Bianca Miller-Cole is an award-winning entrepreneur, having started The Be Group in 2012 with the belief that all individuals should be able to access personal development services. Bianca has developed her company into the ‘go to’ business for personal branding success. The business has an impressive list of clients including HSBC, Accenture, AMEX, Olswang LLP, Google, BT, EY, LSE and Kings College London to name a few.
Milestone spoke to her about being self-made, writing best-selling books, and her time vying for Lord Sugar’s investment.
Milestone: When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in business?
Bianca Miller-Cole: Looking back through my childhood, there is an entrepreneurial vein that ran through many of my activities. I was the type of child who liked to make and save money, so I found ways to monetise my activities and started small businesses along the way, from selling my paintings to anyone that would buy them (mostly my parents) aged five, to using my passion for dance to start a dance school aged 12, to hosting paid under 18 parties at 17. I think it’s fair to say that my hunger for entrepreneurship has been there from the very beginning.
Can you explain how you’re self-made?
In 2010, when I graduated from university, there was a recession which meant I didn’t start a business straight away but instead fulfilled a role as an HR advisor for Accenture, a management consultancy company. Part of my role was to oversee their community of 1,500 graduates. This role gave me great insight into the reality of the working world. The graduates I worked with were very intelligent people, however, they were not always good at personal branding, communication, and networking. They were not aware of how their personal brand could influence their career trajectory and future job prospects.
I was tasked with preparing the graduates for promotion and helping them to understand how to find and understand their goals. I knew at this point that this is what I wanted to do. I built my personal brand and networking while working for Accenture.
After 2.5 years I was being earmarked for promotion, however, I didn’t know if that was what I wanted. I was posed with a difficult decision, so I decided to leave and pursue a career in recruitment. I believed that recruitment had great potential as a business idea. However, what I experienced was that there were many candidates coming in for high-paid accountancy jobs, who struggled to articulate their experience or build a reputable online brand. This is when I had my light bulb moment, I wanted to help people find and develop their personal brand and understand the impact it could have on them while climbing the career ladder.
I continued to work in recruitment by day and on my business plan by night. With purpose realised and my passion ignited, I started my first business, The Be Group. I was 23 and quite naive to business, but I had the right amount of passion to make a go of it. It took me a while to get my foot in the door, the beginning of my journey demanded a lot of grit, resilience, and persistence. I tapped into my well-established network, landing my first client which was a global bank, and the second was a prestigious university. I didn’t benefit from any handouts but I used what I knew and those first two clients to open more doors and create more connections, I continued to network three to four times a week to keep my name out there and to keep people curious about what I was getting up to.
And now, nearly a decade later, I ‘m lucky enough to name some of the most prestigious corporate organisations in the world as some of my clients, including Google, Accenture, KPMG, Facebook, HSBC, American Express, EY, Deloitte, and CMS…the list goes on.
What did you take away from being on ‘The Apprentice’ – was coming second a blessing in disguise?
Anyone who has watched “The Apprentice” knows that it’s no walk in the park. It was important for me to weigh up the pros and cons, of being in front of 8 million people. It is a gruelling process; 12 weeks in a house of 19 entrepreneurs all vying for a £250,000 business investment.
My experience on the show taught me a lot but also solidified my belief that anything is possible with the right work ethic, passion, humility to learn and focus. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, and at the time, naturally I was disappointed that I came second – because I always focus on the win. But I believe it was a blessing in disguise. If I had won, it would have given me the investment from Lord Sugar. However, it would also have meant I was beholden to someone else. I believe that the reason why so many people dive into entrepreneurship is to truly be the narrator of your their story, whereas, winning would have meant relocating and essentially doing as you are told.
In hindsight, coming second place on “The Apprentice” opened up so many amazing opportunities. I was able to use my own funds as capital to start my hosiery brand, Bianca Miller London, and went on to write a number one best-selling business book with my husband, Byron Cole, who is also an entrepreneur. Our first book, “Self Made: The Definitive Guide to Business Start Up Success,” led to us starting our Self Made mentoring community, which ignited a joy I didn’t anticipate. Being a part of hundreds of businesses via mentoring is very fulfilling, I am excited to offer them the support and knowledge I wish I had starting up.
What has fuelled your drive and success?
I would say that being able to help people achieve their goals, has helped fuel my drive and my success. At its core, the knowledge I’ve acquired and the businesses I’ve built help other people to thrive, and that drives me. Also, I am driven by my lifestyle, I desire to live a certain lifestyle and creating that for myself and my family and building a legacy are important to me. It means having the flexibility to choose when I work, being able to work from where I want to and being able to work with the clients I want to work with. It also means being able to buy what I want and invest and save to build a stable future.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
There have been so many lessons along the way. Climbing the business ladder is no mean feat, sometimes you have to start from the bottom. I made lots of mistakes, such as having an office from the outset and a team of people. In hindsight I could have started from my kitchen table on my own. However, I’m not a believer in losses, only lessons. We all make mistakes or have obstacles, but it is the ability to continue and grow that makes the difference.
What lies in store for your future?
I am very excited about the future, our second book “The Business Survival Kit” will be released in September 2021. This book will talk about all of the challenges that occur when you’re running your business. Starting a business isn’t easy. In fact, it can be scary, exhausting, and demoralising. When it finally takes off, even though you’re fulfilling a lifelong dream, it can be a struggle to keep up with the rest of your life. Our new book focusses on how to cope with the inevitable stresses and strains along the way. The book will cover topics including, how to manage stress, anxiety and uncertainty, building your confidence, tackling impostor syndrome, maintaining a healthy work/life balance, building strong networks, nurturing your personal romantic relationships, goal setting, time management, building resilience and staying motivated (even in the midst of failure). These are things we often overlook and it’s important to undersand that starting a business will impact you and the people around you.
I will also continue to build my existing businesses and I have invested in a variety of businesses which has given me another opportunity to help budding entrepreneurs and build a legacy.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
For budding entrepreneurs, I advise you to put yourself and your idea out there. It’s important to do the research, but don’t be afraid to try and fail. In fact, I often say “fail fast.” Even if it’s a side hustle. during these times, it’s really important to think about how you can make more money and diversify your streams of income.
Get feedback. It’s important to test your product or service out with your target audience, and not just your family and friends. The tangible feedback is what will let you know if your business is viable.
Have your survival budget ready. I would advise you to work this out, so you can live while growing the business. It often takes longer than you first anticipated. Therefore, it’s paramount that you get your finances aligned. You will need to know what you’re offering, how much you are going to sell it for, how much you are going to get paid, how frequently you are going to get paid. All of this information is vital in ensuring your business is financially sound.
It’s important to use social media, with your business in mind. Don’t just focus on getting followers, ensure you are focused on getting potential customers, and growing your brand and your personal brand. It can be easy to get caught up in vanity metrics, such as followers, but you have to ask yourself “are those followers converting into money?” It’s important to focus on how you can use those followers to build the brand but also to add value. As the saying goes ‘information for free, implementation for a fee.”
Deliver excellent customer service, you don’t just want to have customers, you want raving fans. If you’re starting a business, you want to ensure you are providing a phenomenal customer experience and giving them value. Your customers are your mouthpiece and they will help you to gain more customers and traction. They are one of the cheapest marketing tools you will have, so make sure you are using that to your advantage.
Finally, enjoy it, entrepreneurship is a unique experience, so soak it all up and enjoy your journey.