Jessica Huie MBE is a publicist, speaker, entrepreneur, mother and author. For the longest time we’ve been fascinated by the London born ‘accidental entrepreneur’ and her exciting career path. In an exclusive interview Louise Chandler learns more about Ms Huie’s journey so far and how she found the purpose to write her critically acclaimed book.
As a teenage mother Jessica Huie juggled motherhood and study, going on to launch a boutique PR agency. She worked with high profile names such as Samuel L. Jackson, Simon Cowell, Kelly Rowland, Meghan Markle and many more.
In this interview, we get an up close and personal look at Jessica Huie MBE, the woman behind the brand and hear more about her mantra for the business community: be honest about your weaknesses to take action and step into it.
“These days I put my wellbeing, my health and body spirit first and everything has to work around that.”
Describe a typical day for you?
I work much more around my needs than I ever have before which is really long overdue and welcome. I’m a working mum so there are those non negotiables such as doing the school run. I generally switch off from about 3:30 when I pick my son up which is brand new as I spent so many years working long hours.
These days I put my wellbeing, my health and body spirit first and everything has to work around that. There are times when I’m at my most creative, there are times when I’m much more goal oriented and times when I need to rest so I try to coincide my diary with where I’m at.
My days are really varied so the first thing I do is write my morning pages. This is an exercise developed by Julia Cameron who wrote The Modern Artists’ Way. You basically wake up and before you do anything else you write three pages in your journal – this can be whatever is in your heart to reconnect with how you’re feeling and what is on your mind. There’s no agenda or structure to it. It’s almost like having a spring clean with whatever is going on inside of you and often you find there’s answers to questions you didn’t know, and this is how I start my day.
Was there a turning point to change how you allocate your time and change your lifestyle?
When I look back, I would have to say it started in 2016 which is when my dad became ill, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I slowed everything down to care for him and it was a life changing period of six months.
It was transformational; not just because a parent passed away but because it was the first time that I became present and still. When we slow down amazing things happen. That’s where we reconnect with what is going on and have a birds-eye view of our lives. We can reflect to see if we’re living a life that is making us happy and authentic to us. This period taught me that and more. My book evolved from this period of time.
How did you get into your PR career?
I became a mum when I was 17 and I didn’t have any qualifications, it was all looking a bit hopeless. Then I went back to college because I had dropped out of studying for my A’ levels because at that time the general response was: ‘you’ve messed up your life’ by having a child young.
When I realised I had possibilities for life, I went to university to study journalism and having a little girl made me very focussed. My daughter was my purpose at that time and university wasn’t just about getting a degree, it was about knowing I had a career.
I did lots of work experience and worked around the clock. It was that work ethnic and a necessity to create success and a career that opened up lots of opportunities.
I worked for Pride magazine as a journalist and freelanced for the national press in the showbiz space. I then worked for people like Simon Cowell and Dragons in Dragon’s Den to cut my teeth and I did that for eight years.
“I did lots of work experience and worked around the clock. It was that work ethnic and a necessity to create success and a career that opened up lots of opportunities.”
I then became an accidental entrepreneur to start the business ‘Colourblind Cards’ – the multicultural card and gift company. The idea was born because I couldn’t find a card for my then seven-year-old girl which represented her as a brown skinned princess. There was nothing on the high street at the time. I felt really compelled to create it and that took my life off into a different direction. I think it was the first thing that introduced me to the power of doing something that was driven with meaning and purpose.
Up until that point I had been living my life according to someone else’s prevailing idea of success about money, kudos in showbiz, entertainment and the high-profile world which was lots of fun. I got to travel the world and have great experiences which I’m really grateful for, but with Colourblind it was driven by something different. I knew these cards should exist so other kids can see their identity. At that time, it was a revelation for people. The cards were part of starting a conversation in retail around the importance of ethnic representation. We were the first independent card brand to be stocked in the British high street and we won business awards.
Recognising that I could start something, make a success of it and be a business owner even though I had never had those reference points in my childhood was great. In 2008 I left the company I was working for and started my own PR agency. I shifted from working primarily with entertainers to entrepreneurs and many small business owners, thousands in fact, and I loved it.
But I was still in this workaholic mode, raising my daughter alone for the most part and I burned out, possibly several times over. I was constantly on a quest that I didn’t recognise. Then 2016 happened.
Explain why you’re now supporting entrepreneurs?
My book PURPOSE: Finding Your Truth and Embrace Your Calling, developed into a Transformational Visibility Academy which is a group programme that helps women who run meaningful small businesses to find their voice. I also encourage women to embrace visibility that will deepen and widen their meaning in the world, so they are exposed to bigger audiences and I use the tools that I’ve acquired through my career.
If you’re in a place of transition I would suggest you find a community of women’s circles and networks to share stories and connect with others. What you quickly discover is that we all have the same fears. Whenever you feel that sense of fear, you’re in the right place so step in and go for it.
Is it tricky to balance all the demands of a busy life and being a mother?
It is hard but women are amazing! We stretch to what is required of us and often we’re over stretched by others and ourselves. Yes, during my career it has been hard, but you don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ‘shoulds’. Don’t be distracted by how things should be done, how you should work and when we should work. You are in charge!
“Running a business is like a crash course in self-development. You really get to see who you are and you get to learn about yourself.”
What have you learned from your biggest wins and accomplishments?
Running a business is like a crash course in self-development. You really get to see who you are and you get to learn about yourself.
Your weaknesses will hold you back if you don’t address them. Be honest with yourself about where you need support, then take the action to get it. For example, business finances: I didn’t enjoy that element because I’m a creative person at heart but soon enough after I had made a few mistakes, I realised that I had to educate myself. At least to a certain degree as a necessity to have an oversight, even if someone else is handling it because it’s good to have that knowledge. So, I was honest about my weaknesses and I learned a lot.
From your experience, which is better academic or practical experience?
I would do everything the exact same way again because I’m where I am because of those experiences. I think my career would have been the same even without academia but the studying was something I needed to do to prove something to myself. It was a period of my life that was formative and it meant a lot to my parents and I’m glad I could give them that and also give that education to myself.
There’s a lot of skills we get from academia such as life and transferable skills, unquestionably. Academia serves a purpose which goes beyond the discipline you might study and that holds such a value. I think learning is wonderful, but I think you need that balance of experience to support your learning and it’s important to employers today.
“From my experience there’s lots of procrastination because people think everything has to be perfect before you start.”
When it comes to setting up a business, what is the biggest myth or areas we often overlook?
From my experience there’s lots of procrastination because people think everything has to be perfect before you start. I think particularly in today’s world, there’s almost too much emphasis on the surface stuff like the logo, social media content and what looks good (which are important to a degree). Moreover, it’s about the ability to enhance the lives of the customers and audience you serve.
Keep your mind focussed on the service element whether you’re a one-man band or a multinational company and you can’t go wrong. Small business owners should start to talk about what you do and don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share your business. If you have service at the heart of what you’re doing, opportunities will open up, even before you feel ready.
What motivates and inspires you?
I’m inspired by my work and life. The unexpected twists and turns that have taught me about what happens when we take our hands off the steering wheel you benefit from not strategizing (which is contrary to the advice you hear).
What inspires me is a conversation or insight that gives me the freedom and capacity to be creative so there’s never a dull day.
What three people would you invite to dinner?
Toni Morrison because I love her work, her boldness, courage and her ability to speak for many, to say what is unspoken. Also, her career path broke ground and shifted conversations but she brought in and encouraged other Black writers.
Maya Angelou because of the peace and serenity she exuded. I admire her journey and particularly in the later years, the equilibrium she maintained without avoiding the difficult topics of her life.
It’s tough to choose between Jay-Z and Beyoncé because I think they’re brilliant. There’s a depth that has come through artistically in recent years which is a result of their own personal growth and it would be a fascinating conversation.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
I love Jamaica. I fell in love as a child, it’s where my dad is from and it’s a big part of who I am. It feels like home and I have a home there now where I run my annual Purpose retreats. It’s a magical place and I spend a lot of time in the country which simplifies things to remind you what is really important: true beauty, I love the sun, sea – all of it.
Which famous actress would you choose to play you in a movie?
Thandie Newton. She is a brilliant actress and she would do my complexities justice.
“Visibility is much more than showing up in the world, appearing in magazines, podcasts and doing public speaking. For me, a business should be a vehicle to create a life that aligns with who we are, how we live and work in the way we want.”
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my next book, planning my Transformational Visibility Academy and retreat. I also run monthly masterclasses: ‘shine your light: embrace visibility’ at the British Library in London. They are half day sessions to equip micro and small business owners with tools to reach a wider audience and build a business.
Visibility is much more than showing up in the world, appearing in magazines, podcasts and doing public speaking. For me, a business should be a vehicle to create a life that aligns with who we are, how we live and work in the way we want. It’s about getting the business out there into the world, asking ‘what are my values?’ and ‘what will make me happy?’ This takes courage.
Follow Jessica Huie on Instagram: @Jessica_Huie_