Name: Yvonne Thompson
Credentials: Yvonne is an influential advisor in government campaigns such as New Deal In The Community, Supply London, and Women?s Enterprise Task Force.
Until the recent successful sale of the UK’s only legally black owned radio station Choice FM, Yvonne was a Director and Founder Member of the station and played an instrumental role in the station’s sale to the UK’s premier radio group – Capital Radio. However it was arguably the creation on the EFBWBO (European Federation of Black Women Business Owners) which cemented Yvonne’s place as one of the UK’s most celebrated self-made millionaire, black business women. Set up 12 years ago to facilitate access to black women business owners by mainstream business organisations and vice versa, the EFBWBO aids cooperation between untapped ethnic business potential and mainstream business organisations.
The European Federation grew from The National Federation of Black Women Business Owners, a Washington DC based group which awarded Yvonne for her ‘Outstanding Achievements’ as a black, female entrepreneur in 1996, and envisioning the need to expand such a platform throughout Europe, the award served as the catalyst for her to set up a similar group for Europe. In 1996 the EFBWBO was formed, and the rest as they say, is history.
What inspires you?
Having something to get up in the morning for inspires me.? I am inspired that me and many others like me can get up each day, run a business ? that in more ways than one ? to me is inspirational and successful.
PR and marketing are very competitive industries. How have you managed to stay at the top of your game with ASAP Communications, and become a millionaire in the process??
As we all know most trends start in a niche before spreading to the mainstream.? I started out in a niche market, when no-one was interested in the black and minority communities.? It was not inspirational. Now the new white is black.? We are mainstream in fashion, food, music, culture, and many other ways?but we?re still not the ones that really count.
Motherhood and running a business can be challenging as two separate realities, let alone combining both. What tips/advice can you offer mothers who are considering merging the two?
Be sure, be flexible, have support mechanisms, be prepared to put in the long hours and be prepared for emergencies, where possible.? Train your children well, teach them the realities of living financially, socially, make sure they know the difference between right and wrong, be a friend as well as a mother ? my daughter is 32 and I?m still both ? and let them live their lives, and be their own person, not try to make them into a ?mini-me.?
How did you fund ASAP Communications in the early days??
I started off with a ?2,500 bank loan.? I found a good contra deal for offices in the centre of London, and set myself up.
What obstacles did you face in the 1980s when starting out that still exist for women today??
In 1983, it was difficult for people to understand what PR was.? It was and, to a certain extent, is still not tangible. PR Week ran an article where they were looking for black-owned PR companies ? I was the only one they found at the time.? They were also looking for black PR executives ? they found a few of those.? So, to persuade people that they needed PR was difficult. A woman running her own business was not heard of.? For a woman to persuade organisations that they needed PR, was a double whammy, so just think what the obstacles were when, the woman on the phone turned up for a meeting and just happened to be a black woman ? treble whammy!!? There were many rivers to cross.? They are fewer [now] and the bridges are built to make it easier.?
How did you manage to spend quality time with your daughter in the early days, while starting and managing your own business?
I found it very difficult as I am a one parent family ? but with the support of my family ? more so my mother, and what I call the biggest success ? my daughter.? We had so little time every second had to count.? If asked about success ? I could count the fact that I now have a successful daughter as my biggest success.? Having said, that when I started my business it was from a second-hand manual typewriter, on the floor of my living room at home.? So I was at home for about the first few months.
What are some of the basic mistakes that people make when they start a business??
Underestimating how much it will cost, underestimating the time it will take, trusting, or relying on the wrong people, not knowing your market, and location matters!
Some women may put off starting a business because of the start-up and perceived running costs of business. But grants and funding can be a way around this. What is available for women/mothers??
The market is becoming very competitive, and government funding is not what is used to be.? Support for the small business and more so women in business is more down to advice, guidance, information and training.? It is now harder than every to get funding for your business from the government.? There may still be the small business guarantee loan, which the government guarantees the repayment of part of your loan from the bank.? Businesses in specialised areas such as ?green? companies, sciences etc may find some funding or grants, but they are not as readily available as they used to be.
Flexible working sounds like a dream on paper, but for many women the reality is something different (from employers putting obstacles in their way, to being overlooked when it comes to promotions). What do you think will make staying in work an attractive package to mothers??
I have worked for myself most of my working life.? I find it difficult to work for others, so in some ways I can?t answer that question from a personal perspective.? I feel that mothers can work from home.? It does depend on the job, but as long as they produce the result required for the job there is no reason why they should not work from home.? It can be a little isolating so it takes a strong-willed and disciplined person to do that. From an employer?s perspective, they would need to be flexible, understanding, and look for the benefit rather than the challenges that a working mother brings.? Better managers, more reliable, more punctual, usually more focussed, better temperament, more experienced.
The government is encouraging mothers of school-age children to get back into the workforce. What is being done to encourage women to set up their own business??
The minister for women Harriett Harmon, has recently set up the Women?s Enterprise Taskforce which will be looking and getting over obstacles, and challenges for women to start their own businesses.? There are many ways in which help can be gained ? but it depends on what sector, where you will work from ?? all sorts of help, advice and guidance and, as mentioned before, some funding in special cases can be gained.?
However, self-funding, family, friends, the bank and investors are, in that order, still the way most businesses are started.? More information can be gained by visiting the following websites:? Your local Regional Development agency ? in London is it the London Development Agency, Business Link, Learning and Skill Council, Supply London, your local council, the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, (BERR replaces the Department of Trade and Industry), HM Treasury, the Home Office, banks offer a good package to help start your own business, and there are many local enterprise agencies which also offer good advice.?
But nothing beats trying it yourself ? just be aware that there are as many pitfalls and lows as there are highs.?
Why is funding so hard to come by??
Drop-out rates, bankruptcy rates, non-VAT registration rates, too many closures as compared to development.? But its there for some specialised sectors.
You are at the forefront of numerous government business initiatives. What do you see as the future for women in business??
Women-owned businesses will over take men-owned businesses.? I believe there is still a way to go for women to take the lead in most business areas.? I believe the balance of wealth will lay in the hands of women within the next 15-20 years ? watch this space.
Millionaire’s Mission ? why did you decide to take part in it?
I had no hesitation in signing up for Millionaire?s Mission as it was worthwhile, adventurous and humanitarian.? Plus, I felt a need to dispel the myth that black people don’t do humanitarian. It’s very rare to see a black person on missions such as this so I was determined to change those views – I hope this programme went some way to achieving that. The whole Mission experience just reinforced my appreciation of how privileged I am. It’s a privilege to turn on a tap and see water coming out of it, in fact it’s a privilege to have a tap! So I don’t take any of it for granted.
Highlights were waking up to the sound of drums at 5am and stepping out of my tent to see the sun rising through the mist, then last thing at night appreciating how beautiful the sky was, and the camp fire inspired me on many nights.? It took me out of my comfort zone, it was a fantastic, character-building experience, and one which I would be keen to repeat again.