The Serial Entrepreneur
Michelle Koloko-Adeyeni is a Business Change Manager, but really is a 'no-longer-in-the-closet' serial entrepreneur, having run multiple businesses over the years next to her day job.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? About what you do, and your business?
I currently work as a Business Change Manager. I’ve worked in the business change space for about 19 years. That’s how I started out life professionally, from university.
But after a while I realised I just couldn’t see myself doing the corporate life forever. So I started to think ‘what would I do if I wasn’t here?’
I had struggled with bad skin throughout my teens and my early twenties. I found this fantastic brand with an amazing ethos and fell in love with it. So much so that I thought I’d like to set something up using them and helping other people who’d been in my position struggling with adult acne.
After I’d done my project work I’d spend a bit more time to work on my business plan. But left it on the backburner. I just knew that the time wasn’t exactly right then.
I found out that I could go on a sabbatical for up to a year after two years of service. I decided that that was going to be my time. I was very open and transparent with my employer and told them what I’d be doing during my sabbatical, which was launching the skincare business.
As soon as I left for my sabbatical I got new premises. I rented a space in a gym in South East London, with two amazing treatment rooms and a lovely reception area. My day spa.
Then a woman I’d worked with gave me a call and said would I be willing to give it a try at contracting and take her place in a change communications role? I ended up doing three days a week there – whilst still carrying on with my skincare business.
I launched this business and started contracting at the same time. I recruited three girls from the London College of Beauty Therapy. They were there five, six days a week, Monday to Saturday. And I would be there on the Monday and Fridays to keep an eye on things.
What made you into the entrepreneurial type?
The simple answer is my parents. They were both employed, the first few years of coming to the UK. But my earliest memories of my mum and dad working was of them going to their own business. My mother learned to be a seamstress and went on to open her own boutique. And my dad was in an import-export business focused on textiles.
I think just growing up with that experience and seeing that example made me think that it wasn’t such a big deal or anything too scary to think of working for yourself.
Is your business still going now?
The business carried on for a good ten years. In that time I dipped in and out of it, working as a contractor, but also working in the business myself full-time. Because I was passionate about the product I would make more product sales. I did courses and became a qualified beauty therapist myself.
Then, in 2011, I relocated to Lagos, Nigeria. The business carried on for a couple of years because my younger sister took over the running and management of it for me whilst I was in Nigeria.
Then, in 2013/14, when my sister decided to join me, we decided to wind the business up, because we were no longer in the country.
We moved our attention to Lagos, Nigeria. I was there to revive a Chinese restaurant, which had suffered a decline with the owners and the partners losing interest, getting older. When I went, in 2011, the area was being regenerated, so it was the perfect time to do a little change management project on this. Which is what I did.
Whilst I was there, I decided to use one of the office spaces to set up a little private skincare business. I entered a Government-run competition, with which the government tried to support entrepreneurship and business, particularly started by women. What they were looking for on entry was potential for not only a successful business but for onward job creation as well.
I entered the competition with a plan to set up not just a skincare business but a skincare academy, that would equip other women with the skills they needed to start their own skincare businesses. And I was one of the lucky winners! It was quite a good chunk of money that we didn’t have to pay back.
From 2013 my sister was Director of Education, providing a UK qualification in skincare from the Vocational Training and Charitable Trust. And then I’d come in and do the business development and marketing kind of advice part of the course. We had quite a few cohorts of women who went on to start their own businesses and employ more women in their skincare businesses as well.
But in 2016 I decided to come back to the UK. I had worked so hard, running two businesses. I needed to concentrate on myself. And changed direction again.
What for you are the main advantages of having a business on the side?
You have an outlet for your own ideas, your creativity, your passion. You can exercise some autonomy, more autonomy than you might in your paid employment. Those were the big benefits for me. And also if you are somebody who doesn’t do well with some sort of routine, or monotony, having the two options, to mix your week up, mix your month up, makes a big difference.
What do you think has been really hard about starting your business?
When I was initially looking for premises commercial rents and business rates were very off-putting. I never ended up being successful finding a high street location. But I think that might have been a blessing in disguise.
And then the other thing is access to finance, in the form of loans and things like that. I think I was lucky that I was in Nigeria when there was an administration that felt that it was important to focus on the SME sector of industry, and also women in business.
When I was starting out there wasn’t so much of that here in the UK. For me, I didn’t worry about it, because I had my funds coming in from my contracting. That was the benefit of having a job as well as the business.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
Recruitment initially. Not making rash decisions around employing people just because you want to get started. Not growing your team quicker than your business can accommodate is a very important thing. I think starting small is definitely wise. You can think as big as you like. Just be prepared to take the time and take those baby-steps towards getting bigger.
And going forward, have you got other plans?
I think so. It took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that my entrepreneurial activities were on hold at the moment. Since I came back I got married, bought a house, I’m now expecting my first child. But I’ve already got a few ideas bubbling. Things I might like to dabble in during maternity leave if I have time.
For example, I’ve always said I wanted to develop my own skincare range. I haven’t pursued it since 2017, when I went to a skincare product development conference, but that’s something I would like to do in the future.
Do you have any recommendations for women who want to start their own company?
If you’re in a job, and it’s not completely unbearable, stay there for as long as you can. Do as much research as you can about the area you want to go into. And also, stay there long enough to make a considered exit strategy.
Ideally, make sure you give yourself some sort of safety net in case things don’t go according to plan. And that can be as simple as not burning bridges with whoever you’re employed by at the minute.
On top of that I did training and formal education whilst still on the job, and that’s a tip as well, to take training in your chosen business area whilst still in a job.
And have a backstory, some kind of personal story that the founder brings to their business, that resonates with people. It really draws people in and it helps mainly with your credibility as a business owner.