Barb Wire Enterprises
Barb Wire Enterprises is a south west London based publishing house. The company currently produces Live Listings magazine; The Official Guide to International Women’s Month magazine and Black Heritage Today.
Founded by Barbara Campbell, the company launched in 2000 after the single mother of two cashed in cashed in her life insurance policy to use as seed money. The company is now poised to go global with a team of up to 15 employees.
Barbara also helms the youth-focused social enterprise Assist2, providing the Media Education 2 Enterprise Challenge, a publishing seminar programme for teenagers.
Why did you decide to start your companies?
The first one was founded in 2000. It was June 30, which is my birthday, and I was working for a journalism institute. On the spur of the moment, despite being a single mother, I decided to leave right there and then.
I was teaching others to write and likened it to being a ballerina teaching others to pirouette whilst wanting to take centre-stage myself. I thanked my staff for the cake and the wine. I then asked the project manager to grant me another birthday present, which was to leave – right away – without having to work out my notice. She said yes.
I started my companies because I saw the gap in the market for a multicultural Time Out and decided to go for it. I cashed in my insurance policy to fund it. The other subsidiary companies came about later when I realised there were other niche gaps I could fill, along with publishing seminars teaching those who wish to publish magazines how to do so on a shoe string, with their magazine still looking great!
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
My career began in 1994 when I did work placement at The Voice newspaper. I was still a student but within weeks was doing front page stories. I was offered a job as a journalist immediately when my studies ended and became editor of The Journal newspaper, a sister paper to The Voice, within two years of working with the company.
In between I freelanced with several mainstream publications including the Independent on Sunday and Ms London.
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
No. That was never my intention.
What has the reception been to your publications?
Live Listings was well received as the listings guides already out there, such as Time Out, pretended that the ethnic community were not part of the landscape and the only time they’d have people of colour in their publications was when it was Bob Marley’s or Ghandi’s birthday.
Quite a few people tried to copy all of our publications, particularly the Black History Month magazine. What pleased me was that my readers recognised that Black Heritage magazine wasn’t just about who was the first black police man or nurse in London, but our heritage on a global perspective. They liked that fact, whilst it looked good and was well presented. It was very grass-roots and they could identify with it.
Can you tell me more about the social enterprise you founded?
Barbara Campbell Inc offers contract publishing to a variety of organisations and individuals. The social enterprise arm of the company is Assist2, which rolls out a project called The Media Education 2 Enterprise Challenge.
I take this into schools during Enterprise Week. As well as being a challenging programme for 14 year-olds plus, this is also a fun all day learning initiative which is also available to academies, colleges and youth offending teams throughout the UK. We run regular seminars resulting in the production of publications by organisations and individuals.
Most education establishments have a budget for this but I have been known to do it simply because I want to give something back.
Tell me more about your publishers seminars – who are they for and how were they conceived?
The seminars cover everything you want to know about becoming a publisher and publishing on a shoestring.
The seminars were conceived to fill the gap of wanting to but not having the means or knowing how. They are for anyone who wants to publish a magazine, newspaper or newsletter, from business owners, individuals, public sector or corporate companies.
What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
I am working on other people’s magazines right now as the contract publishing section of the business is really in demand. My typical day is liaising with designers, negotiating with printers, chasing copy – thankfully I have a lovely PA who does the admin.
The rest of my time is spent in front of the computer, on the phone or at business meetings, wheeling and dealing.
What are the highlights of running your own businesses?
The sense of freedom it gives you to do exactly what you want, of course with the knowledge that it is also what the readers want too.
I also love when the readers give me feedback. The only time I had a negative email or phone call was from a race-hater. This went on for 3 years before the police tracked him down. He served two years in prison.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Getting my own people to advertise. They seem to think that as “we’re family” they should get the space for nothing. I tell them “no problem, find me a printer that will print the magazine for nothing and you can have TWO spaces for free.”
What has been your biggest triumph so far?
Getting my own people to pay for advertising!
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt so far?
You make mistakes – acknowledge it, then get over it and make sure it does not become a habit. This is why I now know how to publish on a shoestring.
In addition, do not tell people what I am doing until it’s done as they run away with your ideas.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
Nobody. I motivate myself. But if I have to say who the person who has impressed me the most has to be my mother – sadly she’s no longer with us.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a media business?
Be passionate about it and believe that you can do it. My passion and self-belief has brought me through many hard times when the wolves were at the door. Do not make yourself too vulnerable.
If you want to be a magazine publisher go and study journalism. That way nobody can hold you to ransom by threatening not to write the feature you need for page four, as you can easily do it yourself.
Fast forward five years, where do you think your businesses will be in 2016?
Internationally known and run by others for me whilst I swan off to marry a toy boy and go on cruises! Or, knowing me, deep in the African bush interviewing people under threat of homelessness.
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Barbara Campbell was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
The Twenty Ten Club is an award-winning networking organisation designed to connect, inspire and support Black female entrepreneurs. You can also find Twenty Ten Club on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.