasn’t for me. I also qualified as a personal trainer but I didn’t pursue this either.  The one thing that stayed consistent while I chased these other avenues was cutting hair. So, I guess my calling was right in front of me all the time. Once I realised that, I decided to stick with it. 

What differentiates SliderCuts from other barbers?

There are a number of elements that differentiate the SliderCuts brand from other barbers. One of those is work ethic. I feel that here at SliderCuts we have great work ethic and have a huge focus on customer service, something that is often lacking in hair and beauty salons especially in our community. I take pride in the way we look after our customers at SliderCuts. For example, if a customer has a genuine complaint, it’s dealt with properly and a customer will be given a refund as well as compensation on top of that. Essentially, If we get it wrong, we try to make things right with our customers. This is something that I didn’t see or experience from similar establishments when I was growing up and therefore felt it was important to do things differently in my business.

My honesty also differentiates me from other barbers. I am very honest about my business and what stage it’s at, what I am good at and what I am not good at. I am always willing to invest in myself and others around me in order to excel and push forward.

Mark Maciver

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What surprised you the most about running a barbershop?

I was surprised at how difficult managing people in this environment is. I have always been able to manage people but it is slightly harder in this environment because barbershop tend to have a relaxed vibe, which is good for the clients but shouldn’t be the case for staff. I have had to be a lot more thorough in the way I structure the business to prevent staff from having the mindset that working at a barbershop is do as you like.

Working at SliderCuts is not do as you like, we have work rules and procedures and policies to ensure that we keep a professional work environment.  Most of these policies and rules are part and parcel of any business and work environment. It’s just that these hadn’t been implemented in the barbershop environment within our community in the past. I found that some of my staff weren’t used to that way of working or the environment is not as they expected, so it was challenging at times.

what are some of the challenges that you faced when you first started?

Money. Having no money, opening up a business that was more than what I could afford and not taking investment capital that were offered to me.

I was offered a lot of investment prior to opening my shop but decided against taking it because I didn’t want other people to alter the vision that I had for my barbershop. I believed that the value of the business would increase once the shop was open. However, this did mean that I ended up doing things the hard way. For example, I had to sell one of my rental properties and took out a number of loans to finance the shop lease and fitout. For me, this was the cost I paid to own 100% of my business.

In hindsight maybe I could have done things differently because due to the lack of finance, I took some high interest loans, which lead to additional pressure and lead to me making bad decisions. I was rushing and desperate to get the shop up and running so I could service all the debt I had taken out. Not having a mentor to guide me through this process meant that I had to make all these mistakes, so now I mentor others on what not to do.

Outside of your barber shop business, you are also a speaker and an author. How did you start all of the different pivots that you’re into now?

I enjoy learning and trying new things – that’s one of my best personality traits. It’s a combination of this and the fact that I like getting things done. When I have an idea to do something, I don’t waste time, I strike while the iron is still hot. Granted this can be a bad thing – when an idea doesn’t work out, and a good thing – when it all works out. Either way, I always enjoy the journey and all the things I learn along the way.

I felt I had all this information and knowledge that I wanted to impart on to people, so I started vlogging and blogging. After doing this for a while, I felt all the information I was documenting could be in a book, so I spoke to a friend who works in a publishing company, to get some feedback on the book idea. I didn’t expect anything from her but a few days later, she informed me that she’d pitched my idea to her company and they loved it and wated to sign it. That’s how the book happened.

Whenever I have an idea (and I have always had lots of these), I always think about how to execute it and never think about the money because I believe that if you do something well, money will come from it. I never focus on the money side of things.

For example, when I started vlogging on YouTube, again, I just wanted to inform and educate people. Soon enough, my vlogs were picked up by various organisers, who subsequently invited me to speak at their events.

Mark Maciver posses with wife

How do you handle running a business and raising a family?

It’s hard work and you have to sacrifice sleep if you want to be properly involved. I am very involved in my children’s lives and of course, business life. I wouldn’t say that I find it hard but a lot of time and energy goes into it. I think the things your care about, you make time for but it is important to have a healthy balanced life.

I work really long hours but I finish early on Saturdays, then I am off work from Saturday Afternoon until Tuesday. I spend that time with my children and my wife. If I do get a call out on the days that I am off, I will take my children with me. I also start work very early, which allows me to be back home in time to put my children to bed. This is what works for me and what allows me to achieve that balance.

How did you handle marketing when you first opened the barbershop?

Instagram was my main marketing tool. I constantly created and posted pictures and videos before I opened up the shop and have continued to use this tool today. I also ran some promotions in the area, posted flyers as well as handing them out on the street.

I also think the location of my shop helps a lot. It’s a busy road with a lot of attractions like Columbia Road Market, Premises Studios as well as other amenities, which creates a lot of passing trade and walk-in clients.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business in your industry?

Starting a business even a barbershop I not an easy task. Your staff will make your business.

I have seen a lot of people who open up a new barbershop, the place looks great, fully kitted out but then closes a year later. Why? – Because they didn’t have the right people working for them.

If you open a shop and you’re not going to physically be in there, you need to find someone who has the same vision as you to help run the shop before you start thinking about all the other things like leases and getting the shop fitted out.

People often get ahead of themselves thinking about the outcome and how much they can make, without thinking about the process and what they need to do to get to that.

Leave around Hoxton and looking for a barbershop near you? Go to SliderCuts.

What does the future of SliderCuts look like?

I am expanding the shop to include women’s hairdressing, so, I will be starting a runner scheme for young girls aged 13 – 16yrs old next year to go with that next year, when things hopefully get back to some level of normality.

One of the things I’d like to do with SliderCuts is open up a barbering academy or even partner existing academy to provide courses with an emphasis on business. I find that there is a lack of business knowledge from the barbers that graduate from barbering academy. For example, a lot of the people who are either on the course or have completely it recently don’t know what their next move/step is.

What I want to teach them are the different types of barber set ups you can have, expected rate of payment and how they can negotiate these things, building your own brand. It sounds obvious, but I find that a lot of barbers lack this key knowledge.

Book your next hair cut with SliderCuts here: SliderCuts website.

Meet the founder of Pelham House Care Home:

Roger Waluube is the owner of Pelham House Care Home and Aspire Home Carers . These organisations provide outstanding care for people with mild dementia and people in need of palliative care. As well as his great work in social care, he is also known for his appearance on the BBC Panorama special titled ‘The Forgotten Frontline’. In this heart-breaking TV special, he opened up on the tragic events that saw half of his residents killed by corona virus and the lack of government support for care services like Pelham House Care Home.

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Roger’s career in health services started when he joined the NHS graduate scheme, following completion of a masters in Human Resource Management. Whilst at the NHS, he worked in a number of roles, some of which were management positions. After his 4-year stint at the NHS, Roger felt he wanted a change and so joined Ernst and Young, where he worked as a consultant on healthcare companies.

“I travelled a lot for work when I was at EY and truth be told, the role was very focused on finance”, explains Roger. He realised that he didn’t enjoy the financial focus of the role and therefore left the company. He used the knowledge he’d obtained over the years to work as an independent management consultant to NHS hospitals, a role he enjoyed and thrived in.

However, it wasn’t long before he had the itch for a change in direction again. “I really enjoyed what I did, however, when I started thinking about my future, I recognised that I wanted to own my own business”. It was at this point that Roger decided to buy Pelham House Care Home. “I wanted to be at the fore front of a business that was making people’s lives better and adding value to it, therefore owning a business within Social care was in line with my back ground and it meant I would continue doing what I enjoy the most”. Roger bought Pelham House Care Home in 2010 because he could see its potential and how he could make it better.

Roger Waluube

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Based in Folkstone, Kent, Pelham House Care home is surrounded by beautiful gardens and has rooms with stunning views of the sea. The care home specialises in mild dementia and has been assessed as ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), a public body established to regulate and inspect health and social care services in England. Pelham House Care Home received a lot of positive feedback from the general public following the panorama show, “It was really nice to get that feedback because when you are in it, you very rarely step back and appreciate your own work. This showed me that we really are a good care home”, explains Roger.

Shortly after purchasing Pelham Care Home, Roger also founded Aspire Home Carers, a service that provides tailored home care and support to people who live in and around Folkestone, Hythe and the surrounding area.  The company is focused providing palliative care and care to people with dementia, in the comfort of their own home.

However, running a social care business has not come without its challenges. Businesses within health and social care sector tend to be heavily regulated. Although necessary, it can often slow things down and perhaps outweighs a focus key business functions. When Roger first took over the business, he also quickly realised that staffing was a very important aspect and one that can be challenging at times. “At the end of the day my business is about people and the people around it. So, it’s really important to build those relationships and understand how your staff work”.

As a new business owner, Roger focused a lot on the customer service and operational side of the business. “Your desire to work in any capacity, within the social care sector, must be driven by the value of putting people first”. “However, I wish I had been more committed to developing my marketing strategy and to this end wish I had found someone I trusted and found convincing much soon than I did”.

Roger Waluube

Click here to donate to Pelham Care Home crowd funding campaign

Like most care services Pelham House Care Home has struggled during the Covid-19 Pandemic. ‘The Forgotten Frontline’ panorama programme explored the government’s handling of care homes during the pandemic, after it was revealed a resident at Pelham House was discharged back to the Home before receiving the results of his positive test.  Following this, Pelham House lost 10 out of its 20 residents in the space of a 9 weeks after the virus spread to 18 residents, forcing nine staff to self-isolate.

“It has been devasting, especially watching people, friends and residents, you have cared for die prematurely”, says Roger. These devastating events put Pelham House Care Home in a dire financial position meaning it was 10 days away from closing. In an attempt to save the Home, Roger launched a crowd-funding appeal in order to help pay ongoing costs at the Home. In the end, Pelham House was able to receive short-terms funding from IWOCA, a peer to peer business lender. Pelham House is currently operating under capacity, housing only 14 residents out of the 22 that it has capacity to look after. This deficient is causing a loss of £15k-£20k per month, and it is likely that these financial challenges will continue if the Home is not fully occupied soon.

The future of Pelham House and the care services sector is a bumpy one especially given the ongoing concerns with underfunding in social care and the inability of successive governments to address this longstanding issue. There has always been a negative stigma attached to care homes and COVID-19 19 has made it even worse and more challenging. In the short-term, its likely that we’ll see a lot of care homes close their doors for good. However, in the long term, with the recent news of a vaccine, hopefully we’ll see some of them survive. Could it be time to shake up the sector? The pandemic has definitely made that clear. Perhaps care homes need to relook at their business model and ask if they are fit and ready for such a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) future.  “If we don’t develop a more convincing business proposition and marketing strategy, together with strong leadership, we will have a difficult time changing opinions and public appreciation for our work”, explains Roger.

So, what’s next for this sector? Leave a comment with your views and suggestions on how to improve things.

If you would like to support Pelham House Care Home, visit their crowd funding site here to make a donation.