Marginalized communities need “somebody who gets them. They need somebody who understands that they want to show up authentically as themselves and not feel like they have to be somebody else to sell their product or service.”
That’s according to social entrepreneur Michelle Osbourne, founder of the boutique communications agency Michelle Osbourne & Co based in Quebec City and a body positivity influencer who works with women of colour and non-binary people who need help promoting their socially conscious business or brand.
As a queer parent who navigated her introduction to the world of motherhood at 42 while juggling French lessons, life in a new city (she moved to Quebec City from Toronto seven years ago), and trying to find her feet as a communications entrepreneur, Osbourne knows the struggles that come with setting up your own business. And luckily for us, she’s willing to share some of her wisdom on the subject.
“I hustle every day,” Osbourne says. “People think it’s easy. They say, ‘Oh, Michelle, you have all of these [Instagram] followers and you’re doing so well.’ But they don’t see me up at 3 am. And they don’t see the effort that goes into juggling my life and business.”
It’s these struggles that help her empathize with her clients. “My passion is for working in communications with not-for-profits,” she tells Daily Hive. “My heart has always been in building up my community — marginalized women and non-binary persons.”
Osbourne knew she wanted to work with entrepreneurs who make a social impact, but that meant narrowing her customer base — a move that those following her career warned her against. But, Osbourne is a big believer that “building a socially conscious community is not just about the bottom line.” She knew she was targeting a niche market and believed that this approach would work out in her favour.
Initially, Osbourne focused her new venture on providing communications strategies for marginalized women and non-binary entrepreneurs in the vicinity of Quebec City. But the pandemic had other plans. As it forced many businesses to pivot online in order to stay competitive and survive, it made Osbourne shift her mindset to a global scale, rather than just focusing locally. This shift coincided with her setting up an Instagram page on body positivity “just for fun.” Little did she know it would be the explosion of followers on this platform (currently 16K and counting) during the pandemic that led her to finding her true customer base.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I started to build a social media platform about body liberation because that’s when the George Floyd situation and [the Black Lives Matter demonstrations] had happened, [and] we were all just tired of the bullshit,” she says.
Osbourne felt the time was right to speak up about who she is, so she used her Instagram platform and branded herself as “a confidence crusader.”
This meant that when she “took a leap of faith” in December 2021 and set up Michelle Osbourne & Co, the clients were already there because she had spent two years building her community, building trust, and getting to know her followers.
She now has clients based across Canada, the US, and the UK. “That was the best thing that I could have ever done,” Osbourne reflects, adding, “I was a nobody before the pandemic.”
Now, she can proudly state, “I teach marginalized communities how to use their lived experiences as ‘superpowers’ so that they can create a brand that advocates for change. My calling is to help inspire, empower, and build confidence in tomorrow’s radical visionaries so that they can augment their voice and build human-first businesses.”
Her success has also been noticed by those around her, as she was voted one of CBC Montreal’s Black change makers last year.
Authentic branding for marginalized communities
The main issues Osbourne finds her clients face are “being taken seriously, showing up as their authentic selves, and access to money.”
“Statistically, women of colour are the poorest people on the planet,” says Osbourne, “But funny enough, we are one of the biggest demographics who are building small businesses right now. So money is always an issue in our community.”
When payment is an issue, Osbourne works with her clients to come up with a reasonable payment plan which they conduct via Interac e-Transfer. This kindness is born out of her history working with non-profits and a desire to help socially conscious entrepreneurs succeed, plus her own experience of “hustling for every dollar.”
Her clients are often also members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, which can see them face other challenges. “Sometimes I think people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community hide who they are, or try to be someone else for fear that their clients won’t like it when they find out they’re gay,” says Osbourne. “I want to remind them that there are so many people who don’t care that you’re queer. They just want you to be able to do business.”
She warns, “People can smell fake a mile away,” and tells a success story about a client who gained 10K new social media followers in a week by telling her true story rather than conforming to perceived norms and talking solely about her product.
“She saw huge success just by showing up as herself and telling her story and stopping pretending to be like all of the other experts in her field and doing the same thing that everybody else is doing,” said Osbourne.
The biggest lesson Osbourne has learned during her journey as a social entrepreneur is to ensure she has more than one revenue stream. As her online presence has grown, Osbourne’s business has expanded to include communications planning, brand coaching and consulting, body positivity speaking, and content creating for various brands. She’s also currently building an online store selling branded merchandise, children’s books, and Amazon store favourites.
As her business grows and her revenue streams diversify, a reliable and fast payments provider is essential. Osbourne uses Interac e-Transfer which she says has “greatly simplified the money transfer process between me and my clients.”
“I use Interac e-Transfer on a daily basis when I’m transferring funds between clients and making payments on bills and invoices — and I actually don’t know what I would do without it,” she says. “It has really, really helped me streamline how I give and receive money, especially as a small business entrepreneur who doesn’t have a lot of money or resources to invest in big systems.”
Osbourne’s biggest accomplishment to date has been persevering through the tough times and realizing that “life is not an overnight success.” She says, “Anything you want is going to take work and I don’t know any other passion other than this.”
Marginalized entrepreneurs should “be authentically themselves”, says Osbourne, because “there are so many people who want to find a connection and relate to someone like them — plus, everybody has a special something.”
To learn more about Michelle Osbourne & Co., visit her website or check out her Instagram page to discover her body positivity work. You can also watch for her in Quebec City’s Pride Campaign coming up this September.