"It's better to be a lioness for a day than a sheep all your life!"
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.
Pick up any magazine on entrepreneurship, or watch the news of the latest startup sensation making waves in Silicon Valley, and you would be tempted to think that the most successful businesses are built by young whizz-kid founders. But a group of economics researchers in the US have conducted a major new study into the starting age of founders of high-growth startups, and are debunking that myth. It appears that the average age is about 41.9 years of age among all startups that hire at least one employee. Among the top 0.1 percent of highest-growth startups, that average age moves up to 45 years old. Another interesting finding from the research was that older entrepreneurs appear correlated with better startup performance. For example, the 1,700 founders of the fastest growing new ventures interviewed in the US for the research had an average age of 45, compared to 43.7 for the top 1% and 42.1 for the top 5%. All of which would seem to suggest that for older entrepreneurs, with age comes wisdom, and at a practical level, experience in their respective business fields, all of which seems to improve the changes of high growth startup success.
How often as an entrepreneur do you find yourself spending precious time re-hashing mistakes or bad decisions you have made - over and over again? You are not alone! It seems that one of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to do is to stop pressing the replay button and to let that mistake or decision go once it has been made. It’s all about mindset - it’s important to learn from our mistakes and our errors of judgement, but then to move quickly on, incorporating those learnings as we go. As tech entrepreneur and founder of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell, says: “Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.” Something to remember when you are tempted to press that replay button in your head and relive your latest mistake.
It can happen to the best of entrepreneurs - that period of time in business when you know it’s important to keep things fresh and to ensure products and services stay relevant and interesting to your customers, but your creativity dries up! New ideas suddenly refuse to appear, inspiration is hard to find, and you hit that proverbial creative wall, worried you will never have an original idea of your own again. The truth is, creative slumps are par for the course in business, and they can strike at any time. The trick is to find ways of getting that spark back in your life, and there are some practical methods to do that. Start by surrounding yourself with other creative entrepreneurs, get a dose of their passion and enthusiasm for their new ideas, be stimulated by the conversations you will have. Try something new, develop a new interest or skill that could help the business further down the line, set up a chat with someone whose creative work inspires you, and share experiences. Chances are, you will beat your slump, and if all else fails, at least you will know you are not alone.
Talk to any entrepreneur about the challenges they face in running a business and the list will be very long. However, one of the most commonly faced challenges is knowing how to stay calm and keep a consistent focus during the highs and lows of business. For example, we all know that great sense of euphoria when you make your first sale. It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s an endorsement of your decision to become an entrepreneur. However, it’s the opposite feeling when you can’t repeat that sale immediately and you then begin to question your decision. The reality is that building a business takes time, hard work, tenacity and ultimately a cool head. There will inevitably be good times and bad times, it’s all part of the journey. One of the biggest lessons to learn will be how to stay calm and focused, no matter what life and business throws at you.
Sometimes out of great necessity and great difficulty comes great success, and that’s often the case in the world of entrepreneurship. Oprah Winfrey said, ”Although there may be tragedy in your life, there's always a possibility to triumph. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.” In the Lionesses of Africa community, we often hear the most inspirational stories shared by women entrepreneurs whose successful businesses were born out of the toughest of personal circumstances. A great example of this is the multiple award-winning Carol Hien, founder of Carol’s Produits Naturels in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, who gave an inspirational speech at a recent Lioness Lean In event in the country. She found her way out of personal tragedy and desperate poverty by turning her skill for jam-making into a business. Today, she has built a successful and growing manufacturing and retail food processing business that not only takes care of her own family, but creates job opportunities for many others. Carol, and other women like her in Africa, are great examples of how to overcome a difficult start in life, and to triumph!
If you have ever wondered what advantage startups have over big business, its speed and innovation. Think about it, a startup has nothing to lose when creating a new product or service, which means they are faster to market and can afford to fail. Big business does not have that luxury, they are constantly worried about their brand reputation and therefore they are never quick to market with new ideas. Just look at how startups have changed the world as we know it today with their disruptive approach. For Twitter to reach 50 million users took just two years. The Angry Birds app took a mere 35 days to reach 50 million users. Look back in history and things were very different. It took 75 years for the telephone to hit 50 million users and television, 22 years. So, disruption is the new normal today and it’s being driven by innovative startups moving at speed who are not afraid to fail and to constantly try new things.
Things are changing in the world of big business and it’s entrepreneurs who are shaking things up. A new study of the S&P 500 shows that 50% of the companies listed will cease to exist over the next 50 years. Many renowned companies who have been on the S&P 500 list for decades have given way to digital disruptors such as Facebook, PayPal and Netflix. It’s the same in the banking sector. Take a look at what is currently happening in the South African banking sector, for example, with the Big 5 banks seeing a new competitive threat coming from agile, disruptive digital banks such as Discovery Bank, Tyme Digital, Bank Zero and others. It’s a brave new world and smart startups are reinventing traditional business sectors by introducing innovative, digital solutions and business models. Today, no sector is off limits, and ambitious startups with the right products, services and ideas are able to breakthrough and find their niche.
Countless books and articles have been written on the concept of work-life balance. Chances are, we have all read more than our fair share of them as we try and make this crazy entrepreneurial life work more efficiently. But the truth is that if you want to build a successful business, there is no such thing as work-life balance. And we need to accept that fact and come to terms with it. There will always be huge pressures on our time, both from the business and from our families. Priorities will need to change according to the unique circumstances we find ourselves in. One day we will be travelling to another city or country to deliver a big business pitch to a new client in our role as CEO. The next day we could be at our children’s school play or sports day as Mom in Chief. As women entrepreneurs, we make our business and home life work for us, and there are no set rules. It will never be perfect, there will never be balance, and that’s okay.
We all know the phase ‘time is money’, but it’s true, time really is our most valuable asset. If you look at the habits of successful entrepreneurs, you will notice that they manage their time in the most disciplined way. It’s not a matter of how many hours you work each day, but rather how effectively you spend that time. And it all starts with how you kickstart each day in the morning. Positive morning rituals keep your mind focused and help you to deal with the stresses and strains of entrepreneurial life. Many entrepreneurs start with a few minutes of quiet meditation in the morning to clear their minds and get focused. Others use exercise to get energized for the day ahead. It is also worth taking time to organize your goals for the day as this help you to achieve maximum productivity. Great time management starts with a great morning, so get those early morning rituals into your life and you will be surprised by how much more you can achieve.
It’s easy to think of a business idea, to create a business plan, and to practice your sales pitch. But taking it to the next level and turning that idea into a viable business is easier said than done. Most people never get beyond the idea stage. Why? Because they procrastinate. In a world filled with distractions and time pressures, there are often too many reasons not to take the big step to launching a business. The idea of getting started can be daunting, and this in itself can lead to procrastination. You give yourself the excuse of waiting for the perfect time to launch, but the fact is there is no such thing as a perfect time. So, stop procrastinating and just start. Take that first step to building your business. Create your website, produce your first product, make that first sale. The road to success starts with that first step!
Mentoring has long been regarded as playing an important role in the lives of entrepreneurs. But some interesting new statistics have just been published on the tangible impact that mentoring can make. The 2018 Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship Report from the SCORE 9th annual Client Engagement Survey has just been published by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The results are insightful. Getting a mentor for five or more hours improves the success of a business. It also increases the likelihood of a business opening and staying open. However, even if entrepreneurs get only half this amount of mentoring, 41% of these businesses report an expansion in size or revenue. But it goes up to 47% for five or more hours of mentoring. So it’s a fact! Mentoring is key to business success for entrepreneurs.
As entrepreneurs, we are on a continual learning journey, and it’s always useful to get invaluable insights from other hugely successful women entrepreneurs. A media interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of revolutionary US underwear company, Spanx, caught the attention this week. She was asked about the biggest lessons she had learned in her business over the past ten years, and her answers were: fire faster, hire your weaknesses, and stay in your lane. Sara makes a lot of sense, and the continuing success of her business is testimony to those lessons she has learned. She is a big fan of hiring people with specialist skills sets that she does not possess. She knows what she is good at, focuses on those skills, and then builds teams of people who bring their own knowledge, expertise and talent to the business. We can all learn from this approach and harness the same self-awareness to recognize when we need help in the best interests of our businesses.
A great team is often regarded as one of the main assets of any successful startup business. So why is it that so many entrepreneurs don’t invest as much time, energy and money on building a great team as they do on building their products and service offerings? The renowned William A. Sahlman, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School and a successful entrepreneur, is a specialist on this subject and has written about it extensively. He says, “When I receive a business plan, I always read the resumé section first. Not because the people part of the new venture is the most important, but because without the right team, none of the other parts really matter.” Building a solid business foundation starts with people as the essential building blocks. When you bring skilled, experienced, energetic people into your business, each one contributing something unique, then you can bring life to your vision. Your team really is your strongest asset, so take it seriously and invest in it.
Have you noticed how many women entrepreneurs have a great product or service, but are let down by a poor or non existent business presence. Their website, social media platforms, and elevator pitch lets them down. Often, you hear the reasons for this situation being there is not enough time or money to spend on getting the marketing done. Yet, here is the sad reality. A business with an inferior product or service that is branded and marketed in a more appealing and professional way will always outperform a superior product with poor marketing and branding. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend a lot of money or hire professional experts to get your business noticed. Invest some of your spare time in creating a great looking website, or writing a regular blog - customers always head straight online when looking for products and services. Make sure yours stand out. Keep your social media platforms updated, and communicate with your customers on them each day, even for just a few minutes. And ask your customers to write reviews of your products and services - happy customers can be your best source of marketing. Whatever you do, invest in your business presence, it really does matter.
What separates good businesses from great businesses? It’s leadership! Even in the smallest startup businesses, strong leadership is key to success. Strong leaders create the vision, make the tough decisions, and inspire others to achieve the goals. As an entrepreneur and the leader in your own business, you need to continually develop your management and leadership skills. You need to find your own personal leadership style, one that works for you, your business and your team. You need to invest in your leadership skills, getting specialist training and advice to develop important skills sets. And you need a mentor to help you to gain the confidence and clarity to steer your business through both good and tough times. If your business is to fulfill its potential, it needs you to be a leader who can inspire and motivate all those who are important to its future growth. Are you ready to be an exceptional leader in your business?
In life and in business, nothing is certain. Crises will inevitably happen and it is important you find a way manage these crisis in order to protect your business. Here are three ways of increasing your chances of surviving a crisis. Firstly, prepare your business by doing some scenario planning. Look at the things that could go wrong, and then develop a contingency plan to deal with that situation. Secondly, remember that when a crisis happens in one area of your business, it can easily spread to another. So, create a plan that allows you to isolate any problem area and not allow it to affect your entire business. Finally, communicate any crisis to your employees and investors so they know what is happening. It will help to calm the situation. Ultimately, there is no one formula to dealing with a business crisis, but planning for it will increase your chances of surviving it.
Ask any entrepreneur about the biggest challenges in scaling their businesses and they will probably tell you that hiring people can be tough. Hiring is critical for any organization, but can be especially important in a startup business. It’s why the founders of many startups hire people they already know and have worked with in the past. But to grow, you need to hire people who bring new skills and experience into the business. So what do you need to look for to guarantee the people you hire are the right fit for your startup now, and several years down the line? Firstly, you need to find team players, people who can bring their skills and knowledge to any task or project, to help achieve those big goals. Secondly, you need good collaborators, people who are happy to work with their fellow employees to innovate and get things done. If you hire the right people for the job, your business has a better chance of growing and thriving. So, when trying to find that perfect new hire you should be lazer focused on finding a team player with a proven ability to collaborate.
Have you noticed how much talk there is amongst startups about how fast growth is a measure of success. It certainly makes for good media headlines. But a high speed business growth trajectory is not for everyone, in fact it is for the relatively few in reality. Researchers at UC Berkeley and Stanford have found that premature scaling is the most common cause of failure for startups. What makes more sense is to aim for slow and steady growth, which is ultimately more sustainable. There are some great examples of businesses that started small, lean and agile, but which are today huge success stories, such as the online ticketing platform Eventbrite. It was founded in 2006 and for the first three years was a very lean business before going after its first venture funding round. By 2009, the company had been turned down by almost every VC firm in Silicon Valley. The founders continued to bootstrap and work hard to build the company from the ground up as the only three employees. By 2014, the company was valued at over $1 billion. Now that’s a great example of that old saying, “slow and steady wins the race.”
Globally, there is a powerful industry trend underway as women of colour are reinventing the lucrative beauty and wellness sector, and this trend is being mirrored in Africa right now. A whole new generation of savvy women entrepreneurs from all corners of the continent are developing innovative new cosmetic, beauty and haircare products, specifically catering to the needs of women of colour. Not only are these makeup, haircare and skincare brands gaining real traction with customers, but they are also creating new manufacturing businesses that provide employment for local people. So what makes these products different and have such appeal in this rapidly growing marketplace? Traditional natural African ingredients known to have great healing and skincare properties, such as marula oil, are being harnessed in these new products and brands. Beautiful new product formulations are being packaged in a world-class way to have maximum consumer appeal. More beauty and wellness online shops, apps, and media platforms being created to specifically appeal to and meet the needs of women consumers in Africa. The $3.7 trillion global wellness and beauty industry holds incredible potential for the African continent and is a prime sector for job creation, manufacturing, and opportunities for women entrepreneurs to build powerful new businesses and brands.
We all know that mentors play an important role in the building of successful businesses. But according to a new research study which has just been published on the subject, 89% of successful entrepreneurs wish they’d had a mentor at the start of their journeys. And it makes sense if you think about it. Mentors help you to gain perspective, they know how to solve complex business problems, and bring a wealth of experience in dealing with key challenges. But that’s not all! Mentors act as practical and visible reminders that success is achievable, and that hard work and determination really can pay off. So if you think that it is too early to have a mentor when just starting out, think again. A mentor is a valuable resource to you and your business, and it’s never too early to have one on your side. As Oprah Winfrey says, "A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
Here’s an interesting statistic to think today. A new survey from Clutch has just been published which reveals that around 60% of small businesses didn’t have an official documented budget for 2018. This is in stark contrast to those businesses with 10 employees or more, where almost 80% created an annual budget. The data from the Clutch survey shows that growing companies understand the importance of creating a budget, while many small businesses still don’t have a full appreciation of the benefits of having an official budget. The survey suggests that entrepreneurs should create a budget if they don’t want to risk the financial health of their businesses. The added bonus is that budgeting helps small businesses focus and achieve their goals. For example, in 2018, 50% of the small businesses who had a budget stuck to their Q1 and Q2 targets, while 11% actually came under budget. The report recommends setting clear budget goals at the beginning of the business year and keeping an eye on those goals. It also recommends reviewing the business finances and spending every thirty days instead of quarterly. The longer the gap between each review, the higher the chances of the business going over the budget.
So here’s an irony! According to a new international research study conducted by Vistaprint, it seems a fear of failure in business actually means women entrepreneurs tend to succeed more. The survey, which questioned 2000 business owners across Europe, investigated their attitudes towards failure in business. A real fear of failure seems to contribute to female business owners making fewer costly mistakes and as a result building more sustainable businesses. Women were also twice as likely to believe the best way to deal with business failure was to pick themselves up and try again, as many times as needed. Other interesting differences between the women entrepreneurs and their male counterparts were revealed when asked what they could have done to prevent having to close their businesses. 44% of women said they could have been more strategic compared to 15% of men. 31% of women said they could have better developed their business skills and better planned ahead, compared to 11% and 14% of men respectively. This suggests that women entrepreneurs are better at intraspection and learning from mistakes in order to keep moving forward.
It may seem like common sense, but if you create an innovative new product or service that solves a problem for your customers, then you have the basis of a good business. So it’s interesting to hear that many startup businesses spend more time pitching their concepts and looking for fundraising money, than they do actually focusing on the product development. This was one of the findings emerging from the 5th Annual AESIS (Africa Early Stage Investor Summit) which took place in Cape Town, South Africa this week. The strong message from the event was that value creation for customers is the key to making good business and investment decisions. “The point is providing value. If you can provide value, you can make returns,” Wale Ayeni, regional head for Africa of VC investments at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) said. “A lot of time, people come to us with business models or plans that don’t understand the demographic of the mass market in Africa. Startups have to touch the lives of the majority of the population.” Good advice for all entrepreneurs looking to build sustainable, impact-driven businesses on the continent.
Here’s a fact that might surprise you - stress is a choice. The latest research suggests that as human beings, our emotional response to certain situations dictates whether we feel stressed or not. And we choose that response, so it seems that many of us are unconsciously choosing to be stressed. Here’s how to change our approach to stress. Firstly, tell yourself that stress is not real, it’s your mind that is responding negatively to a situation. If you are feeling overwhelmed, change your perspective by releasing all your negative thoughts and emotions, then look at the situation again with clarity. Secondly, take a step back from any challenge or difficult situation and look at it with a fresh perspective. Thirdly, if you are dealing with a stressful situation, take back your power by focusing on the positive outcome you would like to achieve, not on the possible negative outcomes. Your wellbeing and your business will thank you for not choosing stress in your life.
The latest 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) has just been published and it paints a worrying picture of access to economic opportunity for citizens of African countries, despite strong levels of economic growth over the last decade. Since 2008, the African average score for Sustainable Economic Opportunity has increased by only 0.2%, despite a continental increase in GDP of nearly 40% over the same period. This means “there has been virtually no progress in creating ‘Sustainable Economic Opportunity’, meaning it remains the Ibrahim Index’s worst performing and slowest improving category,” the Mo Ibrahim Foundation commented. Young people are being particularly affected by this phenomenon and are experiencing the practical effects of jobless growth. With Africa’s working age population expected to increase by 901.8m between 2015 and 2050, these negative economic trends mean it’s time for a rethink, otherwise the future could look bleak. The Index recognizes that most jobs for the burgeoning population on the continent will come from the private sector, and from a new generation of entrepreneurs who choose to build their own businesses and futures, instead of looking to big business or big government to be the solution. We need to educate, train and support this new young generation of entrepreneurs to be the change that Africa really needs.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the financial inclusion gender gap is still a major challenge, and the region still has the second highest gender disparity of any emerging market region. It is estimated that around 35 million women in sub-Saharan Africa have difficulty accessing financial services. Although some banks are making efforts to address barriers to entry for women, what is clear is that Africa’s banks need to create specific banking products and services for women, and in particular women entrepreneurs, to improve this situation. And, it’s in the banks’ best interests from a business perspective. Women owned businesses represent a third of all SMEs on the African continent, and it is accepted that SMEs are the real job creators in Africa. That means women entrepreneurs are a major source of untapped economic potential, as without access to the right financial support and advice, they cannot grow. If more banks in Africa looked to proactively close the credit gap and provide real financial access to women entrepreneurs, then the continent would thrive. Banking on women entrepreneurs in Africa makes sense on every level. It represents access to a vast untapped business pipeline for the banks worth billions of dollars. It also provides the financial boost that women entrepreneurs need to really build high growth potential businesses on the continent.
They often say that your business and your brand is worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it. But whether you are interested in selling your business at some point in the future, or you are trying to get investors on board now, it’s important to know the real value of the business you are building. So how do you calculate the actual value of your business? Hiring a professional appraiser is an obvious first step, but as a basic guide there are three methods used to assign value. Firstly, the asset based method looks at what it would cost to replace all the assets in the business and assigning a value to that cost. Secondly, the market based method compares other similar businesses in your sector or area to determine a value. Thirdly, the income based method evaluates pretax and after-tax earnings or uses another income metric such as gross sales, plus the value of the tangible assets and future growth prospects. It sounds complicated, but it is a good way of tracking the growth and value of the business you are building.
Here’s some news that might not come as a complete surprise to many of us as entrepreneurs. Despite all the challenges of running and building a small business, most employees have more fun working for small businesses than for big businesses. That’s according to the 2018 Small Business Happiness Survey which has just been published. In fact, 87% of small business employees say they are actually happiest working at a small business, which the survey defined as an organization with 3 to 49 employees. They are also more engaged in the business, which means they make a big difference to its success. So what are the secrets to creating happy employees in a small business? The top findings from the survey include creating a fun working environment; encouraging feedback and sharing of new ideas; pay equity between employees; and recognition for a great job done. Ultimately, its about making everyone feel they are part of the business family.
We take our cars in for an annual service; we give our bodies an annual health check-up; so why don’t we do the same for our business brands? A strong, healthy brand is a key factor in the success and prosperity of your business. It directly affects your ability to sell your products, to raise funding, to hire the best employees, and to grow. A healthy brand is an indicator of a healthy business. So here are a few questions to ask to ensure your brand is in good shape for the year ahead. Is your brand supporting your business strategy? Do your customers understand what your brand stands for? Is your brand positioning consistent no matter where it is used? Is your brand message resonating with customers? If the answer is yes to all those questions, then your brand is in good shape. If not, then hold some focus groups to get direct feedback from your customers and start making some adjustments to your brand and its positioning. You can then get ready to start the new year off with your strong brand ready to go.
Can you ‘think’ your business into a bigger, bolder, future, one that pushes boundaries and expectations? Susan Duffy, Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College believes you can. The potential for business growth often focuses on factors such as innovation, access to markets, access to capital, and market trends. But Susan suggests that if women entrepreneurs really want to grow their businesses, then it starts with them thinking bigger and expanding their expectations. She says that if your expectation is to build a $1 million business, your brain will subconsciously interpret data through the $1M lens. It will let in information that aligns with that goal, steering you towards achieving that outcome. In order to push our own boundaries of success, we must intentionally and regularly revisit our expectations and goals, and keep pushing those boundaries until we realize our ambitions.
These days, what’s the first thing people do when trying to find out more about you and your business? They check out your digital presence, of course! So, when was the last time you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and checked out your own digital presence to get that first external experience of you and your brand? We live in a 24/7 digitally connected world, so it’s important to have a strong, authentic digital presence, both personally and for your business, that works for you; that people can connect with and feel like they can trust. It should also be the first place that people can get to learn more about you and your business before they make that all important face to face connection. So if you haven’t checked out your own social media pages or your personal or corporate websites recently, then now could be a good time. After all, you never know if that next potential big client is evaluating your digital presence right now!
We all know it takes hard work and many hours of effort to open up new business leads and get new business relationships started. But it seems that many of us entrepreneurs also battle to make those potential new leads count by not following-up promptly after that lead has been opened. Now it could be for lots of reasons. A follow-up could get lost along the way as we get caught up in our busy lives. We may have every intention of calling our prospect but we get caught up in our business operations, and because we didn’t systematically schedule a follow-up in the diary, it doesn’t get done. Others may simply not want to appear pushy by following-up the next day, and several times over thereafter. Often when we don’t receive an immediate response to a follow-up, we assume disinterest and walk away, forgetting that these people are just as busy as we are and can forget to follow-up too. The bottom line is that you can differentiate yourself from your competition by proactively making the effort to diligently follow-up with your prospects and customers and being much more methodical about the process.
Have you noticed that when it comes to looking after our health, we don’t think twice about visiting our doctors or wellness clinics and getting our regular health checks, just to make sure that everything is in good shape. So why don’t we take the same approach when it comes to looking after the health of our businesses on a regular basis? A good regular business health check means you can stay on top of what is and isn’t working, what the biggest challenges are, where the majority of income streams are coming from, and what is working best with your marketing and communications activity. It all helps to ensure you are getting the most from the business. The other benefit from this approach is that you can also have a ‘fun’ check, seeing where you got the most enjoyment from the business in any given month - after all, we all embark on this crazy entrepreneurial life not just to make money and make a difference, but also to enjoy the lifestyle and freedom that comes with it.
It’s official - not getting enough sleep impacts on your productivity, which means your business as well as your life could suffer if you are not getting the hours of sleep your body needs. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need on average between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I had that much sleep, I think I was a small child! However, it appears that my approach to sleeping could be impacting on my productivity - and possibly yours too if this story resonates with you. I am one of those people who has never been good at sleeping, and being an entrepreneur means I tend to work long hours. Lots of travelling across different time zones also interrupts normal sleep patterns, making it difficult to settle into a good sleep routine. So on a recent plane journey, I decided to revisit the wonderful book by Ariana Huffington - The Sleep Revolution. She has some great insights to share, saying: “We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but, ironically, our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we put in at work, adds up to more than eleven days of lost productivity per year.” That’s a big cost to our businesses and our health. So, pass me the pillow please!
I was having tea with two of the women entrepreneurs in our Lionesses community last week in Maputo and the conversation turned to the subject of sales. One of the women is a natural salesperson and gets a huge thrill from meeting lots of people, selling her products and pitching her business. The other woman entrepreneur hates the sales aspect of her business and says she is not good at it, but as a startup entrepreneur she knows she has to make those sales in order to be successful. The reality is that a business is only viable if it successfully sells its products and services every day. In the early days of launching a business, as founders we are our own best salespeople. No-one can sell our business idea and our products like we can. No-one is as passionate as we are about our brands. So, learn to love sales and the art of selling. Your business will thank you for it.
Whilst winding down from a long day last evening, I was watching Sky World News and a really attention-grabbing feature on their Sky Ocean Rescue Campaign came up on screen. Did you know that 8 million metric tons of plastic turns up in our oceans each year? That’s enough plastic waste to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic every year. Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental threats facing the world right now. In Africa, a new wave of environmentally conscious women entrepreneurs is emerging to create innovative solutions to this challenge. They are building sustainable businesses that turn plastic waste into great new products, tackling not only a major environmental problem, but also creating jobs in the process. Read the story of these entrepreneurial eco-warriors here and be inspired to make an environmental difference in your own lives too.
If there is a flip-side to achieving success with the launch of a great new idea or product, it’s that your competitors will start to copy you. It’s a constant race, and one that you have keep winning to stay relevant in the market. I was talking about this challenge with an amazing woman entrepreneur in Mozambique recently who is experiencing just this situation. She was first to market with her highly creative product range, but is now seeing other businesses copy her idea. So how does she deal with the competition? She keeps differentiating her brand by constantly innovating. As soon as she launches one new product concept or variant, she is busy working on the next. By taking this approach, she ensures her brand is always the first choice of her customers. So if you want to keep the competitors at bay, keep differentiating.
I am a big fan of blogging, as many of you know. I passionately believe it is a great way for women entrepreneurs to make their voices heard, and to get their businesses and products noticed in a crowded marketplace. It’s also great for building their customer and fan bases. It has been wonderful to see so many of our Lionesses of Africa regular guest bloggers building their personal profiles and their businesses through their articles over the past year. They have shared their insights, their personal experiences, and their expertise regularly over the weeks and months, building up their followers and getting good business exposure. So we want to encourage more of you to follow their lead. If you would like to get your voice heard and your brand seen by our 730,000+ audience, then join us as one of our contributors in 2019. If you are interested, send us your details and our editorial team will contact you to talk next steps. Happy blogging!
I was watching a news programme last evening which reported on the demise of traditional retail shopping centres. How things have changed, and in a relatively short time. Digital disruption in the retail sector is now a reality, with consumers taking their shopping habits online instead of into big retail stores. The same thing happened with the global travel and tourism sector. It was radically disrupted by the arrival of Airbnb and Uber. Today we book around 100 million room nights per year and 40 million rides per month using these two apps. As digital consumers we want to do things differently, and that changes industry sectors. This digital revolution is great for women entrepreneurs because it means it’s possible to compete in the marketplace. An innovative startup business can get a product to market quickly online. It can build a huge social media following, and sell products directly to consumers, without the cost of an expensive retail store. So come on Lionesses, let’s harness the power of the digital consumer and make the most of this digital business revolution.
If you are anything like me, you are probably in reflective mood right now. It’s the last month of the year and the perfect time to revisit the goals we set for ourselves and our businesses. It’s wonderful to celebrate what has been achieved. But at the same time it’s important to look at what still remains to be done this year with the time that is left. So I intend to squeeze every last bit of productivity out of each day to ensure that this last month of the business year counts. It’s also exciting to plan for the year ahead, to explore new ideas, to get into creative thinking mode, and to set even bigger goals. In doing this, I will be keeping in mind the well-known saying, “if your goals don’t scare you, they are not big enough”. Here’s to pushing boundaries and achieving big goals next year!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie