Meet Sarah Akwisombe, founder of No Bull Business School
To kick off our weekly Girl Boss interview series, we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Akwisombe, a London-based interior designer and founder of No Bull Business School. NBBS provides fun and informative online courses helping women to build kick-ass brands, with courses including Money and Manifesting School and No Bull Blog School.
Sarah’s own blog has won major awards, and she’s been featured in Forbes, The Times, The Guardian and Stylist magazine, amongst many others. No Bull Business School is loved for its bold personality and quality content, along with its mission to help women build the brands of the future. If you didn’t yet know, we love supporting women here at Antwerp Avenue. Sarah is the definition of a self-made business woman. After being fired from her office job, she started her own business with zero experience, contacts or qualifications. Soon, she was winning awards and working with some of the world’s best-loved brands. “I did things in my own no BS way, and it worked,” she says.
Read on to learn all about Sarah’s entrepreneurial journey, and her tips and tricks for women who want to follow her down the same path.
Hi Sarah. Could you kick us off by telling us a little about how you got started with your company?
I started as an interior design blogger – I had a blog and I was writing about interior design and I was doing that full time for a living. I was working with lots of brands, and I was getting my own design work and styling work as well, off the back of building a blog and having an audience.
I started to get a lot of people asking me how I had turned blogging into a job, and so I was constantly giving people advice by DM or over email, and I got to the point where I thought ‘why don’t I make an online course that summarises everything I’ve ever learned about blogging?’, and then anyone who’s interested in learning can just do the course. So that was the start of it, and that was the first course that I did. People did that course and liked it, and started asking for other courses, like how to build up your Instagram, how to build a brand, stuff about money – loads of different ones. And it’s just grown from there!
What’s an example of a hurdle you faced in your business journey?
Tech! I would say that people think that having an online course is super easy and a quick easy way to make money. And I think it can be, if you’re just doing it as a 1 person lifestyle business, but once you try and take it beyond 100 students, you start realising that there’s a lot of processes and software and technology that you have to have in place. Data protection, looking after the community, all those kind of things.
I think it’s all the background stuff that people don’t know happens, but helps to keep the business running really smoothly and make it the best it can be. I would say that’s probably the most challenging thing.
How did you get around this challenge?
I worked really hard! You just have to be really on it the whole time. I try not to let anything go out that’s clunky or annoying or doesn’t work properly. I try and think about it as a user and as a customer, and think about how smoothly I would want the process to go if I would buy a course – how do I log in, what happens if I forget my password, all those kinds of things. Always trying to work on making that user journey as smooth as possible.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
It’s not something that I wish I’d known, because I knew it, but something I wish I’d done. It’s documenting every process as I go, rather than doing it all in my head and then when you’re trying to explain it to someone who joins the team later on, it becomes really confusing because you’ve got to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Sometimes you don’t even know how you’ve done it yourself, you’ve just picked it up over time. Just get stuff on paper, even if it’s just you as a business owner at the very beginning.
If you know your company is going to grow, or you want it to grow, you’ve got to be thinking about it from the start.
What’s the most important quality you need if you’re self employed?
You have to be able to motivate yourself and be a self-starter. If you’re someone who needs loads of external validation, or you find it really hard to make yourself get up and do shit and you constantly need someone giving you a pep-talk… you just have to be someone who’s willing to be the best at everything, and not stop until you are.
You can’t be one of those people who’s got no willpower and finds it easy to give up. I hold myself accountable, and the people who I’ve seen that do really well also do that. You can’t rely on other people telling you “ooh you’re great”, or else you’ll never be able to keep going.
Where do you get inspiration from, for example when you want to bring out a new product or new courses?
I just listen to our audience. They’re super engaged, and if I ask for their feedback, they’re all over it. I get so many emails and DMs all the time from our students and customers and people who follow us on IG. We’ve also got a Facebook group that’s free for people to join, and it’s a really good place to talk to them about ideas. I’m also really transparent: I’ll say to them ‘Oh I’m thinking about this, what do you guys think?’, and they’ll give us so much feedback that then shapes the product or services that we’re creating.
It’s a democratic way of designing everything in the business. Sometimes people don’t know what they want or what they need, so I’m also very observant of what they seem to be talking about, what their issues are, the questions that come up over and over again, and then make sure that I answer them.
How do you structure your day? Is every day different, or do you work to a routine?
Every day is really different because as a founder in a small team, you’re doing so many different things. It’s not like you only do design. I’m going to be working across everything. It’s funny you ask, because today I’m doing a Day in the Life Of, and that includes everything from doing this interview with you, I’ve got product all over the floor trying to redesign it, I’ve been training my assistant on how to do HTML code – it’s really varied. Sometimes I’m having meetings or sitting and writing up loads of copy – it’s just whatever needs to get done.
Here at Antwerp Avenue, we love discovering other inspirational business women. Is there someone in particular who you look up to, or who inspires you?
Loads! Closer to home in London, I really love what Sharmadean Reid is doing. I’ve always thought she’s super on it when it comes to what’s culturally relevant. She very much sets the tone with branding. She was great with what she did with WAH, and now what she’s doing with Beautystack is amazing as well. She’s great.
I really like what Sara Blakely is like, the founder of Spanx. Not even so much from a business perspective, but she’s very ‘normal’, and she’s got four little kids, and I think she’s really good at showing a balance of work and family life on social. I’ve got two kids, and I think seeing someone who’s a fucking billionaire be like “Oh here I am dressed up for Halloween with my kid”, you’re like okay I can be normal and do stupid stuff with my kids, and be considered to be a proper business woman.
I also really like Jen Atkin who founded Ouai, the hair brand. She’s just so good at what she does, and has all those different brands. I like her packaging, I like what she’s about, I like her vibe. I could go on and on all day really.
Do you have a top podcast recommendation?
Let me go through my list because there are so many!
- I really like The Pitch – it’s basically like Dragon’s Den, but in podcast form – someone pitching their business idea to VCs. It’s exactly what it would be like if you were pitching to a VC, so I find that really useful.
The Equity Podcast from TechCrunch.
- On the funny side, there’s one called Dear Joan and Jericha which I love. It’s a comedy podcast with these two women pretending to be agony aunts, but it’s just ridiculous and filthy and really funny when you just need a break.