Having completed a business management and economics degree, I started my graduate career as a HR advisor at Accenture to a 350 strong graduate community. I started as a temp with no confirmation that a permanent position would be available but been naturally hard working I got stuck in and became an integral part of the team.
To my surprise I was offered a permanent position within six months of starting, I didn’t have to think twice, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
It was there that I found my true calling and love for the personal development side of HR when I was asked by a member of the management team to create an initiative called ‘Preparing for Promotion’. From this strategic position I saw the personal branding potential in individuals that would increase their career advancement opportunities. I saw people who were academically astute, and a commercial fit, but who didn’t understand the other attributes necessary to succeed in a corporate environment i.e presenting oneself appropriately to create the right ‘on brand’ impression or effectively communicating their story and the art of building reciprocal relationships when networking instead of the hard sell.
This and a brief stint in financial recruitment showed me that people were often not taking the time or money to invest in themselves and their own development, within recruitment people of all ages were struggling to exhibit their brand in a way that would enhance their success.
In the summer of 2012, I bit the bullet resigned from my job and decided to follow my dream. So the business was born … ‘The Be Group’ (Be Styled UK, Be Employed UK & Be Branded UK) is personal development services business which offers personal branding, employability and image consultancy services. Our services are delivered via interactive workshops, consultancy and coaching to arm individuals with the desirable skills that not only help them to gain employment but retain a job and build an evolving brand. In the past year we have worked with global banks, law firms, top 10 universities, schools, small business owners/entrepreneurs and individuals to aid their future potential.
I am passionate about what I do and I believe that the personal branding agenda will not only help unemployed people and graduates but all individuals in search of career and personal fulfilment.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Taking the decision to start the business was huge challenge for me, I believed in its potential for success, I had researched the market, I felt I had something unique to offer and I have a partner that supports my passion. But the primary concern was money, having a mortgage and other bills to pay, I was nervous about not having a confirmed monthly income. Having had a constant permanent income since leaving university, the idea of taking a leap of faith (planned or otherwise) was a challenge. I think it is a challenge that many entrepreneurs face, leaving security to follow ones passion can lead to greatness but in the back of one’s mind is the reality that might come from failure or the business just taking that little bit too long to get off of the ground.
What’s been your greatest achievement personally?
Making it past the 12 month point and being multi-award nominated in that time. I remember in the first 6 months of starting, I wanted my business to be considered by business directory a lady was writing and she said to me (in the nicest way one can) ‘If you make it past 12 months then come back’. Well I have made it but more important than that, we are still here because our clients want us to be here.
Our success thus far has been largely due to referrals, positive testimonials and clients returning for our assistance. Quality has always been at the forefront of my agenda and every time I create a programme or solution for a client and they are happy I feel I have achieved the very thing I set out to offer.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
The challenges are often centred on overcoming obstacles, there are times as an entrepreneur or business owner when you approach a client or complimentary individuals with a view to working with/for them and to you there is a clear synergy. But the recession, pressure to make the ‘right’ choice (from fear of losing one’s job) prevents people from taking what they may perceive as a ‘risk’ instead they remain with a current supplier that they aren’t happy with. Or they are not open minded enough to look at the opportunity for what it is and to look a little bit outside the box.
For someone like myself who has come from a corporate background where the business brand meant so much that people are destined to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities, setting up alone you start to realise how difficult it can be to get to decision makers or to overcome apprehension without a strong brand or large team. But I think it forces one to be innovative and resilient, no doesn’t always mean no – sometimes it means try again with a different tack or go away and gain more understanding about their needs. On other occasions it really does mean no, and it is important to understand when no means no and it’s time to move on. Like I tell my students, Girish Shah’s mantra ‘SW3’ will help overcoming most obstacles when networking and selling ‘Some will, Some wont, So what?’, tomorrow is a new day, brush yourself off and start again.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
That is a difficult question, I would quite like to be the host of a chat show, mostly because I like talking (haha) and understanding the motivations of other people. Alternatively I would use my creativity and organisation skills within the marketing / business development space.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My parents have always been my ultimate inspiration, as an only child with entrepreneurial parents; I have always been surrounded by business and innovation. I saw the good and the bad times but mostly I saw the joy that came from being the author of your own destiny.
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I try my very best to maintain some form of work-life balance, I don’t often succeed. But when I do have spare time I try to spend time with my fiance, my family and friends, they are the most important people to me and without them life would be meaningless – they give me perspective. I like to take up new hobbies, I am currently learning how to play golf, I was learning Mandarin until my schedule got in the way, I try to take short breaks/holidays where possible and most recently I am trying to put some emphasis on my fitness. Relaxation for me can be anything from just being home to trying new experiences – life is short, make the most of it.
What made you apply for The Apprentice?
To be quite honest, I was about two and a half years into my business ‘The Be Group’ and was building a name for myself within personal branding/development and although I had wanted to get into the nude hosiery market I didn’t think I had the knowledge and capital to do it in the right way. Then one day my fiancé came home and suggested I apply for The Apprentice and propose my business idea. I met the idea with apprehension, I didn’t want to be on television or be famous, I was concerned about how the show might be edited and thus how I might be perceived and how that would affect my current clients. Then after being sent the application repeatedly I applied! Having been asked to attend the auditions I started taking it more seriously – approximately 80,000 people apply and I had been offered the opportunity and being a strong believer in life being about experiences – I thought how could I turn the opportunity down?
It was my 18th Birthday when I first came up against the issue of nude hosiery, being a December baby it was cold so I wanted a pair of nude tights to wear with my birthday dress. I searched the high street, trawled the internet and still couldn’t find the right colour so I did what a fashion conscious 18 year old does – I braved the cold. Then during my time in corporate life I wanted nude hosiery to wear to meetings, as it didn’t feel appropriate to have bare legs, so again I headed to the high street. This time with a little more disposable income but I still couldn’t find the right colour so I wore black. The final straw was in the image consultancy side of my business where my stylists and I saw many of our clients (of varying ethnicity and level of expenditure) were also struggling. That when I realised there was a clear niche that for some reason had not been catered to thus far.
It was going into The Apprentice that gave me the opportunity to complete my business plan and hopefully get the right level of investment and partnership to make the business a reality.
Will you still be getting into the hosiery industry?
I definitely believe in the brand proposition of redefining nude hosiery and making it accessible for women of all complexions. The unfortunate reality is that currently on the market there is a middle shade of nude and anyone that falls either side of that ‘nude’ spectrum tends to be forgotten about. I think nude hosiery should be accessible for all women resulting in a change in the oxford dictionary definition ‘of a pinkish-beige colour’.
The brand is now called ‘Bianca Miller London’ largely due to the fact that people come up to me and say ‘You’re the tights lady – when can I buy them’ so it made sense to embrace the fact that people remember me for proposing to redefine ‘nude’ in the hosiery market.
What does the future hold for you?
I hope to be able to work with more corporate organisations to assist their employees in the creation of their personal brand strategy and with CSR departments of these organisations to support local schools who cannot afford the training for their students.
I also hope to be able to support more individuals, as I mentioned I don’t feel that enough individuals invest in themselves and their own evolution.
Finally launching ‘Bianca Miller London’ in AW15 is going to be an exciting opportunity!
WIN A COPY OF BIANCA’S NEW BOOK
Bianca Miller-Cole recently launched a new book called ‘Self Made. The Definitive Guide to Business Startup Success’.
This authoritative, focused guide by two of the UK’s brightest young entrepreneurs – Bianca Miller-Cole and Byron Cole – is a comprehensive toolkit for anyone who wants to make a success of running their own business. Featuring interviews with well-known entrepreneurs, entertainers and industry experts, the book covers every tier of the business development process, from start-up to exit, offering practical, implementable and global advice on the start-up process.
De-coding the jargon that is prevalent in business circles today, this book provides straightforward advice on converting an innovative business concept into a commercially viable proposition. It will help you to avoid the costly common mistakes of many who have gone before you, and create a sustainable enterprise that will flourish.
“Successful entrepreneurs learn fast. Self Made is a fantastic way to learn an incredible amount of hugely practical information very, very quickly.”
Dhiraj Mukherjee – Co-Founder of Shazam, investor and business consultant
“This book offers practical advice for anyone thinking of starting, growing or scaling their own business.”
Gordon Merrylees – Head of Entrepreneurship, Royal Bank of Scotalnd, Natwest and Ulster Bank
“They share their in advice in an easy to read, easy to apply format, that will have you up and running your business in no time.”
Melanie Eusebe, Entrepreneur & Co-Founder of the Black British Business Awards
You can win a free copy of Bianca’s new book by emailing your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered into a prize draw.
For more information on Bianca please connect with her on:
Instagram : @Bianca_Miller1