Sonia is a business Communicator, brand speacialist, diversity maverick, uber connector and advocator for women. She is the founder and director of the National Black Womens’s Network (NBWN) , she is currently working with a number of private, public and statutory sector organisationz to support and develop initiatives which promote career and business opportunities for BAME women.
Tell us a bit about your childhood years.
My parents are from Jamaica. They instilled a strong work ethic in me and my siblings. However, they also knew how to enjoy themselves so there was always something going on whether it was to do with their business, the cricket tours or charity dinner and dances. There was never a dull moment, good or bad!
However, I have always been a square peg trying to fit in a round hole; whether it was at school or in the corporate space. I understand now that I was not meant to fit in but to define myself creatively through my business ventures. I believe self-employment gives you the independence, flexibility and resilience to live life on your terms.
What was your first job
I was forced to leave Design College and get a job because of my parent’s separation and I was very resentful.
I took the first job I was offered and I always remember my Director saying to me that it does not matter if you don’t know anything about the role, the person on the other side of the phone does not know, so bluff! So while everyone else moaned about their job I was busy learning all I could and that’s why I got promoted before them.
I learnt I had to leave or I’d end up bitter like them.
What tips would you give young businesses
It’s all about mindset. If you have the wrong people around you, building a business will be difficult if you are not mentally strong. Surround yourself with people who are in business, understand business and can support your journey at every stage of its growth. It’s not about who wins but those who push through every day; day after day.
Get yourself some good mentors. Make use of all the professional advice and training that is available to you and NETWORK. My first mentor was Baroness Ros Howells of St David. Then Sir Nicholas Montagu when he was Chairman of the Inland Revenue. He was a star! But throughout the years I have had formal and informal mentors from across a wide section of professional and business disciplines to ensure that I remain relevant in the market.
Today, the NBWN is working closely with ICAEW BAS who provide a wide range of financial and business advice to those starting or growing their business. So it’s worth visiting them at https://find.icaew.com/pages/bas
What would you do differently
People always ask me that and I say I would focus on the bottom line and profits.
However, I would have had a different business model and outcome.
At the moment I love how things have turned out because I am still here doing what I love nearly twenty years after everyone told me the network would never work.
Nevertheless, I still believe it’s important to keep an eye on your cashflow; which is why the NBWN teamed up with the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales to produce a guide for those business owners not confident about their financial literacy and management processes.
How do you identify women or businesses that you can work with and what are the key things you look for?
I like to work with business owners who are interesting and demonstrate the passion and drive that makes me know they will push through in the more challenging times. It’s easy to work with people when things are going well but when issues pop up, it’s disappointing that most people want to jump ship because they lack the faith and determination to push through and overcome challenges.
What was the most defining moment for you?
Putting the political arm on the business. I met and got to work with the most amazing, driven and aspirational women across parties. From Barbara Roach, Patricia Hewitt, Jackie Smith, Harriet Harmon, Caroline Dineage MP and our current Prime Minister. These women are committed to achieving their aspirational goals and making a difference in the world. They are prepared to put themselves out there irrespective of the backlash. I love their guts!
I am also very proud to say that Baroness Verma, Baroness Howells and Baroness Jenkin (amongst others) have consistently supported the Network over the years.
And let’s not forget the men who have been game changers in my life. They have pushed me to move beyond my inner limitations and I am very grateful for them.
I loved that David Lammy MP supported me not only with the NBWN business meetings but with the work I did with the MET police under the Community Ambassador Programme where I was able to work with Sir Bernard Howe (amazing leader) and Stephen Greenhalgh (former Deputy Mayor, MOPAC); Boris Johnson MP who helped us launch the Female and BME Business Led Forum from City Hall supported by NatWest Business Banking and the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales and Stephen Timms MP to launch the Faith and Business Summit.
My defining moments continue to transpire and I am very proud of the people who support me to make them happen.
What advice would you give young ambitious women?
Make sure you have a ten-year plan and write it down.
Then get yourself a mentor who has demonstrated success in their personal, professional or business lives. If you work in a corporation, find someone you admire and get them to sponsor you. If you are running a business get a mentor who demonstrates the qualities and attributes you admire, can emulate and also support your goals going forward.
Join a wide range of professional, industry and business networks to increase your exposure, lead generation and knowledge. But be very strategic and be willing to give not simply blood-suck from everyone you meet. Learn to give back, even if there is nothing in it for you!
Finally, in your private life be careful of the people you mix with on a regular basis. Not everyone should speak into your life and your vision. I am so blessed to have a spiritual back up team as well as a host of worldly warriors helping me to manifest my dreams. Accomplishing your business and professional aspirations is a commitment and means you have to make sacrifices, so be prepared to give things up in order to achieve your goals.
No matter the knockbacks, I always tell people how blessed I am or I’d not be living the life I am at the moment.
What principles do you live by?
Treat people with respect, integrity and compassion – just like how you expect them to treat you.
I am not perfect, so my friends keep me in check so I can be a more empathetic woman, friend and inspiration to other women who believe they are defined by their situations and environment. It’s a tough world out there and we all need support to rise out of our circumstances.
What’s next for Sonia?
I am launching my own Alpha Group Peer to Peer Boardroom platform which will help businesses to double their value; dominate their market and become better leaders.
Follow me @soniatalks
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