"It's better to be a lioness for a day than a sheep all your life!"
The Edit is the blog of LoA founder and editor-in-chief, Melanie Hawken. Featuring opinion, commentary and analysis on a wide range of topics of interest to today’s women entrepreneurs on the African continent. It’s your daily must-read for relevant, thought-provoking entrepreneur news, with the occasional irreverent moment thrown in for good measure.
When you are a young startup brand trying to get your products out into a marketplace which seems packed by highly established mainstream and household name brands, it can seem a little daunting to say the least. After all, those established brands have seemingly unending money to pour into product development, manufacturing, marketing, and PR, while startups are often battling just to create new product lines and package them up for the marketplace. But the fact is, competition is a reality and always will be, so the trick is to find innovative and creative ways to differentiate your brand and product offerings without breaking the bank. Create room between yourself and yourcompetitors through a strong brand personality in your space by developing a distinct design aesthetic linked to your vision. Emphasize these positive points of differentiation consistently through different marketing channels. This could be a combination of PR, digital advertising, events (attending trade shows), hosting private view events, etc. Also, look at your price point as a means of differentiation, together with your quality commitment to your customers. You might not be able to match the advertising and promotional budgets of the big players, but what you lack in funding you can make up for in creative marketing and promotion and still make that all important brand connection with your customers.
One of the secrets to business success is pricing your products properly, but it is also one of the trickiest things to get right - as the saying goes, pricing is part art, part science. If you can get your pricing right at the beginning, it can create a great foundation for your business, but get it wrong and it can cause huge problems for your bottom line. There are huge quantities of books and online resources to guide your reading on this subject as an entrepreneur, but a pretty reliable approach is to formulate your pricing strategy based on the following factors. Get to know your customers, monitor their buying habits and understand their price pain points. Know your operating costs and ensure you build them into your profit margins. Understand exactly what your sales targets need to be to ensure you cover all your costs and make a profit each month. Track your competition and monitor their pricing structures for similar product and service offerings. Keep on top of the marketplace, monitor upward or downward pricing shifts, and be prepared to make any adjustments where necessary. Finally, understand the pivotal relationship between quality and price, remembering that customers will often pay a premium for a higher quality of product or service. The bottom line is that there is a certain amount of flexibility in how you set your prices, but you have to be attuned to your customers and the marketplace to know what is going to be a price point that will work for everyone.
Mindset plays such a key role as an entrepreneur and if you take a look at those people who achieve great success in business and in life they tend to share positive thinking as a personal trait. Having a positive perception towards your business and the approach you take towards dealing with the inevitable challenges, failures, mistakes and criticism you will face means that you see every experience as a learning opportunity - a chance to do things differently next time, to keep improving, to keep pushing the envelope. It would be all too easy to have your confidence knocked by such challenges and to feel defeated, but a positive mindset and the ability to keep learning and moving forward is what makes the difference. As Oprah Winfrey says, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change by merely changing his attitude.”
Harnessing the full power of technology is a great thing when you’re an entrepreneur and when you’re looking at new and interesting ways of engaging with your customers. So the introduction of Facebook Live, Instagram Live and Periscope provides a powerful way of taking your customers right into the heart of your business to experience your products, services and brand ethos in a way that other marketing and communication techniques simply don’t offer. These three live video streaming platforms not only give your customers a ‘behind the scenes’ look at your business and the people who deliver your products and services, but they can also provide powerful ways of introducing newly launched products to your audience, promoting events or special offerings, and to getting feedback in real time. Interaction and engagement through live video streaming on social media may seem daunting at first, but it’s a powerful new tool to connect with those you are trying to reach, and the more you engage with your customers the greater your chance of enhancing your brand connection and ultimately sales. So if you haven’t got your social media live video streaming in place as part of your overall marketing plan, then today could be a good time to get it started.
Hopefully, at some point on your entrepreneurial journey, the challenge of taking the next major step to achieving high growth in your business will be top of mind, and with that comes the perennially thorny issue of getting access to capital. Even with solid financials and business plans in place, it’s essential to get ready for inevitable meetings and pitch sessions with potential investors and financiers. There are a number of things on your checklist to help you prepare for such meetings. Firstly, remember that global influencer organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank firmly believe that by increasing the participation of women in the global economy, including entrepreneurship, it would increase gross domestic product in key countries significantly. It’s worth having your macro impact story at your fingertips to tap into this sentiment. Secondly, believe in yourself and your business - you have a great story to tell, so share it with passion backed up by hard numbers. It makes for a compelling meeting. Thirdly, get to know all the decision makers you are looking to meet in the banking and investment community, and do your homework on what is a priority in their investment space right now. Fourthly, research all the potential alternative sources of funding, particularly women-led investment funds. Fifthly, choose women’s entrepreneurship organizations and networks that might open up opportunities and contacts. Finally, be confident in your business and your story, and go out and sell it to those investors who are looking to help you make an impact.
Who ever said that life as an entrepreneur was a comfortable choice? Making the decision to embark on building a business and a brand, creating products and services that can disrupt the marketplace and make a difference, often means regularly sacrificing comfort by stepping out of your box. It can be a brave move with considerable sacrifices along the way, but on the plus side, it means you don’t have to be like others who have gone before you, accepting the way things are done or slotting into a particular notion of what an entrepreneur should be. You have the ability to create who you want to become and how you want to build a business that is unique to you. Stepping out of the box means trying different things without fear; experimenting first and implementing second; improving on what exists; constantly learning and being open to change; being an innovator not a perfectionist; sharing ideas to keep things moving; and always rewriting the rules to encourage new ideas to emerge. It may not be all that comfortable when you take this approach, but who said that being an entrepreneur and stepping out of the box of convention comes with a comfort factor. Oprah Winfrey said: “I have created a life by stepping out of the box of other people’s limitations. I call it zigging with others are zagging.” A great way of looking at life as an entrepreneur.
eCommerce is a growing global industry sector and particularly amongst millennials, with the total number of online shoppers in the US, one of the biggest markets, expected to reach 215 million shoppers by 2018. So here are a few statistics to get you thinking about the power of e-commerce to grow your own business. 51% of Americans prefer to shop online with 95% of them shopping online at least yearly, 80% at least monthly, 30% at least weekly and 5% daily. Almost half of these shoppers bought or spent more than they originally planned to when buying online. And, the average Gen X shopper spends 15 percent more online than a Gen Y shopper. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be any essential limit to strong and steady growth in the eCommerce sector, with overall sales volumes and other vital metrics in the field having dramatically increased each year for at least the past decade. So it stands to reason that small businesses that are not embracing eCommerce as a powerful tool for global growth going forward stand to lose out on both sales and relevancy to important consumers in the marketplace.
Richard Branson said: “The way a company brands itself is everything — it will ultimately decide whether or not a business survives.” Think about iconic brands around the world and specific images come to mind that resonate on an emotional level - whether that brand represents a product, a city, or a service offering. So why do they resonate so powerfully with us? Often it’s because those brands have built personalities over time that focus on their intrinsic characteristics, and its exactly those characteristics that make them so memorable for us. Strong brand personalities could be based on a powerful founding story, or a set of values, a different approach to service delivery, or a unique corporate culture. As consumers we connect with brands because of these characteristics and the messages that are associated with them in our lives and in the marketplace. Building a successful and memorable brand takes time, takes effort, takes creative consistency to maintain, but the trick for anyone building a brand of their own as a startup is to focus on exactly what makes it unique, and leverage that uniqueness to connect with consumers.
We all know how busy our lives are as entrepreneurs and there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything we set out to do, especially finding precious time to think without interruption. So it was really interesting to read about how some of the most successful entrepreneurs manage this challenge each day, dedicating precious time in their schedules to prioritize clear thinking time - to reflect, to be creative, to innovate. Take for example Warren Buffet who famously said that he estimates spending 80% of his working day reading and thinking. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn is another key advocate of building dedicated thinking time into the daily routine, saying “as the competitive and technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate -- you will require more time than ever before to just think.” He dedicates up to two hours each day to thinking time, blocking out his schedule to ensure no interruptions. There are many more examples of successful entrepreneurs who look at thinking time as essential in their daily routines - maybe it’s something we should all consider as not just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ in our lives.
How many times do we read stories of hugely successful startups where the founder’s inspiration came from a desperate need to escape stifling corporate culture set in stone by bureaucratic business leaders? Just think of Silicon Valley and the tech startups that have revolutionized the way we do things and the way we work today. Startups are the places where things can be done differently, where there is freedom of expression, where fresh ideas are encouraged. But this only happens when the culture is led by example from the top, by the founders. In any company or organisation, employees tend to take their cues from those who create the vision, those who set the tone. So, as a simple example, if as a founder you take a really relaxed approach to work attire and jeans and T Shirts are the order of the day, then this will send a message to the rest of your team that this relaxed dress environment is acceptable and will encourage them to follow suit. In the same way, if as a founder you are collaborative in your approach to solving problems or tackling new challenges and welcome the ideas of others in the team, then chances are your employees will do the same. As founders, the way we behave sets the tone for the business and tends to shape the actions of everyone else - so creating a positive startup culture definitely starts with us.
As entrepreneurs we all know that there is a lot of competition out there, lot’s of companies and brands vying for the attention of would-be customers, lot’s of marketing noise. The trick is finding a way to stand out from the crowd, and one of those ways is to position yourself and your business as a specialist. Increasingly, discerning consumers are looking to make purchasing decisions based on a company or brand’s ability to deliver a truly great experience, not just a world-class product, due to their status as a specialist. Whether it’s a chocolatier creating exquisite handmade chocolates using only the finest local ingredients that celebrate a particular region or country; or a perfumier creating memorable, pure fragrances that use essential oils and natural ingredients sourced from one specific location; or a translation services company specializing in African languages, to name but a few. So if you really want to differentiate yourself and your business in the marketplace, look to accentuate your specialism and talk to your specific target market instead of trying to focus on being all things to all people.
If you are one of those entrepreneurs who starts each year off by promising to get more organized in order to reduce some of the every day stresses and strains and save time, then it seems you are not alone. Yet the time wasted through disorganization could be so better used in your business, after all time is money! So if you feel the need to bring some organization into your life, then here are five simple steps to getting started. Firstly, change your attitude and motivate yourself to do things differently - think about what you will be able to achieve with all the extra time you will now have just by being more organized. Secondly, set your goals and make a list of what you need to do as a priority, then break that list down into smaller actions that can be achieved in bite-sized pieces instead of big daunting tasks. Thirdly, set strict deadlines for the completion of each mini task and closely monitor your progress as you go. Fourthly, reward yourself for each major task completed. Finally, make this approach part of your everyday business life - you now have a game plan to get more organized each and every day.
There has been lots of talk over the past few years about harnessing content marketing to connect customers with brands. And, it’s certainly been seen that if you want to really engage with customers, there is nothing more powerful than storytelling to share authentic and honest stories that resonate with those customers, sharing how your business was born and what it stands for. These days, the hard selling of products and services is becoming exactly that - hard - and with target markets such as millennials, it is somewhat of an alien concept. Storytelling and connecting at an emotional level with potential customers is a really powerful marketing tool that people can relate to at a human level. It stands to reason that if everyone in your company and team knows and tells your brand story consistently, customers will better relate to it, and as a result, feel they are buying products and services that align to their own personal values and interests. So, spend time writing and sharing your brand story with everyone that is an ambassador for your company and brand, and use that story to make that vital emotional connection with your current and future customers.
If you are a sports fan you may have been inspired this last weekend by the incredible display oftrue sportsmanship at the Canadian Open Tennis Tournament as two legends of the game (Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal) battled it out for the trophy. At the beginning of the tournament, no-one would have betted on either of these players being in the final, with talk of both being well past their prime having battled serious injuries and set backs in recent months and years. Yet their own individual self belief, pure perseverance and quiet determination to just focus on one game at a time, one competitor at at time through the tournament programme, beating the biggest names in the game right now, got them both to the final - and what a final it was! Roger Federer, the older player of the two, came out tops on the day after one of the most brilliant displays of tennis and sportsmanship in the history of the game. What was perhaps most memorable about the whole occasion was the lesson given to all the doubters who had written off the chances of these two once titans of the game being able to compete at the highest level any more and win major tournaments. It proves that self belief and perseverance are everything, something as entrepreneurs we can all learn and take-away from this example.
Everyone always talks about how important it is in business to have a clearly articulated vision - a blueprint of the company and brand you would like to build and the goals you would like to achieve. By putting your vision out there for all to see, it not only keeps you motivated to see it realised, but it also makes it real for others to buy into and support along the way. Your vision should be aspirational, something you are reaching for, a life you are working hard to attain - after all, it’s the future you want to see. Oprah Winfrey says:“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” It’s the same in business, if you can dream it, you can make it - but you have to create a roadmap to follow, to keep you motivated and on track no matter how tough the journey gets. Your vision helps to maintain your focus, so remind yourself each day of what you are working towards.
Here is a key question for the day - do you think as entrepreneurs we are increasingly losing our ability to really focus and concentrate our efforts on achieving complex or even routine tasks without getting distracted by a blur of social media and emails? Are the demands of being able to multitask all the time stopping us from filtering out everything that is irrelevant to what we are doing in the moment, and instead taking our eyes constantly off what is important? If all that resonates with you, it appears you are not alone. In an interesting book by author and professor Cal Newport entitled Deep Work (Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World), he argues that the ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained. Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, allowing you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. According to his research, it appears deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship, being completely present in completing the task at hand. He believes that deep work could be our ‘super power’ in an increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. Something to think about this morning as we look to find an edge!
In business there is often the temptation to think that what we are creating, our products and services, are potentially relevant to everyone out there in some way or another, but in reality this is very rarely the case. The trick is to embrace the fact that you have a specific audience or market you are trying to reach, and instead get to know exactly what it needs, and what it’s pain points are that you can solve. It’s critical to know your market and audience as well as you know your own space if you are really going to reach out and connect. Not just that, it’s key to gain these insights in order to innovate and create new products and services, and at the same time create new market opportunities where your own business can find its niche. So spend time and effort really getting to know your target audience inside out and start thinking about how your business and its offerings are going to make a difference.
They often say that if you want something badly enough, that becomes the driving force to help you to try and attain it. It’s the same in business as an entrepreneur - you need to have driving ambition to help you to achieve the success you crave. Often, the difference between success and failure is just how much you want it and how hard you are prepared to work to get it. Having that ambition doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in life and business, but it will keep you going through the tough times and keep you motivated on your journey. If you look at those entrepreneurs who have achieved significant success, the one thing they share is the drive to succeed, to keep going no matter what hurdles they encounter, to ignore the doubters and keep chasing the dream. There is a famous quote that says: “Ambition is the first step to success. The second step is action.” How true!
Do you often experience the feeling that your life and business, both of which are closely intertwined when you are an entrepreneur, are just getting far too cluttered, too complicated? Do you often long for things to be just a bit simpler? If the answer is yes, then you are like many other entrepreneurs out there - but remember that simple doesn’t necessarily equate to small. It’s all about focusing on creating products and services that are simple to implement for the customer, and simple to administer in the most stress-free way for the business as a whole. This ‘keeping it simple’ approach also means that you can declutter your mind and the way you do things as an entrepreneur, giving you the freedom to think with more clarity, and make decisions that are unfettered by too many other extraneous issues and pressures. After all, when our lives are simplified and decluttered, we tend not to overthink things and instead gain essential perspective, a key factor for business success.
If as a startup you are getting to the point where there are simply too many things to do but not enough hours in the day, then it might be time to consider outsourcing some of the key tasks that are a hassle. After all, it’s not just a question of working harder or more hours, but in working smarter. So why not identify those specific tasks that are negatively affecting your productivity and efficiency, and that are not your own personal strengths - it could be routine administration, book-keeping, sales, social media management, or a combination of any of those specialist activities. Then, bring in the skills and resources you need, as and when you need them, and while you are at it, why not also consider outsourcing to another woman entrepreneur - it’s a win-win. By outsourcing some of the work you need to do but don’t enjoy or have time to do effectively, you are freeing up time to actually focus on growing your business and delivering to your clients.
As entrepreneurs, the chances are we have all experienced those moments as we build our businesses when we have a particular challenge to solve, but we just can’t see a solution. At these times, perspective is a great thing, but the trick is finding that perspective when you need it. Sometimes you just need to step back, break a challenge down into different viewpoints, and then assess the best way of solving it. So here is a practical approach to gaining perspective. Look at the challenge or problem you are trying to address. Then, create five boxes which represent different possible ways of viewing the problem. The first box should contain all the facts, nothing more, simply and starkly presented. The second box should contain all the possible negative things that could happen if you don’t address the problem. The third box should contain all the positive next steps if an effective solution is found. The fourth box should contain ironically all the ‘out-of-the-box’ possible ways of addressing the challenge. The fifth box should contain all the low risk possible solutions. Once you have all these different boxes in front of you, to help you to declutter your thoughts and lay out the possible choices, it may be easier to get the perspective you need to make the right decisions.
As any entrepreneur knows only too well, time is a precious commodity and one that needs to be managed really well if key business goals and objectives are to be achieved. But often we allow ourselves to be derailed time-wise by other people and their priorities instead of keeping focused on our own. As Steve Jobs famously said: “Average people allow time to impose its will on them; exceptional people impose their will on their time. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” There will always be seemingly impossible deadlines to meet, and there will inevitably be innumerable tasks to juggle, but it’s about getting things done as quickly and effectively as possible in order to free up the time you really need to focus on the things that add the most value to your life and business.
If there is one thing I know from the entrepreneurial journey in life, it’s that it’s essential to stay positive, and that means banishing negative thoughts, and distancing yourself from negative people who are just not supportive of what you are trying to do. Successful entrepreneurship to a large extent is all about confidence, and to be confident you need to be positive in your thoughts and actions, and also have positive people around you to back you and encourage you. So do yourself a big favor- take a hard look at yourself and where you are right now on your entrepreneurial journey. Ask yourself the question - what makes you have negative thoughts? Is it that you think you might fail? Or perhaps you doubt your abilities or talents in business? Or maybe you are experiencing huge feelings of guilt at not having achieved your goals as an entrepreneur but having put your family and friends through the ups and downs of your business without seeing much reward yet? The point is that there will always be challenges, there will always be uncertainty, there will always be times when you question your life choice to be an entrepreneur. But ultimately, it’s easier and so much more enjoyable to make this entrepreneurial journey when you focus on the positive and banish the negatives.
At the beginning of the year, it’s always good to assess your personal skills levels and to see if there is anything you need to improve upon or learn anew to keep you fresh and to equip you for specific challenges you will encounter on your business journey ahead. So why not take some time to look at your business action plan for 2017, look at each of your goals, and then assess really honestly if you need to enhance your knowledge or expertise through some focused training and development. Remember, it doesn’t always need to be a formal development programme - sometimes it can be doing some research on a key skills area, reading books or online training manuals to address a specific area of weakness, or taking an online development programme. Whatever approach you take, it’s always good to keep refreshing your skills and staying on top of the latest thinking and ways of doing things.
Everyone understands and appreciates the power of networks, they have been used for years to make things happen in the world, in our society, and in business. We have probably all heard about and encountered ‘the old boys network’ at some point in our lives and careers. It therefore makes sense that in the hugely competitive world of entrepreneurship, there are lessons to be learned from how networks can really support our entrepreneurial journeys. Not just in terms of opening doors and contacts for future business, but more from an encouragement perspective - and let’s face it, we need all the encouragement we can get. So, let’s make 2017 the year when we genuinely support one another as women entrepreneurs, no matter where in the world we are, what business sectors we are operating in, or how successful or otherwise our business ventures are. We can all learn from one another, we can take strength from our shared experiences, we can celebrate our ups and commiserate over our downs, and above all, we can just be there for one another to make a difference.
It’s still early in the new year but do you find you are still in vacation mode, not quite on your game yet and inevitably thinking you can put off fulfilling certain key tasks until tomorrow, or next week, or next month? Procrastination really is a negative hurdle that gets in the way of achieving success, so to start this new year in the right spirit, it’s better to get focused on the doing, not the excuse making. And let’s face it, procrastinating always takes more effort, particularly as it makes us feel guilty about what we should be doing. The well known US motivational speaker and writer, Denis Waitley, said: “Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, it carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the ‘someday I’ll’ philosophy.” Wise words, but have you also noticed that when you focus and you are very near to completing a particular task, you are motivated to reach the finish line? So what are you waiting for, stop procrastinating, just do it!
As entrepreneurs, we have probably all been there at some time or another - that point where our creativity in business seems to hit a roadblock and we are devoid of new ideas or new ways of doing things. However, there is no need to panic in these situations. One of the best ways of giving your creativity a real boost is through collaboration and bouncing ideas off other people who each bring something different to the table - and then it’s amazing how often new ideas emerge. As the hugely creative musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams says: “Collaborate with people you can learn from.” If you can open your mind and embrace the power of collaboration and being open to continually learning from others, then great things can be achieved. Collaboration is the spark which ignites innovative, out of the box thinking as a result of being surrounded with like-minded people who constantly push the envelope.
At the start of a new year it seems like there is all the time in the world to get things done, to create the next product, to build a brand, etc. But it’s easy to lose sight of what you are working towards with so much going on - it’s essential to keep the big picture in focus at all times. So do what the most successful entrepreneurs around the world do - check your day to day tasks and how you prioritize them by allocating them to a key goal you have to achieve as part of your big picture thinking. This requires discipline, but your business will thank you for it, as you will be constantly checking your actions in line with what the business needs you to achieve in order to thrive and grow. As Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group says, “Keep your eye on the bigger picture, but don't slip on attention to detail.”
How often do you hear people say “it’s impossible” when faced with a difficulty in life or a hurdle in business? Probably more often than you would like, but in the world of entrepreneurship, nothing is impossible. It might be hard (very hard at times), it will often be challenging, it will possibly test your willpower to the limits, but the chances are it won’t be impossible. It’s all a matter of how you look at life and how you approach it. The legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, had an inspirational take on the subject, and was definitely an example of someone who defied the notion of impossible. He famously said: “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Words to inspire the next time you think something on your entrepreneurial journey is impossible.
If there is one thing we can never take for granted, it’s our customers. They are hard won, valued and hard to get back if we lose them. We need to take great care of the customers we have, and we constantly need to be on the lookout for our next customers who might be interested in what we have to sell. But we can’t just expect them to come and find us, just because we think we have great products or services to offer - it takes work, hard work, and constant work. Think about it - in our personal lives, we wouldn’t spend huge amounts of time, effort and money organizing the most wonderful party, and then not actively invite people to attend, instead just expecting them to hear about it by word of mouth and then come along. But often entrepreneurs underestimate the amount of time required to market to customers each and every day, in order to ensure the pipeline of orders and work continues to flow, and the company grows as a result. Consistent marketing to customers is an important habit to create, and like most habits, it needs to happen each and every day without fail in order to make the biggest impact. The marketplace is full of sales noise, competitors vying for ears, eyes and attention, and its essential that we ensure our brands, products and services are kept top of mind amongst the existing customers we are trying to keep or the new ones we are trying to win over. Make customer marketing your daily habit - your business will thank you for it.