Grace Dyke always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, but at times it seemed like just a dream. Leaving University and making entrepreneurship a reality, with the risk and lack of support around, was a difficult jump to make. She initially chose the safe-option, by choosing graduate schemes, before realising that a 9-5 job working for a large corporation was not what she was passionate about.
Grace took a leap of faith with her business partner, Kirsty by launching a PR company specialising in social enterprise – turning her passion for entrepreneurship into doing good for the world.
Yellow Jigsaw is now known as the North West’s most passionate PR agency for value-driven businesses, has successfully executed a global female awareness campaign called “#ImnotJohn” and has been awarded Start Up of the Year 2016 at the Wigan Business Awards.
Grace has also personally received the Northern Power Women “One to Watch” award – showing that listening to yourself and taking the jump can be completely worth the risk.
What made you pursue a career in Social Enterprise after completing your Business Studies degree?
I loved every minute of studying at The University of Liverpool. Completing my degree cemented the fact that I wanted to work in business, but the extra-curricular activities I got involved with whilst at University, from running fundraising events for charities to running campus campaigns, made me realise that working for large corporations that feel so far removed from the communities in which they work was not for me. At that point, I didn’t realise that Social Enterprise – a sort of ‘hybrid’ business that makes money but does so with a social mission in mind – was an option.
“I realised that working for large corporations that feel so far removed from the communities in which they work was not for me”
By the time I completed by final exams, I was at a crossroads with two management trainee positions: one for a national food manufacturer, the other for a career in social care. The former certainly had more prestige from the University’s point of view, and lecturers were actively encouraging this route due to my grades, but my gut said it wouldn’t be the right fit for me. In the end, I went for the social care management scheme and that was the first step to discovering the world of social enterprise, as I got introduced to charities and not for profit organisations who exist to make a difference.
How did University prepare you for your career? Is University essential for a career in Social Enterprise or are their other entry points into the industry?
There was a high expectation by the Management School to pursue a post-graduate career in large corporations such as Proctor and Gamble or international consultancies such as KPMG – entrepreneurship as a career option was rarely discussed, and the concept of ‘Social Enterprise’ was never mentioned.
I only came across the concept of Social Enterprise after starting a management career in the charity sector, and being inspired by the partners I worked with during this time.
There are a lot of networks within the industry that support and develop budding social entrepreneurs – the support offered by the School of Social Entrepreneurs (Twitter) and the Greater Manchester Flourish network (Twitter) have, for me, been invaluable. They offer programmes and events for people to at every stage of their social entrepreneur journey.
Since I graduated in 2010, I understand many university business schools are delivering social enterprise programmes – which is fantastic. I wouldn’t say it is essential to get a degree in order to pursue a career in Social Enterprise – the best way to learn is to get involved in the sector and its networks, and be inspired by the people who are creating social innovation. The benefit to attending university is undoubtedly the opportunity to learn about yourself and test out new ideas within a supportive environment.
How was life immediately after university?
I had already secured my place on a management trainee scheme before I graduated, so in terms of the ‘job hunt’, the weight was off my shoulders.
Starting the job however was a bit of a culture shock! Slotting into a 9-5 job within an organisation’s hierarchy and politics after spending three years with complete independence was difficult.
I had an idea of what the management scheme would be, and the reality didn’t match – colleagues saw me as fresh out of uni, and I had a knock in confidence as a result. I was used to working hard and getting rewarded – in terms of grades – and the workplace isn’t like that. It probably took me longer that it should have to realise I need to be happy and proud of the job I was doing, and be content with that – rather than expecting positive feedback from management to know I had done a good job. When I realised that, the management scheme was a completely different experience – I got my confidence back and won the respect of colleagues not by looking for it, but by taking pride in my work and proactively taking on my own projects.
What the management scheme did tell me is that fitting into a workplace was not going to be my long term career- I was sure I wanted to be my own boss, but I had no idea what I would be the boss of!
You’ve worked with some fantastic companies and launched some incredible campaigns during your career – are there any particular things that you worked on that have really been monumental for you?
A stand out campaign for us was #ImnotJohn – a campaign we launched when Yellow Jigsaw was in its infancy. The campaign was inspired by the statistics reported by The Guardian in 2015, which found that there are more FTSE 100 chief executives called John than there are women. Myself and my business partner Kirsty were outraged by the stats – there are many reasons for this statistic, but we felt we could make a difference by delivering a campaign that promoted positive female role models from a wide range of backgrounds to challenge the image of a leader as white, middle class man – ‘you cannot be who you cannot see’, after all.
We decided to launch a campaign to showcase women who are leaders in their chosen career fields and prove that you don’t have to be ‘John’ to be the boss. We shared the stories of around 30 women in senior management positions alongside the #ImnotJohn hashtag and graphic, and it really took off. It was discussed at events from Knutsford to New York, and covered by national press. We received some really heartfelt messages from women who felt inspired by the stories shared, so we were really proud of transforming what happened to be a feeling of social injustice into a successful campaign.
It is such a shame that the stat and the hashtag is still relevant – we need the men who dominate powerful positions to see that we cannot run our country and our businesses with Johns alone. Diversity pays dividends!
Can you tell us a little bit about the Yellow Jigsaw and what you provide?
Yellow Jigsaw would not be exist if it wasn’t for my business partner, Kirsty Day. We met while working for a national charity, and found ourselves working together on several projects – her as the media lead and myself as a project manager. I happened to share with her one day how disappointed I would be if I ended up caught in the 9-5 trap and never becoming my own boss, but that I had no idea what I would do.
“I would be so disappointed if I ended up caught in the 9-5 trap and never became my own boss, but I had no idea what I would do.”
Unlike me, Kirsty has a massively positive ‘give it a go’ attitude, and this became the driving force for us quitting our jobs and setting up our media and campaigns consultancy, specialising in working in the not for profit sector. I owe Kirsty everything for getting Yellow Jigsaw where it is today.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur or was it a path that came out of opportunity?
I always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur, but deep down it felt just that – a dream. My dad was a plumber and my mum worked in admin, and they were always risk averse – saving for a rainy day was hugely important and myself and my brother were encouraged to pursue the ‘safest’ career paths so that we would have financial stability. I am still the cautious one in Yellow Jigsaw when it comes to the finances! This attitude doesn’t really lend itself well to leaping into the world of becoming your own boss, and without any real role models of young working class women starting up on their own, I thought it was something other people did. Sharing the ‘dream’ with Kirsty made all the difference and was the catalyst to believing it could be a reality.
One of the biggest worries for young entrepreneurs is quitting their jobs and funding their new business. Was this something you experienced with Yellow Jigsaw?
From my previous answer, you can imagine this was a worry for me! I never wanted to raise finance to fund Yellow Jigsaw, so we built the business steadily so that it would pay for itself. Knowing when to quit the stability and security of a job I enjoyed was not easy. It is a cliché, but going with my gut was hugely important – I just knew when it was the right time to make the jump: for me it was when a strong pipeline of business was in place.
How was your first year as an entrepreneur?
Full on! Looking back, it makes me grateful to my partner, friends and family for letting me disappear for a year. It was all-consuming putting in the hours to not only deliver the business, but to develop the business – the crucial but unpaid bit which needs a great deal of energy and motivation.
What support did you use as a young entrepreneur?
I took whatever support was available – I was forever learning. Universities and local authorities often offer free mentoring or coaching programmes, and the opportunity to pick the brains of people who have experience of growing their own businesses, dealing with the realities of cashflow and contracts, was invaluable.
What would your advice be to someone who is debating whether they should become an entrepreneur or continue in their current company role?
Obvious answer, but I would say ‘go for it’! Most entrepreneurs share the same mentality of simply not feeling like they fit into the traditional workplace – if this feels like you, then join a local business networking group, access support and start testing your ideas out. You can then at least live with no regrets!
How is the social enterprise world changing for women?
The social enterprise sector outperforms most other sectors when it comes to gender equality in leadership positions: 41% of social enterprises are led by women according to the latest State of the Sector Survey. My advice for young females looking at entering the industry is to attend local social enterprise networks to meet some of these women and feel inspired!
What advice would you give to a young woman who is struggling to stay ambitious and motivated in their career?
Look at what motivated you to get to this point – what is important to you, rather than society’s expectations of you. Returning to these values may mean a career change, or entering into a world of uncertainty – embrace this change.
A very topical debate is whether or not young people should go to London to develop their careers in their twenties. What are your thoughts on this?
Interesting question, as moving London never seemed an option to me – that view of choosing the ‘safest’ career path in terms of financial stability was a deciding factor for me. Looking back, I wouldn’t recommend others make decisions for the same reason.
If you see real opportunities to pursue a career you feel passionate about in London, then it would be foolish not to. But don’t focus your search on London: regional cities have a lot to offer in terms of innovation, creativity, networks and a point to prove. London doesn’t have to be the only choice – even if it sometimes feels like that when friends flock to the city after graduating.
What has been your proudest moment/achievement in your career?
Simply getting started and pursuing the dream of becoming my own boss!
What has been your biggest challenge?
Balancing personal and work time, without a doubt. Yellow Jigsaw is now in its fourth year and that balance is finally looking a little healthier – but the sacrifice was worth it.
If you could go back in time, and give yourself one piece of advice when you left school, what would you say?
That ability is nothing without opportunity – so go out there and create your own opportunities and don’t wait for them to fall into your lap.
If you could recommend one book or podcast that has helped you get where you are today, what would it be?
An inspirational book that springs to mind is The Help – it is not a management book, but a story of a young woman who graduates, returns to her small home town and decides to take her fate into her own hands for the common good. Worth a read!
If you could have a coffee with any woman in the world, who would you choose?
Michaela Coel: a true model for anyone wanting to forge their own path in life. With little prior experience, she wrote and starred in an award winning comedy series on Channel Four and is now recognised as a an internationally acclaimed actor and writer – and she’s a passionate advocate for representation within the film and TV industry. She seems a force to be reckoned with – and she’s hilarious!