• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Kesha Williams

At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Kesha Williams Founder & CEO of ColorBlend Makeup. Kesha explained how she started her business, her highs and lows and top tips to anyone starting out.

A background into you and your business?

ColorBlend Makeup is a Forbes featured an inclusive makeup brand providing high-performance and camera ready cosmetics and we exist to celebrate diversity, universal beauty and self-expression.

I launched the brand in 2016 because I understood that there was a gap in the market for cosmetics for women with deeper and darker skin tones and I wanted to be able to provide more options to them that were easily accessible and readily available.

In my last employed role prior to becoming a Founder, I was a Diary Manager in Central London; a regular 9-5 admin role that paid the bills, and prior to that, I’d had plenty of jobs in the cosmetic industry - including concessions at London’s prestige department stores.

I was made redundant from my office role a few weeks into maternity leave when my son was just a few weeks old. I was anxious and uncertain about the future direction my life would take and instead of completely enjoying my newborn, I spent time applying for as many different jobs as I could, worrying about my income when my maternity leave was over. A few months later and amid the recession, I decided to go to university for the first time to better my prospects as I had not received any job offers. I went to study Business and it was during the second year of my degree that I decided that I did not want to get a graduate job – I’d already felt guilty about leaving my son in childcare at such a young age to go and study – and decided that I wanted to start my own business in order to give me the freedom and lifestyle I wanted to live. In my mind, that looked like not having to send my son into childcare and working on my own terms.

What made you choose this career/industry?

Coming from a background in cosmetics and Beauty Consultancy and having a wealth of artistry skills and knowledge under my belt, I decided that I wanted to start a business in cosmetics. I enjoyed working for different brands and enjoyed my time freelancing with individuals too – this is where I gained the knowledge about the lack of cosmetics on the market for women with darker skin tones; they told me of their struggles finding suitable products and I’d also found it difficult to purchase products for myself and my kit.

I chose to start the brand I knew I would no longer be able to work long hours on set or on the weekends anymore with a small child, so I came up with the ideat; “If I can’t do the makeup, I’ll make the makeup!”. So alongside my business studies and assignments, I researched companies, manufacturers, ingredients, EU legislation etc and the concept of ColorBlend Makeup was created, the first product was developed and two years later the brand was born.

I named the brand ColorBlend as I wanted it to be inclusive and reflect a merge and blend of all skin tones as well as represent the amazing colour payoffs from the products. Being a woman of colour, I am passionate about providing cosmetics to women that meet their needs as well as represent and out the best in them. I am also passionate about representing the underrepresented. I am passionate about products that make you feel good and understood and at ColorBlend it is not about hiding your beauty, it’s about being everything you know you already are, and enhancing it.

Overcoming challenges and setbacks

There are many challenges in business. In the first instance, the challenge was capital when starting the brand. I used most, if not all of my Student Finance to support the development of my brand – I always needed more funds and we all know that students do not have a lot! But once I overcame that, the next and biggest challenge was overcoming myself – doubting whether I could actually execute it and really make it happen.

When the first batch of products was created and delivered – the ColorBlend Contour Palette - I opened the box daily - looked at them with awe and amazement and proceeded to close the box. I did this almost every day for months. I had started to doubt whether it was even a good idea and let the fear of failure consume me. It eventually took a handful of beauty bloggers, makeup artists and a mentor to give me the push I needed which I was so grateful for - but that was the mindset that had hindered me for several months prior to launch.

Since then I’ve learnt that your mindset is very important to whether you can achieve a goal or not. I read somewhere “if you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re also right.” It is all about what you tell yourself and the conversations you have with yourself. The biggest lesson is to be mindful of my self-talk because, for me, that is the catalyst for success, stagnancy or failure.

Business advice

My advice to those starting a business is to first do your research and identify the gap in the market that you want to fill and decide what problem is that you want to solve. Why are you starting a business? Don’t just assume that there is a problem to solve without researching it and identifying a customer base. Who is your ideal customer? Where are they found? What do they spend on products and services like yours? How can you reach them? Do some market research and surveys, ask these same people what they think of your idea, would they use it, what would they spend on it etc. Gather help wherever you can – don’t underestimate the power of your network, but also don’t assume your friends and your family will be your customers. Lastly, work your butt off! Nobody is going to put in the blood, sweat and tears for you, but you. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. If it doesn’t work out, then you’ve learned a ton of valuable lessons along the way that you can use going forward.

To anyone looking to start a business, I would say “Just do it, you won’t die” – meaning whatever decision I am procrastinating on will not kill you, if you just go ahead and decide. It has worked so far!

If you have a team of people willing to help bring your ideas to life, then that’s brilliant! Cherish them because your business may not stay afloat without your team. If you are going to manage people and be a leader then have authority but don’t be a dictator for the sake of it – as this can lead to lack of motivation in your workforce and a low employee retention rate. When people feel valued, they are happier and this results in higher performances in the workplace. Be strong and confident in your approach and be open to listening to views and opinions. Have people in your team that align with your brand’s culture, moral and ethics too.

Highs and Lows

The best part of my job is that I get the freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Well, almost! I love that I have been able to give my son the time I want to give him, considering in his early years, I spent a lot of time away from him. Since our launch, the brand has had some amazing highs such as; winning several awards (including the ‘Best Cosmetic Brand’ title), being featured in great publications such as Forbes, BBC Radio London, The Guardian and Glamour Magazine to name a few and the best pop-up event we had was at House of Fraser, Oxford Street. I love that my products make a lot of women feel happy, empowered and recognised! Definitely a high!

Every day is different and I appreciate the variety unlike my previous jobs, where I had to do the same thing day in, day out. The only things that really frustrates me, are anything to do with tech and IT. A simple update, upgrade, design or download can easily go wrong for me! I’m so grateful for the designers and developers behind the scenes– I owe them everything! Let’s not forget homeschooling - I just haven’t got the words right now to explain. But for the mothers that run businesses and are homeschooling, I salute you!

What’s the secret to being a successful entrepreneur?

Everybody has their own definition of what success looks like to them, but essentially, if you have identified a gap in the market and have been able to fill it with a customer base and consistent sales that meet your business goals, then yes, that is somewhat a successful formula. However, there is nothing to say that even if you do that, you will stay successful.

I would say there is a pattern to becoming a successful entrepreneur if the conditions are right. Success comes with a combination of things, including a positive, winning mindset, the ability to understand your customer and their changing needs, the ability to understand and adapt to the market, consistency day in and day out and passion! The list goes on. But once you’ve found the correct formula that works for you, it is likely that you will be able to apply it over and over again in different businesses.

How have you been handling COVID-19?

We keep pushing forward as much as we possibly can and we aren’t for life to return to ‘normal’, as it may never go back to the normal as we knew it prior to Covid. We’ve had to find ways to pivot and adapt to the changing times and as a beauty brand, we are aware that the attitudes to makeup are changing globally and we have to adapt accordingly. Individuals are wearing masks almost daily often means consumers want to heat and sweat-proof makeup. This is where the ColorBlend HD Foundation comes in - it is non-transferable meaning it won’t rub off on your clothes or your mask. It is currently very hard to match foundation in stores so we have samples available on our website to take away the guess-work.

Wearing masks means that the eyes are the more prominent feature – so we’ve launched new eye and brow products in line with this. It is a critical time so we are paying close attention to the market trends and strategizing accordingly.

Tips for businesses struggling with remote working?

If you are currently working remotely, I’d say to ensure that your broadband connections are strong and that you are sufficiently connected but are also using multiple forms of communication too. Call friends, family or colleagues in your break times. Morale can be low, and the chances of unproductivity can be high.. I think managers should check in on their team every few days, both on their professional work and their mental health and provide support if and where needed. The aim is to continue to provide a good product or service and customer service levels should be maintained as much as possible and employees will need support to continue to do this. On an individual basis, employees should take care of their physical and mental health – take regular breaks, especially when their productivity levels drop, step outside for fresh air and eat healthily etc.

Adapting and learning

We have integrated private Zoom makeup classes for those wanting to learn or improve on their makeup skills while at home. This is great especially for those who have bought ColorBlend products and want to learn how to use them. This personal touch has boosted morale and has really good feedback because it brings a human element to the brand and is something that big brands cannot do. If it hadn’t been for these uncertain times we may not have planned for any new products in the range or adding the private zoom service. No one can be sure of what is coming next, but as a business, it is very important to be adaptable and prepared to pivot regardless to survive. As a business owner, you should always be investing in yourself to keep learning which brings innovation. In 2020, the unthinkable happened and we all may have learned a lesson somewhere and somehow. In the future, we can be better prepared, even if it’s just mentally. Nothing is impossible, including living the life you want.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out more just like it here. To learn more about ColorBlend take a look at their website, or check them out on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

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