Meet the Couple Dedicated to Uplifting and Promoting Black Businesses

Meet The Couple Dedicated to Promoting and Uplifting Black Business Owners

Last week, I was thrilled to sit down via Zoom with Lorraine and Huw Bellot, the founders of Black Business Recommendation (BBR,) to learn about their story and the project’s growth. 

BBR’s Origin Story and Growth 

BBR started life in 2017 with a Facebook group, but its origins can be traced all the way back to 1985 when Huw walked around the streets of London amassing data on over 2,000 Black-owned businesses. This information became the UK’s first Black Business Directory. 

Huw described experiencing racial discrimination when shopping and frequenting various businesses. “This is a form of disrespect, so we started to think about what we could do about it,” he says. “Naturally, you start talking to others about it, but eventually someone has to step up and do something. So I gathered a group of about 25 friends and we decided to set up something to support Black businesses.” 

The Facebook group was conceived as a space for Black business owners to network, learn, find and recommend one another, grow their businesses, and access training and support. Upskilling and empowering people at all stages of their business journey is central to the group’s ethos. 

“Our purpose is to educate Black business owners and the community in relation to good practice, standards, finances, and consumer relations,” Huw explains. “We emphasise collaboration rather than competition.” 

Within a year, 25 members had grown to over 1,000. At the start of the pandemic, there were 6,000 members. The group still exists today and is still growing, with over 10,600 members at the time of writing. It now supplements the BBR website. 

The group retains a strict focus and is a business-only space. As far as possible, issues like religion and politics are kept out of the group. Lorraine and Huw say that they get positive feedback from members for this focus. 

During the Pandemic

There is a vetting process for members of Black Business Recommendation. “When we’re recommending someone, whether it’s to provide training or as a place to buy goods or services, we know we’re recommending the right person because we’ve vetted them,” Huw explains. 

Prior to the pandemic, Lorraine and Huw would visit business owners to meet and interview them on their own premises. Of course, that hasn’t been possible for the last year. However, they have continued to build personal connections with their members by picking up the phone and using digital solutions. 

“Of the 10,000 people in the group, I’ve spoken to or communicated with around 80% of them,” Huw says.

Lorraine and Huw Bellot run a network for Black businesses and business owners
Lorraine and Huw Bellot run a network for Black businesses and business owners

Lorraine says that people are always pleasantly surprised to receive a call and are impressed by the additional personal touch. Building these links also enables them to connect business owners for the purpose of collaborating or buying from one another. 

BBR have also added online events to keep supporting their members during the pandemic. “With COVID and everyone being stuck at home, we changed things and began offering online talks and Live events in our group,” Lorraine says. “We talk to businesspeople about how they got into business and allow them to share some of their skills and knowledge with our members.” 

What Next? 

“People always say, ‘you and your team must be really busy!’” Huw says. “And I always say ‘team? What team? It’s just myself and my wife!’” 

Lorraine and Huw both work full-time in education, and run and manage BBR voluntarily in their spare time. It keeps them very busy and takes up a lot of time, but they both believe in the project passionately. “If you believe in something, it’s important that you do it!” Huw says. 

A few months ago, they sat down to discuss how they wanted BBR to evolve and what should come next. 

As a result, BBR now has a new website, built from scratch by Lorraine. It allows anyone to find Black-owned businesses to support in a huge array of niches, from food and drink producers to marketing, bookkeeping, PA services, and much more besides. Its advertising spots allow businesses to promote their services. 

Most excitingly, the BBR membership network is currently in development. “This will be a hub for any Black business owners who want to upskill or learn about business strategy, marketing, PR, and so on,” Lorraine says. 

As the world starts to open back up following the pandemic, Lorraine and Huw intend to get back to visiting their members and holding live events. Though they are based in London, they are looking forward to travelling throughout the UK to promote and support their members’ businesses. 

“We’ve reached a point that the Black community knows about the myriad of Black-owned businesses that are out there,” Huw says. “So now it’s time to open it up to the world so that everyone can see, find, and support Black businesses.” 

Advice

I finished by asking Lorraine and Huw for their top tips for business owners or anyone thinking of setting up their own business. Unsurprisingly, they had some great advice!

“Take advantage of your situation right now,” Huw says. “You are in a position where you can access training, much of it free online. Do your due diligence, and then take that first step. Most importantly, call on other people. You can’t do business on your own and the best businesses are the ones where people work together.” 

Black Business Recommendation logo

“Put into action what you have learned in this last year,” Lorraine adds. “Many of us have had extra time on our hands and you’re sure to have learned something. Don’t give up just because we’re getting back to some form of normality! Remember what you’ve learned and use it.” 

We couldn’t agree more. 

How to Get Involved

If you’re a Black business owner and would like to get involved with BBR, there are several ways to do so: 

Join the Facebook group

Search “Black Business Recommendation” on Facebook and you’ll be able to find the group and request membership.

Register your interest for the membership network

Visit the BBR website and input your details to register your interest for the upcoming membership network and be the first to hear about new developments. 

Buy advertising

BBR has a range of reasonably-priced advertising packages to help you promote your business to its audience. Peruse the package options and sign up here

Get in touch

You can get in touch with Lorraine and Huw through the BBR website. 

BBR is majority UK-based, but by no means exclusively. The Facebook group currently has around 2500 North American members, as well as members from Africa, the Caribbean, and continental Europe. Wherever you are in the world, if you are a Black business owner and want to get involved, they want to hear from you. 

Do you have a story?

Do you have a small business success story from the COVID-19 era? Drop us a line if so – we’d love to talk to you.

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Jess Amy Dixon is a freelance journalist, writer, editor, and social media manager based in the East Midlands. She helps clients grow their businesses via the written word, whether that’s through marketing copy, blog content, or social media posts. She’s also working on her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, and has won prizes for short fiction.