Atiti Sosimi is an accomplished serial entrepreneur, lecturer, author, trainer and speaker.
Atiti is the CEO of Distinctly Different, the North London based personal development organisation, founded in 2000. The company’s client base includes corporate businesses; social enterprises; charitable and voluntary sector organisations; local authorities; further education institutions; secondary schools and individuals.
As part of her passion for enabling the development of others, Atiti is the author of three motivational books and the creator of the “Shhh or Tell It” family fun educational board game.
Why did you decide to start your business?
Technically speaking I actually didn’t make a conscious decision to start a business; circumstance dictated to me. I needed to confront a personal challenge and in so doing I found a way to fight back, resulted in shaping and defining the business we all know now as Distinctly Different.
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
Although I have BSc Sociology & Anthropology, I have always been a creative artistic person. When I left University I worked with an architect who also had a furniture design company and I learnt about traditional woodwork while I was working there.
I enjoyed this but wanted to do more and study the world of creative contemporary design. I set out to find a course of study that would refine my skill set and enable me to feel more competent in the area I eventually decide to work within .
I realised that I needed to find a job to sustain me while I decided what to study so I found myself training and volunteering to become an advice worker for the Citizens Advice Bureau. I then went on to paid employment in advice and developed my training development, design and delivery skills at the same time. At the time I left I was working as a volunteer trainer for an Advice Bureau. I realised working directly with people was something I thoroughly enjoyed.
Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
I would say to an extent, but environment did a lot to shape this. When I found I had inherited an old typewriter, an old telephone and some letter in/out trays when I was about 10 years old I made my mind up then that I was going to have my own office and run my business doing what specifically did not feature at this point.
As I was growing up I was exposed to a lot of enterprise related activity and I often had the privilege of sitting in on my father’s business meetings. There was something which excited me about being in that environment and I think it was a combination of the dialogue, demeanour and body language of purpose, driven individuals sitting having important exchanges and the constant dynamic of power shifting from person to person.
I enjoyed listening and watching these conversations, exchanges and negotiations and I always had loads of questions, but I was also learning discretion in that environment so my questions had to wait for later. Along with learning the fine art of when to speak and when be silent, I learnt several other invaluable life and business skills, but timing, decision making and action taking are the ones I combine with discretion.
On occasion I was asked my opinion and although there was a lot I didn’t understand having been taught to comfortably say so, I focused my responses on what I did understand, seeking some clarification as I went along. Just being asked for my opinion made me feel that my input was of value. This made me listen even more intently and pay apt attention to what was taking place around me. This fed into the confidence and knowledge I had acquired about my ability to exist outside my comfort zone and to a degree and reinforced the fact I could actually run a business if I learnt more.
Like most children I knew I loved sweets and there was a sweet shop a few doors away. My sister and I always felt the things were too expensive we wanted more for our money. We quickly realised we could make some extra pocket money going wholesale shopping when the family shopping was being done and buying sweets and treats which we could sell cheaper than the shop a few doors away.
So, we set up our first tuck shop outside the house, we became adventurous and decided selling cigarettes was going to be a more lucrative market since adults had more money to spend than children, but we got shut down when my father got wind of this bright idea.
Tell me more about Distinctly Different’s personal development products and services, what type of clients do you work with?
There’s a broad range of products and services that Distinctly Different specialise in delivering. They are largely innovative, flexible and customised to the needs of the organisations and individuals in the business, education and community sectors.
These include learning and development for organisations and individuals; programme development; adult learning; organisational consultancy; employee development and motivation; project management; books and publications; family and educational games and more.
The work we do in personal development is aimed at increasing the personal effectiveness and productivity of our clients without fostering a culture of dependency. Our client base includes, but is not limited to, the socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged alongside experienced and educated field specialists.
Distinctly Different works closely with corporate businesses and commercial enterprises; social enterprises; charitable and voluntary sector organisations; local authorities; higher education; further education institutions; secondary schools and individuals.
Tell me more about the books you have authored, do they have a theme?
I have authored and published 3 personal development books available for general use across the sectors.
U Know U Can Go the Distance was published in 2001; it’s an affirmation of what we know and that we can do it, but we often convince ourselves to give up and justify this with all sorts of reasons.
U Step to Walk… Then Run followed in 2003; it follows on from my first book and breaks down into three simple steps the best way to go your distance, remaining focused and undeterred by what is or isn’t happening to those around you.
The Big Secret was published in 2004; the message of this book is in the title, it’s a simple thought provoking story which resonates with the reader long after they have closed the book. We have had this story has so far been translated into Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Hungarian. It is the storyline from this book which provided the underlying principle for the family fun board game I created in 2010 called “Shhh or Tell It.”
How was your board game “Shhh or Tell It” conceived and how long did it take to bring to fruition?
As I mentioned this game “Shhh or Tell It” has its roots in my book titled The Big Secret, which tells the story of a young girl who had a big secret and at some point realised she needed to do something about it. The Big Secret was a dilemma and the young girl needed to decide if she should “Shhh or Tell It”, every aspect of the world we live in constantly challenges us with dilemmas and the requirements for us to make decisions at every level.
As a personal development organisation with a distinctly different approach to learning we believe learning should be an enjoyable experience and so we designed and developed this game to awaken consciousness and thinking, provoke dialogue, and promote action taking even where the risks could be high when it comes to decision making. This game is equally suitable for use in educational or professional development.
“Shhh or Tell It” is the product of five and a half years of design, development and product refinement, driven by Distinctly Different Limited and is out now. The aim of this colourful animated family fun board game is to move swiftly along the board from start to finish collecting as many black coins as possible. The board and the integrated components of play dictate how players progress through the game.
The game presents life-like scenarios which require players to consider scenarios, and decide to either “Shhh” or “Tell” the scenario within 15 seconds, bearing in mind every decision has consequences; doing nothing is not an option! While there is always a right or wrong answer, is the right answer also the smartest move?
What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
At the moment I am working on exploiting as many avenues as possible to expose our game “Shhh or Tell It”. This involves exploring its online and media potential. A typical day for me consists of either networking, meetings, speaking and presentations, delivery of workshops, developing and nurturing partnerships and other business liaisons.
When I started my business I made a decision that I would work around the needs of my family, so a typical day will always see me combining roles. A typical day sees me awake at 6am getting the family up, bathed dressed fed and out of the door, which means the night before things need to be in place.
If I am training for a run then I get up dressed and out for a 30 to 40 minute run, then I am back to bath change and do the school run. This is a combination of pep talk, prayers, laughs, fun then mental preparation for learning and discussions which revolve around understanding, empathy, personal responsibility, expectations, respecting authority and leadership. Once the children are dropped at school I head to the office or work for the day.
If I am doing the afternoon school run then I head to school to do this, pick up whoever isn’t doing something additional and most times I have something to bridge the hunger in the car. Once we’re all in we head home. We eat do homework, reading time, they play tidy have dinner and go to sleep. If I have meetings or need to go out I tidy and do so, otherwise I do some more work, then unwind with a programme or book or chat to friends. I sometimes work at the weekends, but generally I let my hair down and play hard. The beauty of my life is its unpredictable nature which is great for a creative person like me because I find monotony terribly boring.
What has been your biggest triumph to date?
Most recently hearing presenting “Shhh or Tell It” to the Argos games buyer and team in June and hearing him tell me he believes “I have a diamond” because of the unique scenarios which put you on the spot to make a decision with only 15 seconds. My perseverance paid off because I didn’t lose sight of the prize!
Secondly, seeing the vision for Distinctly Different to come to life; Distinctly Different is about making a difference to people’s lives by embracing difference, getting people to embrace their difference – talent, ability, gift, personality etc – through demonstrating, teaching, training, consulting, guidance, development and sharing.
This enables understanding on how we can fully exploit potential in order to increase effectiveness and be more satisfied and fulfilled. While this can apply to everyone we find our most captive audience are those who to an extent realise this and now want to work alongside an established and reputable service to achieve their objective.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My family inspire me, I am inspired by watching people who are challenged by life in different ways and who manage to rise above their challenges to achieve personal successes. I’m inspired by people who are struggling and often suffering yet determined to survive and thereby tapping into their creativity and recognising their personal enterprise worth amongst other skills which they can use to generate sources of income. I am inspired by the stories of people who have suffered a wide variety of misfortune, some who I have had the privilege to meet and other who I have read about.
I have friends and acquaintances that also inspire me by the phenomenal work they are doing. Finally, I am deeply inspired by Maya Angelou, her life, her work and her vision.
The life I live motivates me, I know there is much more I can do to make a difference in the world I live and the prospect of accomplishing this gets me fired up in the morning. I am a person who refuses to accept can’t as an option and I get excited by the prospect of discovering different and sometimes new ways of doing things. On occasion I even discover things about myself I didn’t know. I push myself hard and am no stranger to hard work.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
Starting out; securing my first client and paycheque; expanding the business across all the rooms in the house; moving into an office; hitting 10 years; surviving the recession and downturn; developing a range of products and resources including the board game “Shhh or Tell It” after a 5 and a half year research and development period and working with and mentoring other start-up and award winning or new to business entrepreneurs to become award winning and successful business entrepreneurs.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Working with a team is great because you can share the load of delivery, but the level of trust and responsibility you have in running the business, leading and driving its growth means you need to be on top of your game.
Sometimes this is very hard especially when you do not feel like it. You have to dig deep and find a reason to get up and go and carry on. Although these are passing moments one must acknowledge they exist because we are human.
When you do phenomenal things people think you are super human and if you embrace this you take on even more pressure. One thing I have always been good at doing and I think that it’s important to be able to do, is to be true to myself, recognise my limitations and invite expertise and partnerships where my strengths do not flourish.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Wait or sleep on it! Something happens when you hear these words and even without being told you begin to re-evaluate your plans, position, options and more often than not adapt your stance.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own business?
Test your idea! Build relationships and acquaintances with business owners at different levels and ask questions talk to people sample opinions. This is useful and important; it helps you clarify things in your head.
You need to ascertain if you are best equipped to do the business. If not and you can confirm the rest is in place, get a partner, a mentor, hire someone to do it for you and stick to your strengths. Test your idea, evidence there is a need, confirm your market exists, confirm your pricing, and confirm your marketing strategy and sales model.
You can always learn, but it is a costly lesson to learn when you are already in it when you can learn a lot from testing your idea and speaking to experienced business owners.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to grow their business?
Find someone who has done what you would like to do and ask them to mentor you, or at least meet with you, so you can get some invaluable nuggets.
Have a plan which indicates what you’d like to achieve, the timescale, the resource and development requirements and how much it costs along with the source of investment.
Don’t start out before you are sure of where you are heading and what the landscape in that territory looks like. Although you may survive; it is unwise to knowingly head into the desert ill-equipped.
Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2016?
I believe that Distinctly Different will be recognised as a front runner in the field of personal development in the UK.
We will be a successful global concern continuing to impact on individuals and organisations through our unique approach to delivering personal development products and services. I also believe our existing associated businesses will be equally successful.
* * * *
For more information on Distinctly Different visit www.distinctly-different.org
* * * *
Atiti Sosimi was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.