"It's better to be a lioness for a day than a sheep all your life!"
The Edit, The Edit Daily and Melanie Today are the personal blogs of Lionesses of Africa's founder and ceo, Melanie Hawken. They feature community news, opinion, and commentary on a wide range of topics of interest to today’s women entrepreneurs on the African continent. They are your daily must-reads for relevant, thought-provoking entrepreneur news, with the occasional irreverent moment thrown in for good measure.
It’s estimated that big business loses an incredible US$ 75 million a year due to unproductive meetings that absorb too much time on the part of all those attending them, and those arranging them behind the scenes. And, it’s not just a big business problem - it’s the same for small businesses, even more so because a small business cannot afford to spend time and effort on activities that do not add real value and return on time investment. The trick is to get smarter with those meetings that really do have to be done. For example, ask yourself the question; “can this meeting be done remotely and online instead of in-person?” Online meetings are inevitably shorter (much shorter) and achieve the same result, with no wasted travel time and no need for longer, drawn out meetings simply because everyone has taken the time to travel there. Today, it’s all about organising smart meetings that deliver on objectives but don’t use up valuable time.
As the old saying goes, “Life happens when we are busy making plans”, and we have all experienced those moments in life and business when all our meticulous planning goes out of the window due to an unexpected event or occurrence. In truth, life never goes as planned - or very rarely. As entrepreneurs, it’s about being flexible enough to deal with the unexpected when it does inevitably happen. Whether it’s a supplier not delivering essential materials or projects to meet an important deadline; or your computer crashes with all your client and accounting data - do you have a back up plan?; or you get sick just before a big client pitch presentation - can your team cover for you and win that business without you? There will always be those unexpected curve balls that will upset your carefully made plans, but the trick is to expect the unexpected and not get derailed.
Here’s a question for you! When you are creating your business model and your business plan, do you think about how you want to spend your time, and how to get the balance right between work and life? Often, passionate and enthusiastic people leap head-first into a particular business model because they get excited about the service or product they have created, or by the potential money to be earned. Yet, there is a reality check to this approach as it may not bring the happiness or lifestyle that is ultimately desired. So before you finalise your plans for the year ahead, ask yourself a few key questions. Firstly, what is the cost of your ideal lifestyle and what are the logistics associated with that lifestyle? Secondly, how much time do you want to spend travelling for the business, or how much work could be done from one place, or online? Thirdly, do you have family commitments that will need to be accommodated and that will limit your availability at certain times? By answering these questions, you’ll be able to create a business model that fits with the life you want to live.
It can often be frustrating being an entrepreneur, and particularly when you are working so hard to move forward but when things inevitably take longer than expected to happen in the business. It’s a normal reaction, we want things to happen quickly and to keep moving at a pace in the right direction. At times like these, it’s important to keep focusing on the progress you are making, no matter how small that progress might seem. As the saying goes, building a business is a marathon and not a sprint, so you have to be in it for the long-term. So, celebrate the wins as you go, no matter how small, and keep your eye on the bigger picture. Think like a marathon runner and break down the business race into smaller, more sustainable, bite-sized pieces. This will help you to maintain your focus, your energy levels, and importantly, your motivation.
For many startup entrepreneurs, working from home is not only a necessity in the early days but it is also an amazing lifestyle improvement over going into the office every day. However, the downside can be that it is a little isolating. So, the trick is to find your happy workplace outside of your home office environment, one that is stimulating, has connections to other entrepreneurs, and that is convenient. Here are a few suggestions, with the advantages to each one. Firstly, the coffee shop - the favourite hangout of freelancers and solopreneurs alike and a great place to network and connect with like-minded people, plus the added advantage of great Wifi. Secondly, hotel lobbies are great places to meet with clients and do some general networking, plus the working environment tends to be a little quieter than the coffee shop equivalent. Thirdly, restaurants and cafes are good places to surround yourself with other people, to grab some lunch whilst you are working, and to connect with clients. Finally, co-working spaces are the perfect environment in which to meet fellow solopreneurs, to swap notes and experiences, and of course, to grab that all important coffee. So, where’s your happy workplace?
Everyone has them - the inevitable bad days in life and in business. Those days when, no matter how much you have planned for things to go right, they simply don’t - and it can be stressful, right? So, how do you get over a bad day quickly and effectively? It starts with banishing the negative thoughts, because these inevitably trigger negative emotions too if left unchecked, and they have a nasty way of pushing out all the positive thoughts and feelings. Next, get rid of all those behaviours that are affected by negativity, for example, getting irritated by those around you; or getting defensive when asked difficult questions; or becoming bad tempered about the smallest things. Press your personal reset button by doing some simple things - take a deep breath; smile; say something nice to those around you; act kindly to another human being; and talk to someone. Those positive natural endorphins will start to flow around your body and help to change your mood and your attitude to life and business.
There’s no doubt about it, market intelligence is an important component of doing business. But when it comes to gathering marketing intelligence, only 56% of small businesses with 11 to 50 employees dedicate someone to the task. And only 32% of businesses with 1 to 10 employees do so. In the recently published 2018 State of Market Intelligence Report, Crayon CMO Ellie Mirman says the data is there because of the online presence companies have. She goes on to explain, “Market Intelligence is quickly becoming indispensable for successful businesses, and understanding its importance can make you or break you in today’s ultra-competitive market.” The report identifies that holistic competitive intelligence is important when it comes to winning. 79% of those businesses questioned stated it is critical to gather the data in a timely manner, and when it comes to tracking competitors, 93% identified competitor websites, while 88% identified content accounts, 87% identified social media accounts and 84% identified news sites as the things they tracked the most.
Everyone talks about the world going digital, and the impact of the digital economy on our everyday lives. So making for interesting reading this month is the 2018 Global Digital report published by Hootsuite and We Are Social, which has some fascinating facts and numbers. Did you know that with a global population of 7,593 billion people, there are now more than 4.021 billion using the internet. In 2017, Africa recorded the most significant increase in internet users, with 435 million connected over 1,272 billion people. This is 73 million new users or 20% more than the year before. The strong progress is attributable, according to the report, to a greater penetration rate for mobile phones in Africa, spurred by rapid development of high-speed networks. In Africa, the Southern part is the region with the highest internet penetration rate (51%); North Africa (49%); West Africa (39%); East Africa (27%); and Central Africa (12%). This powerful, digitally connected continent represents exciting market opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Africa in 2018.
Ask any successful entrepreneur what makes them get up each morning, full of energy and enthusiasm to make the most of the day ahead; what drives them to greater heights in business each day; what keeps them going even in the toughest of times; chances are they will tell you confidently why they exist to do what they do - they know their why! They know their purpose in life and in business. Knowing your why is a fundamental building block to a successful entrepreneurial life journey. The leadership expert, Simon Sinek, famously said: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” He cites key examples from different eras such as the Wright Brothers, Apple Computers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who made their mark in the world not simply because of the uniqueness of their ideas, but because they identified their “whys” early on in their journeys and were able to successfully communicate them to others, achieving worldwide success as a result. So the question you have to ask yourself is, ‘What is your Why?’
Listening to the discussions and debates at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month has been quite revealing in terms of seeing how some of the biggest decision-makers, opinion-formers and market-shapers see the future of business. One interesting speech came from business magnate Jack Ma, the executive chairman of Alibaba, one of the world’s most influential l e-commerce businesses. He was talking about what makes his own businesses successful and what sets them apart from the competition, saying: ”If you want your company to be successful; if you want your company to operate with wisdom, with care, then women are the best. 37% of senior management in Alibaba are women. Part of the 'secret sauce' of our success is because we have so many women colleagues.” The core message from Davos this year has been one of recognising the critical role played by women, and particularly women entrepreneurs, in driving a new socio-economic future in the world. Canadian leader, Justin Trudeau, used the platform to launch a series of new women led initiatives, including the publication of an important report on the future of business from the Canada-US Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs.
There’s a great quote that goes: “Don’t go into something to test the waters, go into things to make waves.” Being innovative is part of the entrepreneurial journey, finding new ways of doing things or new ways of solving problems. However, the way to take an innovative idea and get it ready to launch in the marketplace requires a specific approach, which starts with solid market research. It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs simply develop an idea or product and launch it into the marketplace without actually doing some solid research first. Consumer insights are critical. Once you have taken that idea to the next level, and your initial research is telling you that your new product or service could have a customer base and be viable, then it’s all about Beta testing. So what exactly is Beta testing? Simply, it’s the last stage of testing a product with potential users before it makes it to the final marketplace. Beta testing is a great way of fine tuning a new idea, product or service, based on feedback from actual users. It’s only when you rigorously test a new idea that you will create an offering that can sell and find its place in the market.
Every entrepreneur knows that feeling in the early days when you have seemingly unending energy and enthusiasm, when you are brimming with new ideas every day, and everything is exciting. But how do you maintain that feeling when you are an established business, and when the demands on your time and resources seem unending? It’s all about keeping it fresh, one small action at a time. Try refreshing your website and your social media platforms so that your customers experience your business in a new way. Or revisit your strategy and set some stretch goals for yourself and the business - that will keep you on your toes. Or develop some new products and services to meet the changing needs of your customer base, and then find some innovative new ways of communicating those new developments to your audience. Or why not embark on a new customer engagement strategy and launch a new survey to find out what your customers think and need. Keeping it fresh in business starts here!
Did you know that on average, only 1 in 26 unhappy customers actually complain about a product or service they have purchased, and 91% of these unhappy customers who are non-complainers simply walk away. That is not a good situation for any business to have to deal with. After all, not only does this mean you have unhappy customers to deal with, but the likelihood is that they are telling friends, colleagues and family about those experiences too, extending the negativity chain in your brand space. The bottom line is that every successful business needs constructive, honest and continual feedback from customers. It’s important in order to ensure that product and service offerings from the business are constantly refined and improved. The challenge is to put effective feedback loops in place, not just from customers directly but also from employees, partners and other key stakeholders. As Elon Musk says: “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice.”
Ever wondered what it takes for your brand to really make an impression in the marketplace and connect with potential customers? Well, according to a report by the Harvard Business Review, it’s all about building brand loyalty by sharing values with your consumers, and making the right type of connection. In fact, 64% of consumers surveyed in the report cited shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand.That means it’s not the number of interactions a customer has with your brand, but the quality and relatability of the interaction. That’s where smart content marketing comes in. When you distribute high quality, consistent, value-driven brand content that resonates with a potential audience, it can increase revenue by up to 23 percent and at the same time increase the perceived value of your brand. It’s a powerful way of ensuring your brand makes that all important impression.
When you start out in business, you find yourself competing in the marketplace with much more established companies and brands. As a result, the temptation is often to offer clients the lowest price possible in order to compete and win business. However, this is a big mistake. Pricing your services or products at a bargain rate can negatively affect your cash flow and the reputation of your business. Instead, you need to price for profit. This sends a clear message to potential clients that your company’s products and services have a perceived value. If you offer big discounts and lower your pricing in the marketplace, clients perceive they are not getting quality, and this is a problem. Ultimately, customers want to buy their products and services from a reputable company that is profitable, as that means it is a successful company and one to be trusted. It is all a matter of confidence building, and pricing for profit is part of that process.
This month, global media reported that Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is now the richest person of all time with a net worth of $105.1 billion. The majority of that net worth comes from the 78.9 million shares of Amazon stock he owns. This year so far, Amazon shares are up 7%, rising by 56% last year. So, what is Amazon’s incredible secret to success? According to Bezos, it starts with its Leadership Principles. The first Leadership Principle is customer obsession. The company believes leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers first and foremost. There is a lot that entrepreneurs can learn from Amazon’s Leadership Principle approach, because ultimately it doesn’t matter how big or small the business is, it all starts and ends with the customer. So, the question is, are you customer obsessed?
Guy Kawasaki once said, “If you want to make a good first impression, smile at people. What does it cost to smile? Nothing! What does it cost not to smile? Everything, if not smiling prevents you from enchanting people.” In business, making that first impression count is important. After all, you may not get another chance to connect with that potential client. Here are some practical tips to help you make the right impression. Firstly, be present in the moment or meeting, put the phone away so there are no distractions, and focus on the people you are speaking to. Secondly, ensure your greeting is positive, your eye-contact is maintained, and your handshake is firm. Thirdly, do your research on the people you will be meeting, so you are well prepared. Fourthly, greet everyone personally and by name. Finally, be genuine and honest, don’t try to be someone you are not. That’s how to make a good impression!
Not everyone is a born salesperson and it can be tough for many entrepreneurs to sell their products and services. It can be especially hard when you lose a sale that you worked so hard to close. So how do you recover from what seems at first sight to be a rejection by your prospective client? Simple, you learn the art of the rebound, and you bounce back! It starts with firstly understanding why the sale didn’t close. There could be a number of reasons - perhaps the client didn’t see enough value in the product or service; or maybe the timing wasn’t right; or perhaps the pricing was too high; or it could simply be that the client was going through a change in priorities. Whatever the reason, move on, and remember that ‘No’ to a sale today, doesn’t mean ‘No’ to a sale tomorrow. Resilience and persistence are everything when it comes to sales - keep the client contact going, keep communications going, and wait for the right time to pitch again.
It’s always easier to hit a target when you can clearly see it, when it doesn’t move, and when there’s no ambiguity about it. The same can be said when it comes to hitting revenue goals for the year ahead. One of the challenges for many entrepreneurs in the early days in business, is setting clear revenue targets instead of just making enough money to cover the bills and pay a salary each month. Yet it’s always easier to hit a target when you know what it looks like. So, if you haven’t yet set your revenue goal for the year, start now. Figure out your various expenses that have to be covered, including business and personal expenses, taxes, savings and any investments you want to make this year and then calculate what you want to make once all those are covered. Then, ensure you look at that revenue goal target each morning to keep you focused on the task at hand.
Many of us grew up being taught that the best way to get something done right is to do it yourself! That’s okay advice if you are happy going alone in life and business. But if you want to grow, to expand, to push boundaries, then it’s essential to also learn the art of delegation. However, it does require a mind-shift - ultimately, it’s about learning to trust people around you, to empower them to run with your ideas, to give them more responsibility. It can be scary at first, but it just makes good business sense. As one of the most famous delegators in business, Richard Branson, once said: “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate. You’ll find that you have more time to focus on the big picture and achieve the things you need to do to make your product or service stand out."
It’s a human need - we all like to feel good about the work we do and the contribution we are making - to the world, to our businesses, to the lives of others. But when it comes to trying to attract the best young talent to your company and brand, Millennials genuinely like to feel their efforts are making a difference. They want to align themselves to a mission and vision they can feel good about, to a company that has shared values. They want to know that the company and brand they choose to work with has a purpose they can get behind. So how are you communicating your mission, your vision, and your company values, not only to your customers, but also to the new generation of people you would like to work for you? If your company has a mission and a purpose that appeals to talented people, they will feel good about getting things done and they will be ready to work hard for you.
You know the quote, “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough,” by author Kristine Stevens in her book of the same name about her solo journey around the world? It’s an inspirational story with a powerful message. As entrepreneurs, we need to keep pushing ourselves to think bigger, to think outside the box, to push the envelope each time we embark on a new project or venture. Doing something each day that pushes us, and sometimes even scares us in business terms, is a great habit, not just a great quote. It helps us to lose the sense of fear that comes with doing something new, something untried and untested. It builds confidence and makes us braver when the need is there to launch something new, or to break into new markets or sectors. It’s all about stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to new possibilities in business and life.
We all know that feeling - it’s the start of a New Year and already our email inboxes are full of invitations to attend events, give talks, write articles, etc - and that’s great. But, if we are to fulfill our goals this year, it’s essential that most things we get involved with fit into our bigger business and personal strategies for 2018. So the way to avoid getting distracted from our purpose, and to ensure we build momentum on our priorities from the beginning of the year, is to ask ourselves some key questions before saying yes or no to these requests. Firstly, will the commitment contribute to achieving key goals? Secondly, will there be clear outcomes that will add value? Thirdly, will there be tangible benefits in terms of brand or personal profile building? Fourthly, will it be rewarding from a personal development perspective? If the answer is yes to most of these questions, then it could be worth getting involved. Otherwise, focus on those things that get you closer to your goals for the year ahead.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as receiving great feedback from your customers, it makes all your hard work feel worthwhile. But feedback goes both ways. So the trick to keeping your happy customers positive is to keep them engaged and feeling valued. Here are four ways to turn your happy customers into ‘super fans’. Firstly, if you receive feedback, acknowledge it immediately and respond directly. Secondly, take the time to properly reply to any positive review. Thirdly, ensure there is a personalized sign off to any response. Finally, provide inside knowledge on any news, developments, giveaways, special offers, etc to engage the reviewer further and to make them feel part of the community. After all, happy customers who can be turned into ‘super fans’ become your best ambassadors.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams, once said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” That is one quote that will resonate with any entrepreneur who has a tendency towards procrastination and who is regularly time challenged when it comes to hitting key project or business deadlines. Yet deadlines can be our best friends in the business-world as long as they are strategic in nature. Strategic deadlines really do hold us accountable and help us at a practical level to move closer to our goals every day. They provide us with a timeline for action, and a framework for experiencing small wins along the way, instead of one big delivery target, if managed properly. So instead of bemoaning deadlines and seeing them as a huge pressure point, learn to love the power of the deadline to keep us focused on the end goal.
The late French sociologist and expert on social capital theory, Pierre Bourdieu, coined the term Social Currency, which describes the resources and abilities created and accessible through presence in offline or online networks and communities. He believed that great value can be derived from social participation through such networks and that personal Social Currency can be used to measure an individual’s online influence and access to influencers, derived from their presence on social media sites. Today, it has become more popular because tracking tools, analytics and other technologies make it easier to track and compare Social Currency. From a personal and brand positioning perspective, where getting the competitive edge can be crucial to successfully tapping into new business opportunities, your Social Currency could provide that extra USP you are looking for.
Curiosity refers to the thirst for knowing and the desire to explore and learn. It is perhaps not the most obvious trait that comes to mind when you think about what it takes to be successful in business, but today it’s essential. For any entrepreneur looking to effectively compete and succeed in an ever changing and technologically advancing business environment, curiosity is a key attribute to have. People who adopt a curious attitude in life and in business have the ability to think out of the box, to try new things, to explore unconventional ideas and concepts, and then transform traditional ways of doing business. Companies that nurture curiosity will see creativity increase, and as creativity grows, so does a company's ability to innovate and stay ahead of the competition. As the legendary Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Is this the year to take more risks in life and business? I asked myself this question when I was doing some research for an article I was writing and I came across a quote by Mark Zuckerberg who once said, “The biggest risk is not to take any risk.” There has been a long regarded view that women entrepreneurs are largely more risk averse than their male counterparts. But an interesting study last year by BMO Wealth Management shattered that notion by finding that women entrepreneurs are ‘risk rational’, taking more calculated risks in their business decision-making processes. In fact, sixty-one percent of women entrepreneurs interviewed for the report felt a business risk should be calculated, assessed and then managed well, indicating a confident approach to risk taking. Perhaps it’s like Mark Zuckerberg suggests, until we are willing to put ourselves out there, step out of our comfort zones and take a calculated risk, we will never able to achieve our full potential.
We all know the phrase, “if you can visualize it, you can make it happen”, but how often do we apply that to our business building approach? Many successful entrepreneurs use vision boards to help them to maintain their focus, keep them motivated, and ensure their eyes remain firmly fixed on their ultimate goals. By creating a vision board which clearly articulates what you are trying to achieve, in a highly pictorial and inspirational way, it brings your vision and your goals so much closer, and helps you to make them real. Ultimately, visualization is a powerful confidence building tool to keep you motivated and ensure you take the necessary steps and actions each day to turn the dream into reality. As Oprah Winfrey says: “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”
As an entrepreneur, chances are that before the holidays you did your annual end of year review. You evaluated what worked and what didn’t, what could have been done differently, whether you met your objectives set at the beginning of the year, etc. But what matters now, at the start of an exciting year ahead, is how you take those learnings and apply them to your new business strategy. The big question is do you know where you are headed, what you are trying to achieve, what goals you are setting for yourself and the business? Set that compass for a successful year ahead, have a clear idea of the direction you are headed in, and have your objectives clearly set out with targets in place to be reached. That compass will keep you on the right track, no matter what happens along the way.
Once again this year, we are dedicating each month to a particular business sector, showcasing women entrepreneurs from across the African continent who are leaders in their fields. You may have noticed that this month, our focus is on women in tech - those innovators who are pushing boundaries, finding new solutions to existing challenges, creating ground-breaking products and services that put Africa on the global map. If you haven’t met some of them yet, read about them in our special feature article this month and check out their startup stories here. Also, watch out for news of the digital women entrepreneurs we will be showcasing at the Startup Night Africa Berlin event in March. It’s going to be a great year for celebrating Africa’s women in tech.
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
I love early mornings - they are my most creative times of the day. I sit at my desk before the sun comes up, with the doors and windows flung open, listening to the birds waking up and singing whilst I write. It’s the same routine, no matter where I am in the world - although there is no place quite like Africa! It’s peaceful, my mind can focus completely on the task at hand, and for a couple of hours I am at my most creatively productive. Ensuring I build this quiet, creative and highly productive time into my daily routine, without the interruptions of phones, people and emails, has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an entrepreneur over the years. I can highly recommend it to anyone!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
I was chatting to a number of women entrepreneurs this past week during my travels, and one topic came up repeatedly in conversation that we all agreed with. And that is, some things will never go out of fashion, and in the world of entrepreneurship, one of those things is building solid, long-term business relationships with people who get what you do. They are essential - not only as they are critical to the continuing growth of your business, but also because they open doors to so many other people who can help you on your way. It’s not about filling your contact system with as many names as possible, it’s about building a meaningful network of business relationships that work on a mutually beneficial, win-win basis.
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
I was watching the launch this past week of the SpaceEx Falcon Heavy rocket into space, the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and innovator, Elon Musk. It’s the first time a rocket this powerful has been sent into space by a private company rather than a government space agency. The rocket carried a playful payload: Mr. Musk’s red Roadster, an electric sports car built by his other company, Tesla. Strapped inside the car was a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s spacesuits. They are expected to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years. You have to love the ability of entrepreneurs to think big - and importantly, make big things happen!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
Happy Valentine’s Day Lionesses! I hope that wherever you are in the world today, you are receiving expressions of love from those special people in your life. It’s always that day of the year when you see red hearts and roses in every retail shop window and on every online store, to mark the day. So today we are celebrating all those women entrepreneurs across the African continent who create special treats for this special day. If you are in need of Valentine’s Day gift inspiration, check out floral designers House of Agness in Mozambique, Niyacraft in Botswana and Blak Saffron Floral Boutique in South Africa; and our network of fabulous women chocolatiers across the African continent.
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
Hi! If you are a regular visitor to the Lionesses of Africa website, you will have noticed some great new guest bloggers who have joined our team. Their articles are really insightful and such a good read. We are now looking to expand our guest blogger team across the African continent, and we welcome guest blog contributions from those countries where we have large women entrepreneur communities, such as Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Botswana, Lesotho, Tanzania, and others. So, if you are a woman entrepreneur on the African continent and would like to become one of our guest bloggers, writing on your personal experiences and expertise as an entrepreneur, then send us a sample of your writing and your contact details to email@example.com and we will be in touch. Here’s to giving voice to Africa’s women entrepreneurs!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day!