Serial entrepreneur and founder of Richible.com, an online platform for entrepreneurs and small business owners, Rachael Aprill Phillips works with big brands like The Body Shop, BMW, Ghana Chamber of Commerce, The Lottery Foundation and many more as a branding marketing consultant, niche expert, business startup analyst and international business markets analyst. She is Director of the Ghana Chamber of Commerce UK and the CEO of the BACC (Black and African Community Commerce) and is based in Durham, United Kingdom. Pamina Mullins sat down with the 37-year-old to discuss her path to success and lessons gleamed along the way.
Rachael, it’s clear that you are a natural born entrepreneur – when and how did this become apparent to you?
Much of my success is the result of personal evolution. My earliest memory of my entrepreneurial spirit is as child sitting in the local laundrette pouring what seemed like an endless stream of coins into the washing machine and thinking “free washing for life and I won’t have to do it myself, this could be a good little earner for a girl like me”. So I negotiated a price with the laundrette owner to sell his shop to my mother and me. My mother was not surprised by this – but she wasn’t that impressed either.
By 15 I was working in a pub with my older sister’s national insurance number. I didn’t see the point of losing income-earning opportunities for another year. Within a couple of months, I had several pub jobs. Then at 16, I got an £18k-a-year post at a wedding outfitter in East London. I was industrious and driven, and employers recognised my value and paid well for it.
Some years later, I was teaching a business studies class at the school where I worked and had this feeling of discontentment in my gut. “Why am I teaching business studies, when I haven’t experienced what I teach?” I asked myself. So I began a degree in business management and start-ups. At the end of it, I secured funding for a laptop, some raw materials and started an online fashion company, designing the clothes myself. Before long I was learning web marketing, branding and business development and Richible.com was born.
Did your family, experiences and culture influence your journey as an entrepreneur?
In Nigeria, my birthplace, my mother was a TV presenter and my father a successful car salesman running his own business. As a result we lived a privileged lifestyle. But all of a sudden things changed dramatically. My mother was (and still is at 68 years of age) a very ambitious woman. She decided to relocate to Britain.
Life in our new world was not easy. Our family went through several difficult experiences. My mother ended up working three jobs just to make sure she could put food on the table for us. We experienced homelessness on two occasions. I remember myself and three siblings sleeping on the floor of my mother’s rented office space. I saw my mother absorb the shame and reduction of status from African celebrity to cleaner and care home worker in the UK. Most of my childhood was spent in relationship with the twin sisters of wealth and struggle.
How did you raise the necessary capital to grow your businesses?
In the early stages, I obtained a grant that enabled me to purchase a laptop – my most precious commodity on this journey. Since then I have avoided loans. I used my wits to better my family’s circumstances. I bought a house; sold it at a profit and bought again bigger and better. By the time I was 20, I had £40k in my bank account. My husband agreed to work to cover the bills, which gave me the space to grow. We also stripped back our lifestyle, moved to the North of England where housing is cheaper and learnt to live a designer lifestyle on a budget. We are very creative with food, home décor and clothes. We learnt to live within our means and reinvest in our longer-term goals. This strategy has paid off and I believe with less stress than taking on a huge debt and obligation to outside investors. I really believe you must be your primary investor if you want to attract the investment of others.
What obstacles and challenges have you faced and what would you do differently if you knew then what you know now?
I’ve learnt a myriad of things. In spite of my gift for spotting opportunities, I have been reduced to bankruptcy and learned the lesson that who you hang around with affects your wealth. I now have a group of supportive individuals that inspire me.
When I realized that paying for a web designer can mean wading through crooks, wanabees, newbies, and fake-it-till-you-make-its, I learned to create my own website.
The biggest challenge for me many years ago was attracting clients. My biggest challenge now is creating content and products that are relevant, meaningful, helpful and replicatable. We live in a fast-paced society where everybody wants to be an overnight success but is not always willing to put in the time, passion, and vision to make it happen. I’ve learnt you must believe in yourself first if you want others to believe in you. I work tirelessly on developing my brand and building quality relationships with my clients. I relate easily to my clients entrepreneurial struggles because I have been through them in some shape or form.
What are you most proud of?
Overcoming the multitude of adversities and obstacles over the years. I am proud of the fact that I’m still in business, passionate and that I haven’t lost my vision. There were so many times when I could have given up.
Which factors or personal characteristics have helped you get to where you are right now?
It’s only recently really that I’ve come to understand what’s unique about me in this context. From the time I was young, I hated to lose. I also hated to be scared of things. I remember as a child going to the top diving board when I went swimming with my sisters. I was scared but faced my fears. I hate the crippling effect of fear more than doing what I’m afraid of. I’m always looking for opportunities and will take calculated risks to get to where I need to be – and I’ll put in the hours.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given and what advice would you give to women who want to start a business?
If I’m honest I hadn’t accounted for a lot of things: sleepless nights, the level of evolution and mental shifts I’d have to make in order to become the person I’m still becoming. I didn’t account for the amount of streamlining to my social life I’d have to do and how isolated I’d have to be.
Research, research, research. Research is queen. You need to know your product and your market and you need to know your customer. Focus on your passion not just the money. Find a way to capitalise on your gifts and passions; then do whatever it takes.
“You must be your primary investor if you want to attract the investment of others.”
I don’t remember who exactly said it but the concept of authenticity really resonates with me. I believe being authentic saves me so much unnecessary emotional turmoil and stress because I don’t have to play a part; I can be myself.
I do believe attitudes are changing and I see that the majority of budding entrepreneurs in my country are women. Women, who are trying to fulfill their womanhood and raise families, while making a living in a society that can no longer survive on one income. From my experience a supportive partner is critical to success.
I wear many hats in my line of work. Being flexible is a necessity, and having a fancy title like CEO, or Director doesn’t mean that I don’t at times have to clean the toilet after my staff have gone home, make sales calls to prospective new clients or listen to a client who has had a bad day.
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Pamina Mullins is Zimbabwean based, born in Zambia, and has lived in Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and the United Kingdom. She is a Corporate and Personal Stress Management and Life Coach, Hypnotherapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and NLP practitioner. She uses these inter-related methodologies to develop, motivate and guide her diverse clientele toward reaching their full potential. Pamina’s coaching focuses primarily on Stress Mastery, Change Management, Developing Human Capital, Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Diversity. She is a blogger for the Huffington Post Business series Africa’s Women Entrepreneurs author of the kindles Stress Free You!and Unlock Your Emotion Code and contributing author to Modern-Day Miracles by Louise L. Hay and Friends, The Coaching Gurus, and Radiant Survivor.