Welcome to part 2 of our exclusive interview with Entrepreneur Academy Alumnus Chi Opara, founder of Dinky Mix.
In this instalment (click), We talk with Chi about the research she is doing for some great ways she is diversifying her business, as well as her personal approach to customer service...
One of the ways Chi is diversifying what Dinky Mix has to offer is by creating activity packs that teach children about Black history in all its richness and colour. There is a history and a heritage that stretches centuries and millennia before the Atlantic slave trade - a history of empires and civilisations that invented and created and built and achieved great things. This is what she is currently researching and preparing for.
“I think it’s good for everyone to know everyone’s history. At the moment, our knowledge of history is very Eurocentric”, Chi explained. “I think Europeans miss out on seeing what happened in other continents and countries. When you put it together as a whole, yeah, of course there are horrible things that happened in the past, and also beautiful things, and it helps to shape children and shape people to really be inspired by different cultures and their history, and hopefully, if you pay attention to it, not to make the same mistakes that were made in the past.
Chi’s background is Igbo Nigerian, from the Igbo people. Story telling is a big part of Nigerian culture, and also is the lifeblood of most cultures across the continent of Africa. She has drawn much wisdom and morals from having stories passed down to her from her parents. “It helped me know who I am, and cemented positive self-identity within me”, she explains. “It means a lot to see the parallels between culture and history, and how I am raised now. This is where I come from, this is me, this is where I belong - it’s important”.
Chi channels this deep value she has for her cultural identity into the work she does, and what she creates. Her aim in this next upcoming phase of her business is to instill this knowledge and value into educational tools, arts and crafts. Another project she is working on is in collaboration with a friend of hers from Malawi. This lady is trying to teach her children her language, Chichewa. They are looking to collaborate to create a children’s picture book, which Chi is creating the illustrations for.
The arrival of Chi’s new baby son converged with the surge in demand for her products. Thankfully, by then, she had already outsourced a lot of the heavy lifting. “I tend to be someone who gets on with things. Life has been busy for a long time anyway, so I was like, ok, one more in the mix, let’s do this!” I already had things set up for when he arrived, so I ad parents and sisters around to support me - the help was there. They looked after the other kids, and let me just rest and deal with the baby. It had been exhausting, but I have the kind of personality that just gets on with it”.
Day to day, Chi’s routine looks like research and development for the business, dealing with orders, and general customer enquiries. She loves to create a personal connection with her customers, getting to know them as individuals.
“They like to come back to me on Instagram and other social platforms to have a chat with me! I get so many messages in my inbox asking how I am and how things are going. This gives such a lovely personal touch. I can now actually answer them and speak to them now, which is great”. This is all thanks to the time that has been freed up since she outsourced her extra work.
At the moment, she is researching what current resources are offering in the area of African history - she is looking at what is already out there, and what the gaps are in the market. She is looking for effective ways to approach that subject with small children from toddler stage to 5-6 years - how to put the information across in a way that is fun and engaging, as well as keeping the essence of the message behind it. “I am journalling, getting ideas down in the sketchbook. This is the bit I enjoy most!”
Chi’s kids love art, but her five year old son has a talent! The first thing he does when he gets in from school is to pick up his sketchpad and start drawing. He is really inspired by the Tinga Tinga art from Uganda, and tries to do his own Tinga Tinga.
Chi and her family have been very fortunate in that lockdown and the pandemic has brought them closer together. They were able to homeschool the kids, and they could spend loads of time out in their big garden when the weather was good. “We took the opportunity to enjoy eachother;s company, and to really teach the kids. It was a challenge, but when they got back to school, teachers said that they had improved over lockdown!”
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In our recent interview, Curricula and Co founding director Anita Frost, she shared a load of valuable wisdom nuggets about navigating the pandemic in career and business.....
“Now could even be the perfect time to re-think your whole career. It could push you in a direction you may not have even considered. If you have had a job loss, DO NOT feel like a failure! Yes, it’s a hard situation to deal with. You have bills to pay and outgoings to account for. But take this time to take stock of your skills, gifts, talents, and what you enjoy. You may have a hobby that could be used to earn money, that could become a business in the future”.
To find all three parts of this interview, head over to our blog page…
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to spreading ideas through inspiring short talks by experts in their field. You can search thousands of these fascinating talks on Youtube, and on the TED website.
Ted Talks are a great way to learn new and fascinating things about everything from science and psychology to social justice, careers and business.
One I heard recently is David Epstein’s 14 minute talk titled why specialising early doesn’t always mean career success. He explores some reasons why starting your career later in life is something to celebrate.
Grab yourself a coffee or a tea or some mulled wine, and have a listen...
In part two of our exclusive interview with Donna Kirk, vocal coach and founder of Legacy Vocal Coaching, we chat about how her students are benefitting from coaching during lockdown, her plans for community engagement, and what it is that really motivates her to keep going…
Donna had a choice to make with the onset of the pandemic - take the easy route and go back to her high paying sales job with tons of commission and a BMW thrown in - or give up the predictability of this ‘normal’ life, and put everything back into building her business…
“Giving it all up would have been easy because I could have had all that money, but it would be hard, because I would have to give up everything I have invested in. I haven’t paid myself in three years, because everything has gone back into growing the business”, Donna explained.
It’s clear to see that the return Donna is getting from her business is more than just finances.
“Looking ahead, I know that I want to make an impact on the community. Once I am more established and can afford to, I want to open it up to kids, and people who can’t really afford coaching. Benefitting other people is what drives me. I know if I were to go back into sales I would be burnt out within another few years. Either this doesn’t work and I know I have tried, and can make my peace with it, or it does work, and I get to impact peoples lives for the better. And we are already doing just that! We are giving people self confidence, and making them feel great in ways they never thought possible.
Right now, for Donna, giving back to the community in practice looks like giving huge discounts. She markets her price far lower than what she could be charging for the standard of coaching she provides and is qualified for. This is because she is passionate about making her services accessible to more people. She knows how much it can mean to someone just to have something to look forward to during the week. During a pandemic with no end in sight, this means the world to many of her students. “If you are struggling on a low income or maybe your home life is not great, but you have that one thing that gives you hope, that you can look forward to every week - that makes you excited and happy, and gets your brain working - that makes you start liking yourself more - if I can give that to someone then I have done my job”. Donna’s eyes dance on my computer screen as she tells me this.
“I could only afford lessons because I did a really good job for a bit. A lot can’t, and that’s why I want to do more charity events, raising money for specific things. I could do a charity auction for my services, or I could hire a hall and get all my students to sing to raise money for some great causes, and make a difference. When I was working in sales, I never felt like I was making a difference. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and be like “look at all this stuff I can’t take with me”. I want to see all the lives I have impacted and see how those made an impact on other lives. This is what drives me to keep going”.
The transition from running a home-based studio to running a commercial building was not particularly daunting for Donna, as she used to work as an office manager, a large part of which involved running an office building. From the word ‘go’, Donna was ahead of the game, arranging PAT testing, checking of the fire extinguishers, and all the fiddly parts of setting up a building for public use. As well as this, Donna has been a landlady before, which was a great help.
“ I knew I needed to get first aid equipment, appoint a fire warden, and buy insurance plans for everything. My business management NVQ, which I did back in the ‘90s at school taught me the basics of how to run a business, what departments are needed - over the years, I have gained customer service experience, sales, HR, training and development, and PA duties. I am an administrator deep down. I love admin, I am weird like that! I do all my own invoicing and accounting, which comes easy to me as I also worked in credit control for a while”.
The new teacher is great with social media, marketing and SEO, which is where Donna’s skills gap is. He is surprised that Donna enjoys invoicing so much! Donna is skilled at creating systems for things, and staying organised.
“I always make loads of lists. If you’re not organised, it will bury you. You have to compartmentalise and separate everything, otherwise you will forget, and wonder what you haven’t done. I couldn’t sleep at night if I wasn’t organised. There was so much to do - ordering mirrors, getting the piano moved, sorting out contents insurance…I was very lucky with furniture - everything I needed, someone happened to be giving that thing away. Everything on my list was available to me - a microwave, a fridge, 2 desks, 2 chairs, and 2 bookcases, and in the colours I wanted as well!
We hope you enjoyed our exclusive interview with Anita Frost! She shared some brilliant practical wisdom on navigating these crazy times.
If you missed it, you can catch up on our three part article series by heading over to the blog page of our website.
We have loads more interviews and stories coming your way over the next couple of months - we will be catching up with Donna from Legacy Vocal Coaching and Chi Opara from Dinky Mix about the latest developments in their entrepreneurial journey throughout lockdown, plus Rebekah, our content writer and blogger will be talking all things employment, postgraduate study, communications, and more..
Next month, get ready for a 3-part series in which we share an exclusive interview with Anita Frost, Curricula & Co, Founder…