Nothing makes me happier than watching the diverse team I’ve put together working to make the business grow stronger every day. I’ve employed people from different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities because I know what it’s like to feel overlooked and unwanted. Running my own multi-million pound business has meant a lot of hard work and many sacrifices, but I love it. It’s brought back the confidence I lost completely in my old job, which left me anxious and depressed.
I’d felt ready to get back to work a year after my daughter Tiana was born in 2016 and was delighted to find a new job as a project support manager. My role was very varied and involved coordinating meetings, taking minutes and organising projects.
At first I really enjoyed my job, dropping Tiana off at nursery in the mornings and getting used to the business. But things quickly went sour. I felt like I was blamed for things that weren’t my fault and I was being made a scapegoat. There were undertones of racism and I became very anxious and unhappy. I wasn’t allowed to use my phone at work, even though others were, and because no one left their desks at lunchtime, they didn’t like it when I did and they started timing my breaks.
It was humiliating and most evenings I’d go home and cry. My husband Ola was really worried about me, telling me I should resign. But I didn’t think I could just leave. Where would I go? Then one day at work, Ola rang. He said Tiana was in hospital after falling ill at nursery with an abnormally high temperature.
My mind was racing. I’d only dropped her off a few hours earlier, how could she suddenly have fallen so ill? Distraught, I went to tell my manager what had happened and said I needed to go straight to the hospital. But she wouldn’t let me leave. I spent the rest of the day trying to hold back the tears, worried sick. As soon as I could go, I rushed to the hospital to be with my little girl. Luckily, the doctors had managed to bring down her temperature and she was discharged at midnight.
I didn’t dare ask for time off to look after her while she recovered from her virus, so Ola stepped in while l worried all week at work. I knew I couldn’t stay at a workplace like that, so I resigned. Depressed about what had happened, I turned to therapy. I felt like a failure and lost all confidence in my ability to succeed. I no longer believed in myself. It was Ola’s cousin who came up with the idea of setting up an Amazon small business. At first I wasn’t keen. I didn’t like accounting and had never had any interest in running my own business. But with Ola’s encouragement, I agreed to look into it.
We ploughed in £5,000 of our own savings and started buying sports products and toys from wholesalers. But there were safety issues with one of the toys I’d chosen and guess what, we lost £15,000! It was a shock but Ola said, “Look, we’ve got £500 left, you take it and see what you can do with it.”
This time, I did my homework. Amazon has lots of resources about how to run a business, including its Seller University, and I spent a lot of time researching and learning the ropes. I chose the name Tilz Mart, which includes initials of loved ones, and decided to concentrate on gifts, such as toys, chocolates and hampers. Choosing which products to buy for my site was nerve-racking. When my first product, a ukulele, sold, we were all overjoyed and danced around the living room to celebrate.
Soon, orders were coming in quickly. The hampers were immediately my bestsellers – and still are. I fill them with Cadbury chocolate because everyone loves that and add other products such as toys or prosecco. In the UK, everyone seems to love sending gifts, and we do it all year round.
I worked at home and soon the kitchen and the garage were full of goods. There were setbacks along the way, including a large order that was stolen from outside the front door. I then found a warehouse and sales kept growing. With more customers moving to online shopping last year, we got even busier and I started to appoint staff to help me, working in admin, finance and running the warehouse. I added my own brands, dealing directly with manufacturers, and by the last financial year our turnover was just over £1.5 million. If our growth continues as we’re expecting, we should reach an eight-figure turnover within three years.
I work hard and wake up at 4am every morning to do some work before taking the girls to nursery and school. I’m happy to get up so early because it means I can leave work in time to pick them up and spend the evening concentrating on family time.
I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved. Being a woman is tough in the business world and being a Black woman has been really hard. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said I’m not who they were expecting when they meet me and yes, there have been incidents of racism. Working in a diverse environment as I do now is very important to me. I want to give everyone a chance, no matter what their background, age or heritage.
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We work closely together without anyone feeling they’re less important than anyone else because of their background or the colour of their skin. There’s no odd one out, like I was in my last job. I try to be positive every single day, and I love being a mentor to other people starting out in business. Life throws up many different challenges, but you have to believe in yourself and let your actions do the talking.
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