We all need women entrepreneur role-models in our lives

It’s human nature - we all need people to look up to in our lives, people who inspire us and motivate us to achieve our goals, who show us that the seemingly impossible can be done. As women entrepreneurs, that’s particularly the case as we look to seek out and look up to those women who have successfully blazed the business building trail before us. I remember in the early days of my entrepreneurial journey being inspired by such women as Anita Roddick, founder of the ethical, cruelty free cosmetics company, The Body Shop, in the UK. For me, she was a great example of someone who had a real passion and was driven to make a difference in the world through her business and brand, and she left a legacy for so many other women entrepreneurs to follow. As she once famously said, “In business, you persuade people with passion, so you’ve got to have a product or service you feel emotionally charged about. Then you can tell stories about it that will inspire others.” Having such role models in our lives is so important as they show us what can be achieved with the right combination of determination, hard work, perseverance, and a ‘must-do’ spirit.

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Look your tough challenges squarely in the eye 

No-one said being an entrepreneur was easy - if it was, everyone would be doing it. And talk to any successful serial entrepreneur and they will tell you that the secret is to stay focused and keep going through even the toughest moments - and there will be lots of those along the way! I have always been a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, seeing the positive and keeping an eye on the bigger picture at all times, even when the going is tough. So here is my tried and tested technique for getting through the inevitable hurdles you will encounter along the way, and battling through those days when you doubt yourself and this crazy entrepreneurial life you have chosen. I start by reminding myself of the 5 things I am most grateful for in my life and I take a moment to celebrate those things. I also remind myself of the reasons I chose to become an entrepreneur in the first place instead of embarking on a safe corporate career. I revisit my Big Hairy Audacious Goals list and remember why I am inspired to do what I do as an impact driven entrepreneur. And finally, I look those tough challenges squarely in the eye and tell myself I’ve got this!

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Get your new product noticed

I often get asked by the hundreds of women entrepreneurs I meet each month if there is a way of telling the Lionesses of Africa community as a whole, across the continent and the globe, of the exciting new products and services they are launching. Well, we have listened to you all and now there is! Our new regular feature, Lioness Launch, has been created to give you all the opportunity to share your exciting news about your new product and services as they are being launched. The Lionesses of Africa editorial team is on standby to create some great Lioness Launch feature articles to be shared across our community and on all our platforms. If you are launching a great new product or service and you would like to share it with our community, send us a note to loacontent@gmail.com.

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We need people who bring something new to the conversation

What comes to mind when you think of community? You probably think of the communities you personally spend time in, made up of many tiers of people bringing their individual personalities, experiences, knowledge, hopes and dreams to the group. A mixture of energetic youngsters, experienced members with a track record and specialist knowledge and expertise to hand, and elders who bring their years of life and invaluable insights to the table. These communities work and thrive because of the multi-layers of people who belong to them and who bring something new to the conversation. It’s the same when building a networking community in business, and it’s worth remembering what works in your own personal community and replicating that in the business sense - bringing together a combination of youthful enthusiasm with highly experienced entrepreneurs who have been there and earned the respect and trust that goes with building successful businesses. The secret to building a powerful networking community is getting all these tiers in place and having everyone bring their own personal experience and insights to help others. 

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Our real superpower as women is our buying power

As entrepreneurs and women here on the African continent, we often forget that we have an intrinsic superpower that we can use to our advantage - and that is the power of the purse, our buying power. What big corporations, government, retailers, and business owners sometimes tend to forget is that women influence almost all purchasing decisions - from the cars we drive, to the houses we buy, to the retail products we consume, to the travel decisions we make, and so on. Our real superpower as women is our buying power and our influence over what sells in the marketplace. So with that in mind, as women entrepreneurs it makes sense to leverage that superpower when it comes to building our own businesses and creating products for the marketplace. By talking to women consumers and to our fellow women entrepreneurs, by listening to what they need and want, and by supporting one another in our businesses, we can really make that superpower of the purse work for us.

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Done is better than perfect

You have probably all heard the story of the plumber with the leaky tap, always fixing everyone else’s leaks but never their own at home, constantly putting the job off till later - inevitably leading to it never getting done. I regularly hear similar stories from women entrepreneurs I meet, who spend their lives and all their time working flat out to make their customers lives better, easier, more enjoyable, more efficient, etc., but never getting around to doing the same for their own businesses. Chances are, most of us women entrepreneurs are perfectionists at heart, we want everything to look its best when we launch in the public domain, but as I often tell myself (all the time) and other entrepreneurs, done is better than perfect. So if you are feeling like that plumber with the proverbial leaking tap, stop procrastinating and just get it done!

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Joining the trend of today’s digital nomads

As many of you know, I spend a large amount of my time travelling around Africa and the world, hosting and speaking at events that connect women entrepreneurs with each other and with exciting new market opportunities. In between those meetings and events, as I sit working on my laptop in different global locations on planes, in airline lounges, hotel lobbies, cafes and in railway stations, I have noticed at first hand a growing global trend, particularly amongst millennials. It’s the rise of the digital nomads - entrepreneurs, particularly millennials, whose lives combine business and travel and the freedom to work connected anywhere on the road. These days, it’s possible to run a successful digital business from anywhere as long as you have a laptop, an internet connection, your network, and your digital client base with you. And, many millennial entrepreneurs are proactively choosing this digital nomadic business lifestyle - and making it work!

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Stay focused on your own entrepreneurial journey

There is something very powerful about seeing other women entrepreneurs who have made it on their journeys. I know that from a personal perspective and after more than  three decades of being an entrepreneur, I am inspired by and still learn each and every day from my fellow women business builders around the world. So it’s always fascinating to hear from many women that they find themselves constantly monitoring and benchmarking themselves and their businesses against their peers, and getting frustrated in the process. It’s the nature of competitive spirit in business to constantly look at what others are doing, but it can also have a downside when it hampers your own progress. Success comes when you keep your eye on the ball and on your own business at all times, and not on your competitors. There is a great quote from one of our wonderful Lionesses of Africa, Ngyenzi ‘Nunu’Mugyenyi, cofounder of BOLD Kampala in Uganda, who says on the subject, "Mind your own business. Focus your energy on how you can better your business, rather than on how the businesses of others are better than yours. There are enough entrepreneurial journeys to go around." Great advice!

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You often have to hear lots of ‘No’s’ before hearing a ‘Yes’

I read a great quote which should resonate with all those women entrepreneurs who spend their lives pitching their businesses and trying to make the next sale - it says,“You may need 100 ‘No’s' to get one 'Yes,' but that one 'Yes' will make you more successful tomorrow than you were today.” How true is that? We all know how much work and effort it takes to make that all important sale, and it can be discouraging when you seem to go through a phase when all you hear are no’s from the companies and individuals you are pitching and marketing to. It can inevitably lead to moments of self doubt - and talk to any fellow woman entrepreneur and they will tell you they have been there too. The truth is, we’ll never completely get rid of self-doubt, and we shouldn’t try to. In fact, these feelings can be good for us - they drive us to keep doing better, to change the way we do things in order to get a great result, to question ourselves in order to improve our chances of converting that sale. The trick is to immediately let go of any feelings of doubt that come with every no, and instead just focus on the way you feel when you eventually do hear that yes. It will keep you going and keep those self doubts in check.

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Find your inner desire

There is a great saying that goes, ‘ Motivation without desire is hollow’, and as we all know in the world of entrepreneurship, motivation is a critical factor for success. But it can often be hard to stay motivated during those difficult, energy draining and stressful times (and we all have those in business), when we try and keep everyone around us motivated, but as founders, who does the same for us? Is there a secret to staying the course when the going gets tough? Well, according to many successful entrepreneurs out there, one of the best ways of keeping those motivation levels high is to find your desire. And it’s not necessarily a desire simply to make money, although every entrepreneur wants to have cash in the bank. It’s more about finding that inner desire that drives you - your motivation could be to give your children a secure future; or to retire young so that you can do the things you really want to do; or to leave a business legacy for your family. Remembering that inner desire that made you want to become an entrepreneur in the first place will keep you motivated through even the roughest of times.

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The artisan sector is a real driver of economic growth and jobs

So here’s an interesting fact! Did you know that the artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, behind agriculture, worth around $32 billion every year? Millions of people, particularly women, in developing countries around the globe are key drivers of the artisan economy - and that’s certainly the case on the African continent. They are producing handcrafted goods often utilizing traditional skills of all types to build businesses that can sustain themselves, their families and their communities. The artisan sector is significant and growing - international trade in artisan goods more than doubled between 2002 and 2012. Yet ironically, these very same artisan businesses are seldom recognized as drivers of real economic growth. But it’s important to remember that countries in the developing world have a competitive advantage in the artisan sector because of their rich cultural traditions, diverse artisanal skills, and unique raw materials. And that is certainly the case on the African continent. So it’s perhaps time to start acknowledging the truly important role played by women artisan entrepreneurs in driving Africa’s future economic growth, and at the same time, ensuring that traditional craftsmanship skills are both preserved and taken to the next level.

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The power of collective action

I am a great believer in the power of collective action, and as women entrepreneurs if we each take small, daily actions that will strengthen Africa’s pride of women entrepreneurs, we can make a big difference. Have you thought about where you shop, what you buy, where those products are made, and how you are supporting other women entrepreneurs who are making products and creating services that you might need? As a collective of women entrepreneurs on the African continent, we have the power to support one another in so many ways, helping each other to thrive and grow, simply by the actions and decisions we make each day. By making conscious decisions to buy from one another, to mentor one another, to bring each other’s businesses into our own supply chains, we are individually taking one small step for women’s entrepreneurship, but collectively making one giant leap for economic change for women in Africa. 

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You deserve your success

If you are one of those women entrepreneurs who is constantly striving to be at the top of her business game, but who also underestimates her ability to succeed, or worries about not really belonging to the ‘successful entrepreneurs club’, then you could be battling Imposter Syndrome. It’s that fear of not believing you are worthy of the success you have achieved, or thinking that you have got to where you are today more by luck than management. If that resonates with you, then you are not alone. I was re-reading Valerie Young’s book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, this past weekend which is a fascinating read on this subject which afflicts many women entrepreneurs, and many successful women in general. Did you know for example that Oscar winning actresses Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep have both experienced nagging feelings that their awards and accolades were somehow not deserved? However, it appears there is a way of looking at Imposter Syndrome from the flip side. The author suggests that our fears of being inadequate pale into insignificance when compared with our fears of being extraordinary, and that if we embrace a can-do attitude and envision success as a hard won and well-deserved badge of honor, life will look a whole lot different. 

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Expect the unexpected

The other day I was thinking about when I first learned to drive as a teenager, spending all those hours practicing and focusing so hard on trying to avoid the inevitable bumps in the road that had the potential to steer me and my car off course? And it got me thinking about how similar that experience was to starting up in business. You get excited at the launch phase, you make it through the first year, and then around the time between two and three years, those bumps in the road appear again - they could be in the form of a need for an injection of funding; or an expansion of capacity; or the need for a pivot to react to new market conditions. And it can be tough to navigate at the time. So that’s why it makes sense to expect the unexpected, and prepare and plan ways in advance of getting over the inevitable bumps in your entrepreneurial road when they appear.

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Passion is a key ingredient

We all need a little continuous inspiration in our lives and great role models to show us what can be achieved, particularly in business. I have a number of women entrepreneurs whose stories I continually revisit on my own entrepreneurial journey. One of those is Anita Roddick whose personal passion led her to create and build what is today a global success story, the Body Shop. She was passionate about not testing cosmetics on animals and had a firm belief in natural organic products with recyclable packaging to reduce the impact on the environment. At the time, there was nothing else in the marketplace that looked like her brand, or that was driven by such a strong ethical, passion driven story that customers could identify with and buy into. Successful women entrepreneurs build a business around what they really love to do best, or what they passionately believe in. There is a great quote from one of our Lionesses of Africa community members, Narcissi Madishi, founder of children’s clothing brand, Kameo Kids in South Africa. She says, “Passion will carry you through....If you plan to go into business, choose something that you are absolutely passionate about. The passion will carry you through when the going gets tough.”

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Being part of a community is good for business

As many of you know, I am passionate about the power of community when it comes to supporting the growth and development of Africa’s women entrepreneurs - and, it seems like I’m not alone in my thinking. A fascinating research report by Facebook found that female founders who are part of a business community are twice as likely to forecast growth compared to those who are not. Despite this, half of female founders say they are not part of such a network. The research revealed that women are aware of the benefits of tapping into business communities, with 49 per cent of those interviewed for the report believing the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people would greatly benefit their business. 31 per cent of the women surveyed said the current business environment is better set up for male business leaders. Reading these research findings reminds me once again of why we started the Lionesses of Africa community - welcome to the Pride!

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Keeping your business going takes persistence

I have had several conversations recently with women entrepreneurs in the Lionesses of Africa community who are going through a range of challenges right now, and one word kept coming up repeatedly - persistence. And listening to their stories and experiences, those challenges will be familiar to so many others as each day they fight to keep their businesses going, or to take their businesses to the next growth level and into unknown new territory. Starting a business in the first place takes courage, but keeping it going, keeping it relevant and ensuring it grows, takes persistence. So this morning I would like to celebrate all those women entrepreneurs who are chasing their dreams, pushing through the inevitable difficulties, and getting creative in the face of adversity. Let’s learn from each other and never underestimate the power of persistence, it is an essential trait to develop as an entrepreneur.

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Women entrepreneurs need role models in their lives

I was reading an interesting article this week about how women around the world are less likely than their male counterparts to become entrepreneurs because they simply don’t have enough role models around them. And it’s not a case of being able to see superstar women role models to look up to, but instead ‘everyday women role models’ that they can really feel a connection with and aspire to be like. It’s why we share the inspirational start-up stories of ordinary women entrepreneurs doing extraordinary things from our Lionesses of Africa community each and every day - to show what’s possible. The article went on to suggest that women need to see on a regular basis people just like themselves successfully building businesses and brands, creating great products and services, and become fulfilled entrepreneurs, as it shapes their view of what is possible. The bottom line is that we need more everyday, successful women entrepreneur role-models in our lives to encourage us on our own journeys. 

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Go All In!

I was re-reading a copy of ‘All In’ by Stephanie Breedlove this past week, a great book on how women entrepreneurs can think bigger, build sustainable businesses and change the world. It’s a great read and a great reminder of what a difference it makes to your life and your business when you make the conscious decision and mindset shift to go ‘all in’. Being ‘all in’ is a key ingredient for success, it means giving all you’ve got, committing to making the big vision happen, and putting in the maximum time and effort to realize set goals and ambitions. It means having an unwavering belief in what you are doing, why you are doing it, and its value. As Stephanie says in her book: “When the entrepreneurial journey leads you to go all in to help create the economic and cultural changes the world needs, words can’t describe its worth. I wish it for every woman called to entrepreneurship.” If you are interested in knowing more about the theory of ‘All In’, read our review of Stephanie’s book here.

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First quarter of the year is already over. It’s time to evaluate progress.

Can you believe it, the first quarter of the year is already over. Is it my imagination or did it go by particularly quickly this year? It’s an urgent reminder to revisit the business strategy for the year; to look at the targets we set and evaluate where progress is being made, and where possible remedial action may need to be taken to ensure those all important goals are reached. Often we get caught up in the day to day business grind, and we perhaps don’t revisit the bigger picture for our business often enough. So as we hurtle purposefully into the second quarter of the year, it could be a good idea to set daily or weekly target reviews to stay on track. Electronic reminders at the end of each day are a great way to keep us focused firmly on those goals and not distracted by the everyday challenges that inevitably creep into our productivity.

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