Barbara Campbell is founder and director of Barbwire Enterprises.
What made you decide to set up your company?
When my son was 5 years old I wanted to take him to the theatre. We’d done the Jack and the Beanstalk stuff, and I’d even taken him to Opera’s (I do like that kind of entertainment and so did he until aged 11 his cousin, whom we had taken with us to see a classic, told him it was boring and refused to keep quiet whilst we enjoyed it), but I also wanted him to see people of colour on stage and they were not being promoted in the What’s On mags we used. I thought perhaps there were no listings because there were no shows of this nature. I was the editor of The Journal – Sister paper to The Voice – at the time (a nationally distributed paper) and put a notice in it saying we wanted to start a what’s on column. WE WERE INUNDATED with information. What was supposed to be two columns became five pages. I knew I was looking at a magazine in the making.
In 1998 I tested the water with a publication backed by two east-London business men. This showed me there was a market for a multicultural cosmopolitan What’s On magazine that was inclusive of ALL races. But the circumstances I had with them was not right for advancement and I shelved it. But I kept the contacts I’d made in the business, always with the intention of doing it properly later on. In 2000, a year or so after I’d been headhunted to work for the Journalism Institute, I decided to leave and go for it. On my birthday (30 June) I walked into my project manager’s office and said, “thank you for the cake, the card and the wine, but I’d like something else as a present please.” She asked me what and I said “I’d like to leave. Just pack up my belongings and walk.”
She looked at me like I was crazy and asked me what I intended to do. I said, “Start a mini-empire!” then explained my dream of having my own publishing house. Prior to this day I had approached banks and was turned down as I did not have the right collateral. Apart from my kids (1 boy, 1 girl) the only other thing of value that I had was my life. I cashed in my life insurance policy, got a nice little nest-egg and launched a month after leaving my very well paid and cushy job! I was a single mother living on £64 a week when all other expenses were taken out but I was happy as Larry.
What have been your biggest challenges so far in the company?
Advertising! Getting known and established is hard when you are new. People/advertisers are set in their ways, they do not like new-comers; they immediately begin wagers as to how long you will last in the industry. They won’t advertise with you because they think you do not have the clout or weight or expertise to carry a company. To be honest I had NONE of those, but I did have passion and self-belief, and absolutely hate to give up. Failure is not an option. That said I would not condemn myself if I failed cos the real failure is not getting down, but staying down.
If there was one thing that you could say was a great success, what would it be?
Staying sane in the midst of this madness they call running a business. Apart from that uunnily enough it’s my Black history month mag (Black Heritage Today) took off like a rocket, swiftly followed by The Official guide to International Women’s Month mag. I say funnily enough because I’d been told black cannot sell and it CAN. I tapped into what people really wanted to read in a publication of this sort, it’s not about who was the first black policeman, or downloading info from the Internet and fiddling with it, it’s about ‘who is creating and making history now’ and doing real and proper investigation and research. I produce the publication for the readers, not the advertisers – I give them what they want to read and they love it.
How do you see the market performing in the next 12-18 months?
The entire industry is shaky right now. The problem is that businesses and corporations immediately think they should cut advertising when the going gets tough, but that’s the time when selected orgs should be pushing what they do – like colleges that offer retraining courses – but they hold back and hope they can do it by word of mouth and sit on what little change they have. I know quite a few publishing businesses that have shut down. That’s why I am glad I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket. I also teach journalism, and go into schools and work with teens 14 years plus for Enterprise Days. I also contract publish for others, ghost write books and offer consultancy for people crazy enough to want to get into my industry. We CAN ride this out if we don’t buy into the hype; get creative with how we do things; unearth our other talents and tap into them. I’d also recommend that people look overseas for opportunities and not necessarily go for the obvious like the USA. You’d be amazed what countries may need your expertise. I received an offer the other day that had me reeling! Sun, sea (can’t swim but what they hay!) and Bacardi & coke here I come.
If you could go back to when you started the company would you change anything? Yes, I’d take a course in advertising and marketing skills. As it is I had to learn on the job. It had never been my intention of selling advertising (good at it now though – but hate it), as I had brought someone in to sell space but she tried to cheat me and got a shock when I revealed her scam and showed her the door. Long story, but it taught me just how dishonest and nasty some business people can be. When she left I realised I had three weeks to produce this listing guide and no ads and had to put the editorial to one side, roll up my sleeves and sell like someone with the runs! The ONE thing I would NOT do though is go after funding (once bitten forever shy). Another long story.
When and if you get the time, what do you like to do in obtain a life balance?
Three years ago I lost my best friend from school days and realised how short life was and was determined to make the best of mine. I hate shopping so decided to love me instead. I discovered that pampering myself did not mean laying on the beach getting a tan that would be no use to me and I started going to salons to have my nails, hair, feet and skin loved up. I also go on retreats for a few days at least twice a year. I splashed out on a treadmill which is collecting dust in the corner. I spend quality time with my children, go out to dinner or theatre and even date when a man is brave enough to ask me out. I take every weekend off (unless it’s near deadline) and finish work dead on 6pm each evening unless I become bored in the evenings and log on.
Can you share any tips for any members wishing to start out on their own?
First of all have a clear idea of what you want to do then sit down to look at how you are going to do it. Research all areas of your intending business. Forget airy fairy ideas – be practical. Avoid borrowing money to start if you can so you do not start out in debt. I have never borrowed and never been in debt. Of course, it means I’ve never been rich either but I’ve never been poor or gone without. Surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and who can be useful to you, even it it’s just to encourage you and tell you how terrific a job you are doing – ditch all moaners and negative folks, even family – avoid them. Do not look for handouts, you will never learn to be independent if you are continually looking for funding. Get yourself a good and trusted accountant – make him/her your best friend. Start in your home if space allows (saves overheads). Lastly, stop dreaming – just do it!