Startup Diaries: From Freezing Church Hall To Having It All

Mavis Amankwah, Owner of Rich Visions Diversity CommunicationsMavis Amankwah, an award-winning multiple business owner, is no stranger to the struggles of life and business. Here she shares her personal journey along with 10 practical steps on how to overcome adversity.

I was born and raised in Canning Town, east London, a tough borough which in the 70's was extremely racist. As a young black girl, I was bullied and received racial abuse on a daily basis from other kids my age. Even in school, one of my teachers told me that I’d “never amount to anything”. My only real comfort was my mother who also had to adjust to becoming a single parent after my father walked out on us. My resolve was also hardened through having suffered traumatic childhood experiences – too much to go into here - sufficeit  to say, as clichéd as it may sound, these situations made me stronger.

While initially I had trained in PR, until 2004 I was working as an IT manager. But I was struggling to keep up with the technology and, frankly had no passion for my job. I’d wanted to work for myself for as long as I can remember. I’d moonlighted on some PR work within the (black) community and so Public Relations seemed like a natural move. During my initial market research I spotted a gap in the market where corporate and commercial organisations needed to tap into diverse and so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ audiences, but didn’t know how to effectively engage with them.  

In 2002 Rich Visions Diversity Communications was launched to serve the purpose of bridging the gap to connect companies to new untapped and emerging markets in the UK.

Equipped with the office basics and two members of staff, we started operating from a poky church hall ‘office’ – it was freezing! We worked long and unsociable hours (sometimes up to 16-hour days – I sometimes worked literally as many hours as I could), including weekends. It took three years for the business to find its feet and gradually business started to pick up and we (Rich Visions) were slowly becoming recognised as specialist communications agency. The sweat and tears were finally starting to pay off.

Then in 2007, disaster struck when our new offices were burgled and many irreplaceable items were lost. We just had to keep going – there was no time to have days off, it was business as usual. Things didn’t become much easier when the following year, like many companies, we were spiralled into a financial hole due to the recession.

Businesses just didn't have the budgets to spend, and so this had a huge knock on affect for us. I wasn't sure whether we’d actually sustain ourselves through it, but somehow, we did.

1. Let Go 

Sometimes it’s hard to stop trying to fix things, be it a business situation or a personal problem. But if you can simply accept that what will be will be - managing the adversity becomes much easier. 

Surrender what you can't control. You can't move forward unless you let go of what is keeping you stuck.

2. Show Gratitude

Sounds a little fluffy, but this really does work. Be grateful for what you do have, not what you don’t. Try making a gratitude list and refer to it daily. It’ll make you feel more positive.

3. Manage your physical and personal wellbeing

Do at least one thing you love or enjoy daily. It could be exercise, dancing, baking - whatever makes you happy. It will distract you from stress and will refuel you to be able to better manage the situation.

4. Diversify, quickly!

Get out of your comfort zone. Think creatively. Approach the problem from new and different directions. Trust your creativity. 

5. Go back to basics 

Revise the plan and set new goals. Rethink your strategies or tactics.

6. Prioritise 

Keep a checklist of actions that you will take to overcome your situation and ALWAYS prioritise, then re-prioritise again. 

7. Ask for help 

A problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from others. Let go of your pride; isolating yourself in times of adversity is one of the worst things that you can do.

Surround yourself with positive people and remember that the best things are not things, they're people.

8. Be Proactive, Not Reactive 

Life is full of distractions making it harder to focus during hard times - distractions come from every direction: life, work, health, business, family, phone calls, emails, children; they all demand attention. Set aside quiet time to focus and reinforce your reason for pursuing certain goals. Keep moving forward in a proactive way.

9. Evaluate

This may sound like a cliché, but there’s a lesson in everything. Evaluate where things went wrong so that you can learn from your mistakes.

10. Never Give Up!

This is your passion, your baby, and (most possibly) your life’s purpose; keep your eyes on the prize! Suck it in, ride the rough wave (remember, it’ll pass) and refuse to quit.

This post is dedicated to a very special member of the Rich Visions team who sadly passed away unexpectedly on 05/09/13. She was the backbone of the company for almost 10 years and Mavis’s right hand woman. Because of her hard work and dedication, Rich Visions is where it is today. Thank you, Ruth – May you rest in peace.

Mavis Amankwah, Owner of Rich Visions Diversity Communications, is an award-winning entrepreneur, specialising in marketing, PR, diversity communications and business sustainability. She is also a motivational speaker who has shared a platform at various conferences and seminars with high profile dignitaries and celebrities, most recently as a keynote speaker at the Business 2012 exhibition, alongside business gurus Sir Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar.Throughout her business career, Mavis has been featured in over 130 press titles (national and international), including the Guardian and PR Week.  Earlier this year, Mavis was listed in PR Week’s PowerBook as one of ‘the most influential people in PR' for the fifth consecutive (2009-2013).

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