A Conversation with Otegha Uwagba, Author of The Little Black Book
Born in Nigeria, Otegha Uwagba graduated from Oxford with a PPE degree and is the founder of Women Who, a London-based platform created to connect, support and inspire creative working women. Impressive, right? But that’s not all… she’s also a freelance writer and brand consultant, having worked at top places like Vice UK and AMV BBDO. Her first book, Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women, is a well-written, beautifully-designed guide to navigating your career, one no-BS step at a time.
Here, Otegha and I talk money, great design, work ethic and much, much more.
Let’s start at the beginning: why do you do what you do, and where do you get your work ethic and drive from?
I'm a writer, brand consultant and founder of Women Who - a platform I set up about a year ago to connect and support creative working women. I've recently published a modern career guide for working women called Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, which is a really practical guide aimed at helping women create successful, self-made careers. I'd say my raison d'être, which informs everything I do, is helping women work better, and ultimately build a career on their own terms. I get my work ethic largely from my parents - the dedication of my book reads "to my parents, who taught me the meaning of hard work, and continue to lead by example", and I think that says it all!
For anyone not (yet!) familiar with Women Who, can you share how you started the platform and what it’s now grown to become?
I started Women Who about a year ago, with one aim in mind - to foster connections between like-minded women. It was (and still is!) a one-woman team, but the community has since mushroomed to encompass thousands of women around the world, and I host regular events, produce online content, and write a weekly newsletter all with the aim of inspiring and informing working women. And of course there's Little Black Book, which is a really practical resource that I hope will become an indispensable companion to women everywhere!
What’s the biggest lesson founding Women Who has taught you so far?
That patience is a virtue - albeit sadly not one that I naturally possess in abundance! Learning to be patient, and to be comfortable working to other people’s schedules is something I’ve had a crash course in since launching Women Who. I’ve had to train myself to become (moderately) comfortable with just… waiting. Waiting for people to respond to emails, for people to make decisions, to get paid (I'm also a freelance writer)… the list is endless. Eighteen months ago, an email left unanswered for longer than a few hours would have been a source of real anxiety and frustration for me, which I think might be a hangover from having started my career in the world of advertising, where things tend to move at lightening speed. Becoming more cognisant of the competing demands on other people’s time is a quality I’ve learned to embrace over the past 12 months, and something that I hope to improve on.
I’m so interested in money content right now — making it, saving it and, most importantly, asking for more of it. What’s the best money advice you’ve ever been given? Have you had to learn any money lessons the hard way?
I think I've always been quite good with money in terms of managing my personal finances - less so when it comes to handling money in a professional context. I've definitely been in positions where I haven't negotiated well, or advocated for my value properly, though I think I've learned a lot from that.
The best money advice I've ever heard came from my friend Zing Tsjeng (UK editor of Broadly), about negotiating your salary: always ask for 20% more than you think you deserve, because chances are somewhere along the way you've been undervalued.
It's fantastic advice that I think every woman should bear in mind.
Both Little Black Book and Women Who have a strong, on-point aesthetic. Where did you get your visual inspiration from, and how do you stay creatively focused?
I really love and appreciate good design, so I always wanted to make sure Women Who/the Little Black Book had a visually appealing aesthetic. I have a Pinterest board where I save any visuals I like, whether that's photography, a painting, a dress with an interesting hemline.. it could be anything. All of those things filter into the look and feel of Women Who.
Lastly, I love the fact that you originally self-published your book before being approached by 4th Estate. How was the self-publishing process for you, and what advice can you share for anyone interested in doing the same?
I didn't really realise what I was doing constituted 'self-publishing' until afterwards - DIY zine culture is such a big thing within the creative industries that the idea of putting something I'd created out into the world on my own terms just felt like the natural course of action. It didn't even occur to me to get in touch with a publisher or agent or anything like that - they came to me, which is very rare in publishing! My advice for anyone who wants to self-publish is this: manage your costs. Think through every single element that goes into creating a book and getting it to its audience: design, typesetting, proofreading (I did that myself, but some people choose to pay someone), materials, distribution, marketing, wastage etc. and budget accordingly. It's easy for costs to spiral out of control if you haven't thought this through properly, so plan that out in advance. Also - use CPI Print. They're super helpful and accommodating - tell Mark I sent you!