“Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” While it is a seemingly cliché Oprah Winfrey quote, it perfectly captures Gloria Buckman Yankson’s journey to becoming a forerunner for the event planning industry in Ghana with PlanIt Events Ghana (PlanIt Ghana). Buckman Yankson grew up seeing herself as a journalist and so she studied Public Relations at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. In 2005, during her studies in Scotland for a Masters Degree in PR, Buckman’s search for a wedding planner for her own wedding would set her on course to founding PlanIt Ghana with her husband. While she nurtured her dreams to run an events planning company that caters to individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises, she built formidable experience working in marketing, events, and finance at Morgan Stanley and finally as a Corporate Affairs & Marketing Director for a Real Estate firm in Ghana.
“You sort of feel restricted by a 9-5er and you’re waiting to break out of the cage. I felt that I had so much more to give the world and one day I just went in, typed my resignation and said I’m done. That’s pretty much how it happened.“
– Gloria Buckman Yankson
PlanIt Ghana opened its doors in 2009 at a time when people looking to study event planning had to travel to either the UK or USA for training and has since gone on to create Event Planners Hub – Ghana’s first creative hub offering education and business support to event professionals across Africa. The host of the Musings over Coffee podcast and mother to a wonderful boy. Gloria Buckman Yankson (G.B.Y.) had a chat with our editor Jemila Abdulai (J.A.) over Facebook Live for our 2018 Sisterhood Matters Digital conversations where she shared valuable advice on business and dealing with competition, nurturing relationships, prioritising personal growth, and why she believes it’s important for women to work together. Captured below are excerpts of that conversation.
Nurturing Meaningful Relationships
Circumspecte: Your business involves one of the most personal aspects of life – the start of a life partnership – and was born out of your own wedding and with your husband. How do you manage relationships with your clients, colleagues and employees?
G.B.Y.: I think I always approach my relationships from a place of empathy especially when it comes to clients. A lot of the clients we work with are very – for lack of a better word – demanding. They want the best of everything, that is why they have come to us. So I approach them with empathy by putting myself in their shoes….I ask myself how I would like to be approached and how I would like my needs to be met if I were a client. I find that if you approach business, romantic, personal relationships from a place of empathy and generosity people are always affected by that in a positive way. They realise that you aren’t only here to do business, but that you genuinely care about what works for them. That you are genuinely interested in their wellbeing and providing them with your best.
"I always approach my relationships from a place of empathy especially when it comes to clients…I ask myself how I would like to be approached and how I would like my needs to be met if I were a client." – @gloriabuckman Click To Tweet
Circumspecte: How have women influenced your business? Have they supported you? Any disappointments? What has it been like?
G.B.Y: Surprisingly, I have found that the women around me have always been pretty supportive even when it comes to working with vendors, clients. The contract that I use now was actually written by one of my clients who had been working in law and legislation for a while, and was honoured by the President. She wrote that contract and sent it to me. My first reaction was no way – because she is hiring me for my services – you are not going to write my contract. But then I sat down and read it again. It encompassed everything that we should have in our contract and it was just the perfect contract for me to use. We are still friends today after putting on her 60th birthday party three years ago. I am currently working with a beautiful lady who is one of the judges here in Ghana. These are my clients – women who are 50 years plus who have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in business as well as personal life. They are being so supportive; not discriminatory or condescending because of the age gap.I always treasure those moments and relationships.
You can meet people who, after spending only two years with, become more important than those you have known for a long time. In my space, I have had some amazing relationships even with younger colleagues. One of my colleagues Ellen came in as an assistant and has taught me so much about myself and about being patient with my clients. She has taught me to be really patient and to always approach requests that seem downright ridiculous and client relationships with the mindset of ‘What if it was me?’ For the vendors there is Chichi who is one amazing lady; she’s a caterer, an HR person, she is so many things. You could sit with her for what is meant to be a one-hour meeting and you won’t realise that you have been there for five hours. Yet she would have done so much without realising how supportive she is. So lucky for me I have been surrounded by amazing women. I mean, I can’t mention my mum because I am totally biased in her favour. There’s no way she isn’t going to be supportive and positive. But all of these women that I have encountered and met. From Anita Erskine, Dzigbordi Kwaku, to Jemila and more; they have impacted me and supported me in various ways.
Circumspecte: You raise a very valid point on the importance of intergenerational mentorship. How do you identify women that you have synergy with? How do you develop such mentor-mentee relationships?
G.B.Y.: You have to be very intentional with the people that you allow in your space. If you spot somebody who is giving off the vibe you want, you have to actively take steps to approach and get to know them. A lot of the comments I get from young mentees at PlanIt Ghana is that they feel certain women are so high on their pedestals and they feel too small to approach these women. I always tell them that they’d be surprised at how generous these women are with their time. Hardly would you send a message to someone saying “I admire you and I would like to sit down with you for a half hour to talk business and life and they’ll say no. A lot of the time it is just fear of rejection and even though it sounds really cliché your vibe really attracts your tribe. If you are out there with a positive mindset and you are ready to be of help to people it just follows that the kind of people you attract will be people who are the same as you are. You can’t be spitting negative vibes into the universe and expecting that you are going to get the opposite back, it doesn’t work that way.
Building Ghana’s Event Industry
Circumspecte: In addition to PlanIt Events Ghana, you manage the Event Planners Hub (EPlanners Hub). Tell us a bit about that, how did it come about?
G.B.Y.: We started our careers at PlanIt Ghana as event planners and then decided to add event design onto the list of services. We got our first client and we were so excited about the possibilities about transforming the place and making it look amazing. I walked into the shops of one of the more established event designers in Ghana and picked priced items on the shelf that we wanted. We went to the counter to pay and we were told: ‘Sorry we can’t sell to you’. The shop attendant went around in circles and I was getting frustrated. Eventually the attendant said ‘My madam said we should not sell to you – the PlanIt lady.” I realised that I was being cut off because they saw me as a competitor. I walked out of the shop with tears pretty much in my eyes. As women, we are very protective of our spaces and we hold on to everything we have because we are so used to people taking away from us. But I walked out of there and said, I am going to change this narrative. I have all of this knowledge and it is something I can share with my fellow woman.
“As women, we are very protective of our spaces and we hold on to everything we have because we are so used to people taking away from us…This idea of holding things to your chest and being possessive of the little we have has to stop.”
– Gloria Buckman Yankson
I decided that there was room for all of us. When you get to the point where you have gotten everything, you need to build a longer table and not a higher fence. I am a big believer in inclusion. I believe that when women support each other wonderful things happen. Every Tuesday I go onto EPlanners Hub’s Instagram and I offer a free master class, free education. Because this idea of holding things to your chest and being possessive of the little we have has to stop. I think it affects black women even more. They may be clapping for you but there’s a silent will to knock you off and be number one. I am always looking to change the narrative and look for solutions to problems. Solutions that are going to be for the greater good of the community and not just myself.
"When you get to the point where you have gotten everything you need to build a longer table and not a higher fence." – @gloriabuckman on going beyond competition to build industry #SisterhoodMatters Click To Tweet
J.A.: The whole time you were narrating it I was thinking ‘please don’t let it be a woman!”. And then you said it was a madam who gave those instructions. That is partly why we started Circumspecte’s Sisterhood Matters conversation series – to figure out what it is that stops women from supporting each other. To explore how those who do support can build that up while teaching women to own their space without feeling intimidated by other women in that space. So that we can realise that when everybody in that space thrives it is better for everybody. Men compete, but they’ll go and have a drink together and pass on deals to competitors. Information sharing is really at the heart of how industries are built. If someone goes through something, struggles with it and comes out at the end but doesn’t share their story every other person following them goes through the same struggle and they’re all going to be stagnant. But with an initiative like EPlanners Hub, there is information about how to get started, and so the next person can enter the scene at the mid-level stage and build from there.
“Information sharing is really at the heart of how industries are built. If someone goes through something, struggles with it, and comes out at the end but doesn’t share their story, every other person following them goes through the same struggle. And they’re all going to be stagnant.”
– Jemila Abdulai
G.B.Y.: One of the reasons we started EPlanners Hub was that we wanted to create a scenario where there was a solution for planners to work with individuals and small and medium enterprises. We wanted to create an enabling environment for people who wanted to enter the event planning space and for people who valued what they had to give and knew what they were about. Because a lot of these young ladies who are so passionate about event planning don’t have the financial capabilities to travel outside Ghana. What we were seeing was a lot of people setting up shop who didn’t know what they were doing and therefore bringing the entire image of the profession down. However if we encourage and support each other, what happens is that we are all really doing well so that when people approach this profession they know how to respect it. Also people become aware that event planners in Ghana are really top notch as opposed to one person doing a great job and 90% not giving great service because they don’t know what they are doing. Eventually we bring the entire system down.
Circumspecte: You want to help build the events industry and support entrepreneurs. But the fact is, competition exists. How do you approach it ?
G.B.Y.: One of the first things we established for PlanIt Ghana was that not everyone is for us; not every client who walks through the door to come in and have a consultation with us is a sure thing. We approach our consultations as not just the client getting to know us but also us getting to know the client to see if it would be a good fit. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who contact PlanIt Ghana aren’t a good fit; there are instances where we have had to say no. Reasons might be that the budget they are trying to work with is not a budget we can work with based on the standards we have established and want to keep…We also want to be excited about the event. What this means is that we are very selective of the clients we choose to work with. We are also mindful of the fact that there are so many events that happen every weekend here in Ghana and across Africa. We like to celebrate, but how many of those events can I physically take on? I don’t like to take on too much if I am planning and producing an event. I don’t want to take on more than one client for a set date or to have to manage two clients on one day. So what happens to the 200 other events? Someone else is going to do them. I refer my clients to people who would be or are considered my competitors all the time. I email them saying I have referred this person to you, could you please keep my credibility and keep them happy. I never see competition as a negative; the more the better. You are forced to give better service because you know there are people who can easily fill your shoes and take on the role.
"I never see competition as a negative; the more the better. You are forced to give better service because you know there are people who can easily fill your shoes and take on the role." – @gloriabuckman on building #Ghana's event… Click To Tweet
Staying Productive In A Digital Era
Circumspecte: You wear multiple hats in terms of family, business, career, and so on. How do you juggle all you do?
G.B.Y.: I think that we place limitations on ourselves unconsciously. We think that because we are doing A, we can’t do B, because society expects us to do only one thing. These scenarios are in our heads and in our heads alone. We all have the same 24 hours and seven days, we all have so many weeks in a year. I believe that a lot of us fail to plan our time properly and set expectations for ourselves. For instance, this Instagram Live session I do every Tuesday. I know every Tuesday at 12pm, I have this obligation which is going to last about an hour, so I make time for it. I have to make the time because I also have other obligations: speaking obligations, I also teach a course. But I know about it and it is all on my calendar with their respective hours, so I schedule everything else around these consistent obligations. I think that when you set time and expectations of yourself, it is possible to manage.
I like to keep the entire Sunday for my family so they expect that. I tell my son, Sundays are your time, so if you see me on Instagram or Facebook you are allowed to take my phone away because that’s your time I am eating into. He understands that. I get people asking me how I am able to manage a business with a spouse and not fall out. We both understand ourselves and we give each other space. He knows that from this time to this time you don’t want to mess with Gloria, she’s in her element. He also knows that Friday or Saturday is his time when there’s no event. It is all about being disciplined with your time. We waste a lot of time. If you wake up at 6am and you are on Instagram till 12pm that is six hours in your day that you have wasted as opposed to if you had planned out your day.
"When you set time and expectations of yourself, it is possible to manage…It is all about being disciplined with your time. We waste a lot of time." – @gloriabuckman on productivity and time management #SisterhoodMatters Click To Tweet
J.A.: One of my obsessions is the concept of productivity; I am always on the look-out for productivity hacks. When I started freelancing, it was a struggle for me initially. I thought that the thing I would struggle with would be self-discipline – doing the things that I said I would do when I said I would do them. But then I found out very quickly that self-discipline wasn’t actually the big one, it was focus. Because even if I say Mondays are for creativity, if I don’t narrow it down to exactly what that could be it means I could possibly be working on graphics, working on a video or brainstorming for an article, social media strategy for a client – all of that is creative work. Until you narrow it down you still leave a lot open for time to be eaten up. The other thing that has been useful for me is to have a routine. It may seem counterproductive when you leave a 9-5 because you don’t have enough flexibility to do the things you want to do and then you go and give yourself a schedule while freelancing. But it works. I have learned to prioritise my own work. Because I have deliverables for clients and standards to keep, I naturally aim to please everyone else; to finish all of that and then do my own work. But then you begin to feel guilty because you are not giving yourself the priority or your work the priority it deserves. So now I try to do the work that I have set for myself and for Circumspecte then I work on client stuff next. And that helps me be productive on both fronts. If you don’t schedule it, it isn’t getting done.
"Until you narrow your schedule down, you still leave a lot open for time to be eaten up…If you don’t schedule it, it isn’t getting done." – @jabdulai on staying productive in a digital era #SisterhoodMatters Click To Tweet
Circumspecte: With all the social gatherings and obligations, weekends in Ghana may feel non-existent. How do you manage that and how do people react to how you manage your time?
G.B.Y.: The sad thing about planning my time is that my friends don’t invite me last minute to anything anymore – they don’t. It actually is a thing because they know how important it is for me to plan out my weeks and my months. They know, and my family knows, that unless they come to me and there is nothing scheduled it won’t work. Even for phone calls, my mother knows that if she calls me during the day she won’t get me. Let’s say she calls me at 10 am – we are going to end up chatting for two hours that will kick me off my schedule, and like you say, without a routine, I can’t function. If she calls me on a Wednesday she knows I am probably going to be at the gym or something – so she won’t bother. What she will do is send me a message saying ‘Can you give me a phone call when you get a minute’ and I appreciate that so much.
Circumspecte: So basically, you set expectations and let people know that you will call them back. Do you deal with any guilt about not being present when people want you to be?
G.B.Y.: I wish I had more time with my son. When it comes to Ghana events, there are peaks and off-peaks. In January it is usually slow, so I have a little time to myself. I don’t stress about it all because I know that if I don’t take advantage of this time when it gets to March or April it is going to be crazy busy. But then when there is some unexpected work and it gets busy, with events back to back, those are the times I feel guilty. There have been times I have come back from events on Saturday night or Sunday morning; when we have events on Saturdays you don’t get to leave until the wee hours of the morning because you pack up after an event. You get home at 3 am. I feel bad because my son is going to be jumping up and down in my bed at 6 am wanting my attention but I am just knackered and physically worn out. On those occasions, I feel that I am not as present as I would love to be. But I have realised that this concept of balance is never going to be 100%.
There are months where you are going to have to prioritise your business more than your family and there are some times when you are going to have to prioritise your family a little more than business. Or even to prioritise your romantic relationships because you begin to feel like you have been working and working without even sitting down together to have dinner. So there’s never going to be complete balance. I have said to myself that one thing will always take priority and that is okay. I do get that guilty feeling especially with my friends. I feel like these relationships are getting thinner and thinner because I am so busy with other things that I don’t get to spend time with them. Sometimes I am like ‘wow I haven’t seen this person in a year’, but I love that when we do get to sit down we can kick off where we left off.
“This concept of balance is never going to be 100%. There are months where you are going to have to prioritise your business more than your family and there are some times when you are going to have to prioritise your family a little more than business.“
– Gloria Buckman Yankson
J.A.: I think that is the beauty of sisterhood. Being sisters also entails understanding that inasmuch as the other person would want to be there for you all the time, the reality is that life happens, they can’t be there all the time. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. So you should give them that space. That is also a big thing for me: to have these women who are there for you when you are in need and who you can be there for. But there is no bad blood if it so happens that you cannot be there. They are not nagging you about it or angry you didn’t honour or send an invitation. I think it is so important.
Making Personal Growth A Priority
Circumspecte: When did you first encounter yourself? When did you realise your potential and commit to your personal growth?
G.B.Y.: There was a point at which I was a very impatient person and for the most part of my young life, I struggled with perfectionism. I really struggled with that. Even now, I am still struggling with it. I am always the one looking out for that tiny bit of imperfection. I have actively had to change my mind and tune it to say, look it is about growth. You can’t always be perfect. By setting high expectations of yourself you actually limit your capacity and what you can put out. Because you are waiting for perfection before you put something out, you also procrastinate. I was very impatient with customer service and I was one of the ‘ranters’ on Twitter in the early days. I was always fighting…I just couldn’t understand why things weren’t perfect and the way it was in my head. I don’t know when it started or when this switch went on or off but perhaps it comes with growth and maturity. As you get older you realize: I can’t get this to be a certain way. You ask yourself – how am I going to change this? If I can’t change it and it is beyond my power, how do I live with it in such a way that it doesn’t affect me? How can I turn it into a positive?
"By setting high expectations of yourself you actually limit your capacity and what you can put out. Because you are waiting for perfection before you put something out, you also procrastinate." – @gloriabuckman #SisterhoodMatters Click To Tweet
J.A.: Perfectionism is something I also struggle with. I think this is partly because I’m in journalism, events planning – careers that are detail oriented. I feel like there is a certain kind of person who is drawn to that. Because when you are an event planner, you are always looking at things down to the very minute details and it translates into everything that we do every day. As you also rightly pointed out, we tend to use that detail oriented mind to judge ourselves and I think a lot of women who do it. There are women who won’t be seen in public with no make-up on because they have this idea of what the perfect woman or what the perfect version of themselves looks like. Then you have fellow women who, just in their everyday relationships, struggle with saying ‘sorry’ or admitting that maybe they didn’t handle something right or in a different way. I felt what you said it because I struggle with learning to just let certain things go and letting things flow.
Circumspecte: What else do you struggle with and how are you trying to improve yourself in that regard?
G.B.Y.: I think that the one thing I currently struggle with and have struggled with for my entire time on this universe is picking up the phone to call people and say “Hey, how are you doing?” It is so hard for me. When it comes to business it is a little bit easier because I am calling a client to update them on payments and vendors I have booked and so on. But when it comes to personal relationships I find it so hard to pick up the phone and just say hello. I don’t know why, but it has gotten to the point where people tell me that I am not accessible. On a Sunday for instance, there are moments when I get too exhausted to talk on the phone, I feel mentally drained. So on a Sunday I will put my phone off the entire day. People will then call my husband and ask to speak to me and I’m just like oh boy! I don’t know why it is so hard, but I am working on it. I am trying.
Circumspecte: We live in a social media era where many people compare themselves, their ‘success’ and progress in life to what they see online. Is there anything you would like to share with young African girls who may be feeling pressure to be a certain way? How can they understand and come into themselves?
Gloria: We are always thinking about what society is going to say about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Society is never going to be consistent. Who is society anyway? It is you and I, but we are always changing our minds. So for young ladies out there who are looking to learn, my one advice would be to spread your wings. Believe that you can do whatever you want to do. Even if it is going into an industry that is seemingly male-dominated or you want to do something which is seemingly only for guys, the elderly or whatever, don’t let it hold you back because societal perceptions change all the time. Don’t let anything tie down your ambitions and make you feel like you are caged. You have to live up to your own expectations and not society’s. Do whatever makes you happy as long as it is legal because you find that usually, the things that make us happy are the things that fulfil you. So pursue things that excite you and set goals that you are actually desperate to fulfil and achieve. Chase your dreams! “Are you crazy?” That’s what people who knew me would ask when they discovered that I had left a good paying job with a four-bedroom house and an air-conditioned car which was fuelled every week to start my own business. Sometimes I asked myself that question, but it has paid off phenomenally. So follow your ambition.
Don’t let anything tie down your ambitions and make you feel like you are caged. You have to live up to your own expectations and not society’s. Do whatever makes you happy as long as it is legal. You find that usually, the things that make us happy are the things that fulfil us.
– Gloria Buckman Yankson
Audience Question: Do you have any advice for women juggling different roles? How do you do it without putting your personal interests on the back burner?
G.B.Y.: I don’t like multitasking because it never allows you to focus on anything, so instead if you want to do multiple things you have to stick to one thing at a time. For instance, you dedicate Tuesdays to A, Wednesdays to B and whatever leaves you more fulfilled or brings you more peace should get double time. That is how I do it; I don’t have 100 tabs open on my screen at a time because each task will not get the best of me. So I like to dedicate time to each task and give it my best.
"A lot of things come together with time…trust that there is really a higher plan at work. There is a point to all the madness even it isn’t for you to figure out immediately. It will unveil itself in time." – @jabdulai Click To Tweet
J.A.: They say women are better at multitasking but you have to have some level of focus as you are doing that. I have had that struggle with having many things that I want to do and not being able to do them all even though I want to. What I have realised over time is that you are the common denominator in all of those interests. There are going to be linkages between these interests so take some time to figure out what those are. Don’t stress too much. A lot of things come together with time. It is never clear-cut in that moment, but when you look back it looks like it was very well designed. My favourite poet Rumi says follow the thing that moves your spirit. Trust that there is really a higher plan at work, there is a point to all the madness even if isn’t for you to figure out immediately. It will unveil itself in time. In the meantime, try to nurture yourself in any way you can, try to merge your interests however you can. You always have to find skill sets that are overlapping and apply them to your different interests.
Interview by Jemila Abdulai. Transcription by Germaine Bombande. Originally Published by Circumspecte.com
Circumspecte is a digital platform and company dedicated to capturing meaningful insights, teaching digital skills, spurring interaction and inspiring creative action on/for/by Africa(ns). Created in 2007, we offer business and digital marketing services, create projects, and embark on partnerships which influence the experience and narrative around Africa and Africans. We also create offline experiences geared at sparking conversations, connections, and social impact.