How minority small business owners can improve their business

Joel Graham-Blake is an owner of Culltiv8 Solutions, a training an consultancy firm in Birmingham. Besides his firm, he has helped setting up other businesses and is an active member in several local communities in Birmingham. Jasper talked with Joel about his work and his efforts to give certain minority groups the power to achieve their goals.

You are a busy bee! As an entrepreneur, can you tell us what you do? (Are you serving small businesses)?

Cultiv8 Solutions is a training and consultancy service that I founded in 2005.

My clients range from small to medium sized businesses to public sector organizations. My services are focused on helping business owners and senior managers develop combine personal leadership skills with bespoke diversity strategies in order to grow their business, whilst making a positive impact in local communities. is a video advertising platform that helps businesses access new customer markets at their own convenience, 24 hours a day, without the fear of discriminating against any individual or group of people.

Besides setting up and Cultiv8 Solutions, your efforts seem related to encourage and promoting minority groups to start their business or encourage them to participate in the (business) society. Why?

My efforts are not just about encouraging minorities into business. I am genuinely passionate about nurturing people and businesses in order, to maximize their potential, regardless of any difference. In business, there will always obstacles that we must overcome, no matter who you are, and it takes a truthful appreciation of your circumstances to work out how you will overcome those obstacles.

However, as someone from an ethnic minority background, I have had first hand experience of societal, economical and personal issues that have had an impact on my own business journey – this does not make my plight any more important than anyone else’s, but I would be lying if I said that my background has not had an input into my determination to exceed expectations and the negative perception of others.

On your LinkedIn profile you mentioned yourself who has “overcome the odds, who has refused to be a typical stereotype of someone from the inner city”. You think it’s still difficult to achieve career goals if you want to break out the typical stereotype?

That’s depends who you or what you feel is holding you back. Is it you, other people or the circumstances around you that you feel are holding you back are key questions that I would ask.

We all have choices. Although, some choices are much harder than others, it takes an emotional connection with what you seek to achieve, to create action.

What one seeks to achieve must have a definitive purpose – for me, it was to try and inspire and educate others, in everything that I do; for others it may be solely about proving other people wrong.

Personally, I think why waste time trying to prove yourself to others? Set the highest standards for yourself, achieve them then let your others talk about your impact – if they don’t like you but your service is of the highest standard, then they can only respect you…eventually!

You’ve won some business awards or many nominations for your work. That must give you a lot of energy! Did this recognition open a lot of doors? How did you benefit from this recognition?

Being recognized for your passion does give you a nice warm feeling because your endeavours are being seen as worthy and are appreciated by your peers, your colleagues, the industry, whoever.

However, I have always looked at those things as giving me further responsibility and more importantly, an additional marker to remain humble and grounded.

You see, people can put you in the spotlight and expect the best when your name is in lights, in papers, on billboards etc. The key thing is to continually exceed what people expect of you and to ensure that you are always pushing yourself to the next level. Your business will benefit in the long run as long as you stay focused on what it really important.

When I retire, I can look back at all the recognitions and tell stories to my future grandchildren with a real sense of pride, but until then it will always be business as usual!

What are common mistakes minority start-ups and small businesses make when it comes to running their business?

Let’s be clear – minority business owners are not any different to other small business owners! Everyone faces barriers – it is just that some may be different from others. I can’t speak for all small businesses, but some of the common mistakes are:

  • Forgetting that a business is just one big system, made up of little systems – separating emotion from logic is essential, although often the hardest thing to do.
  • Spending money that they have not got: credit is not always the best option: install a sense of discipline in how you spend money in your business
  • Relying on one or two key clients to as key income streams: Simply put, what happens to your business if they decide to go elsewhere?
  • Growing too early: fast growth is great but small steps and managing your progress is a lot more worthwhile.
  • Not knowing when to say no: you gain a lot more respect from your clients, if you learn to say no when you know you cant deliver – honesty goes a long way in business!
  • Not trying to build relationships first before doing business: your clients are not numbers on a sheet, they are people who will add value to you, if you can add value to them!

What advice would you give startups and small businesses?

  • Connect with the purpose of your business: it will help to motivate you in those dark days and times
  • Research, Research, Research: you can never have enough knowledge about all aspects of your business, enough if you have staff.
  • Seek a suitable support network or mentor: going it alone is great but having someone in your corner to lean on from time to time, is so refreshing and can really energise you just when you need it!
  • Cash is king! Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business, not profits!
  • Never forget where you come from, but know where you are going!
  • Don’t listen to people who have not done what you are seeking to achieve, but learn from their mistakes at the same time.
  • ABOVE ALL, INTEGRATE A WORK / LIFE BALANCE! – Life is too short for your business to overwhelm all aspects of your life

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