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Entrepreneurship

Q&A with Sophie Milliken, founder of Moja

Sophie Milliken is an award-winning entrepreneur, author and speaker. She launched Moja, a profile-building agency, earlier this year with a mission to get you known

Sophie, tell us about your background?

I didn’t always plan on becoming an entrepreneur. From university I first embarked on the corporate path, joining the John Lewis graduate programme. I ended up running graduate recruitment and completed my Masters in HR management while at John Lewis. Having gained amazing experience and built brilliant connections, I saw an opportunity to start my own business.

At my first business, a graduate recruitment consultancy, we worked with some of the country’s top graduate employers and universities. I directed this business to become the leading provider of assessment centre simulations for universities and trained over 30,000 students at these events. After growing this business, I exited in January 2022 and founded my new business – Moja.

One of the things that made my last business so successful was when I started building my own profile. As my profile grew, I got more and more exciting opportunities and people felt like they knew me before they met me, which made it easier to do business and grow sales. This is where the idea for Moja was born. At Moja, we work with entrepreneurs and senior executives to amplify their personal profiles and become known authorities in their industries.

Outside of running a business, I’ve written two best-selling books and regularly speak at different events. Supporting the North East region is hugely important to me. I’m a co-founder of City Ladies Networking and support with mentoring local people. I’m super proud to be Chair of Smart Works Newcastle, delivering the aim of doubling the number of unemployed women supported with interview clothing and coaching across the North East. Last year we secured Sara Davies MBE as the charity’s ambassador – she has been amazing and hugely supportive.

What has been your career highlight?

There’s been so many highlights that I’m grateful for. Most recently, I’m absolutely honoured to be joining the board of a new public company, Funding Focus Investment Trust Plc, as non-executive director and member of the investment committee.

This will be a new kind of investment fund, targeted at female and under-represented entrepreneurs who face a very uneven playing field when it comes to raising capital to grow their businesses. I’m even more delighted that because of my involvement, Newcastle will be one of the target cities.

Overall, I love being at a stage in my career where I get to run my own business alongside my charity work, speaking engagements, investing and non-executive director work. I get to have fun most days, and most importantly work on projects that I care about.

What has been your biggest challenge?

A few months into setting up my first business I got divorced and became a single parent entrepreneur. Managing this at the time was really challenging, both emotionally and financially. I knew that times would be tough for a while and used this to motivate me so I could get to the other side. I invested in self-development and put so much energy into growing my business. As my daughter has grown up, I’ve tried to include her in all of the fun business things I can bring her to and she enjoys getting to go behind the scenes. When I ask her where she’d like to go back to from all the places we have visited, she often cites Birmingham – where I did my TEDx talk in 2020!

How do you get the best out of your team?

Looking after my team is really important to me. I get the best out of my team by trusting them and knowing their strengths. I’ve found one of the most important things in business is hiring people who are better than you at the things you’re not so good at and letting them enjoy and flourish in areas they excel. I have faith in my team to meet requirements and encourage them to seek development opportunities, then I offer support in the areas they may need it. I enjoy working with people and seeing them progress in their own careers.

My team communicates openly and we have an honest culture, so we can consult with each other, face challenges and celebrate successes together. We all have similar values which means our aims and visions for the business align. It helps massively when we’re all working towards the same mission and there is a positive work environment.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

Work/life balance is something I’ve debated about and discussed a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really exist! If you’re like me and love what you do and find work meaningful, it changes the balance. I think a better way to think about it is to prioritise different aspects at different points in your life. Consider what is most important and achieve a balance by splitting up your time accordingly and not overcommitting yourself.

As part of the balance, self-care should never be underestimated. Recharge so you can channel your energy where it will make an impact. Sleep, exercise and eating well have all become bigger priorities for me as I’ve progressed my business journey.

What was your first break in business?

Being ambitious, saying yes to opportunities and taking risks have all helped me in business. As an entrepreneur, you have to take risks which can be one of the scariest things you will do. If you don’t take risks then progress tends to be slower.

Back at my first business, it was a relationship that I had developed during my time at John Lewis that led to our first big contract with a university. They asked us to help them run an assessment centre simulation for 850 students which then grew year on year and was the flagship for us becoming the leading provider of assessment centre simulations. We would invite other universities to observe, which led to more and more business. It was a classic example of saying yes to an opportunity and then working out how to deliver it.

Who inspires you?

I surround myself with friends who are on similar journeys who provide excellent advice as well as lifting me when I need it and celebrating the wins together. My daughter is also a big source of inspiration – she has so much enthusiasm and excitement for life, which is infectious.

For my second book, The Ambition Accelerator, I was lucky to be able to interview some incredible women who massively inspire me such as Sara Davies MBE, Linda Plant, Lara Morgan and Katy Leeson. Spending time with impressive and energetic people tops up my own fuel tank.

I also find reading and listening or watching business and self-development related content encourages me.

Tell us about Moja’s mission?

Put simply, our mission is to let everyone in your industry know who you are.

We recognise that our clients are busy people. They start their days with a million things to do. One of the most important things, though, should be growing a thriving professional profile. It can lead to new connections, more opportunities and exciting experiences. But it takes time and consistency. We know this because we’ve done it ourselves.

So, this is exactly where we come in. At Moja, we will listen to what you need. We’ll create a package which will give you all the things that suit you, your industry and your ambitions. We’ll build your profile within your industry, so you’re a recognised leader. Moja will help you get known.

What are the short and long-term goals for Moja?

There isn’t anyone really offering the services we are at Moja so I think this gives us an advantage. We’re aiming to work with a good mix of entrepreneurs and corporates, helping them to build their profiles. It’s going to be really rewarding seeing the increases in business and opportunities that come to our clients.

Something else which I’m excited about is the workshops and webinars which Moja will be offering. We’ll be sharing more information on these soon. Attendees will gain practical advice and exercises to put different aspects of what we do into practise. They will also be an amazing networking opportunity.

Ultimately, we want to be the UK market leader in raising profiles of interesting and cool people. We’ve just celebrated our launch with a party in Newcastle and have planned launches for Manchester and London too. Location isn’t a barrier and we are expecting to grow our client base nationally.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone with a business idea?

If someone is looking to become an entrepreneur, I’d say surround yourself with likeminded people and also people that know a lot more than you. Build a positive network, set yourself goals, and invest in self-development. When I started my first business, I realised this is what energised me and kept me going when times were hard. Test your ideas before you go too far with them.

And most importantly, persevere! At times, there can seem like a million barriers, but they will break if you keep pushing. The entrepreneur journey is tough a lot of the time but the highs you get from it are unrivalled so definitely worthwhile.