When women entrepreneurs achieve success, everyone wins!

Much has been written in recent years about the impact value chain associated with successful women entrepreneurs in Africa. They invest their success in family, community, and other women entrepreneurs and their businesses. They become critical drivers of the move to achieve greater gender balance in their countries. They understand the value of mentorship, playing an important role in ensuring the next generation of women entrepreneurs who are coming after them can learn from the hard fought lessons they had to experience the hard way. And, perhaps most importantly, they become much needed role models, showing that success is possible with enough determination, sheer hard work, and the right business idea at the right time. Africa’s women entrepreneurs need more role models, other women entrepreneurs who know at first hand how to achieve success in business whilst at the same time successfully building families, communities and personal relationships. That way everyone wins!

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The power of ‘The Repeat Customer’

I was struck by something on my recent travels I believe all entrepreneurs need to focus on in order to grow their businesses. This week I visited Berlin on Lioness business and it meant I had to change a critical part of my daily routine - my early morning cup of tea. This is an essential daily ritual I take very seriously! As is my want, when I’m visiting a city I like to get out of my hotel and explore my surrounds. So, on my first morning in Alexanderplatz in Berlin I find myself in a charming café sipping a wonderful cup of tea and better yet, also feasting on the most delicious vegan apple torte I have ever tasted. As all my fellow veganites will attest to, finding a good vegan dessert is a serious quest; finding one served to you as a breakfast pastry out of the blue is, well, heaven! Needless to say, over the course of the next three mornings of my stay in Berlin I started my day in precisely the same way: visiting the same café, enjoying the same super polite and efficient service, drinking the same wonderful tea, and yes, eating the same incredible vegan apple torte. Without planning it, or thinking about it, I had become a repeat customer for this business and will undoubtedly visit this café again when I return to the city. And, this got me thinking about the power and importance of the ‘Repeat Customer’ to our businesses. Repeat customers are our ticket to continually boosting revenue without having to put in a ton of work. In fact, experts believe increasing our customer retention rates by just 5 percent can increase our profits between 25 to 95 percent. I can assure you the most successful women entrepreneurs in our community all make this a focal point of their businesses. They genuinely care about their customers, they make sure they live up to their brand promises, they obsess about customer service, they turn customers into repeat business, setting up a relationship with a customer that will last for years. So, today think about how you’re going to grow this incredibly powerful asset for your business: ‘The Repeat Customer’. 

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Calling Africa’s women social techpreneurs!

As you may have been reading over the past few days, I have been showcasing Lionesses of Africa in Berlin, and some interesting new opportunities are emerging as a result. Here is some exciting news of the first of them from the team at Impact Hub Berlin which will appeal to Africa’s impact driven women social techpreneurs who are making a difference to the lives of women and girls on the continent. Get your applications in now Lionesses and let’s see an African woman social entrepreneur heading to Berlin!

Applications are now open for F>>Lane – the Vodafone Accelerator with a focus on social ventures that utilise technology to empower women worldwide. This 6-week program (06 October 2017 – 17 November 2017) is open to impact-driven ventures from across the world that focus on empowering women and girls through the use of technology. The top five ventures will live and work in Berlin, Germany, to rapidly increase their impact. They are provided with a living stipend, accommodation, mentoring, office space and access to funding and corporate partners as well as a global network of support. The program culminates in a Final Demo Day (on 16 November 2017) with investment possibilities by Vodafone, more investors and the media.

So who can apply? Impact-driven ventures, which:

  • Use technology to empower women/girls (They can come from any sector (e.g. health, safety, education, fintech, agriculture, arts etc.)
  • Have a proof of concept, and
  • Operate under a more-than-profit business model.

What’s in it for the venture? The selected venture benefits from:

  • Stipend of 12,000 Euro to cover living and travel expenses
  • Access to funding through the Vodafone family and its investor network
  • Individualized curriculum designed to their needs by Social Entrepreneurship Akademie
  • Impact ecosystem of the Impact Hub network with over 15,000 social innovators
  • Corporate partner Vodafone worldwide with access to networks and technology
  • Personal mentor who is a successful entrepreneur and has experience in building a business.

Applications are open until 24th of July, 12.00 PM (CET). Apply here

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The world is your marketplace

I was fortunate last evening to find myself in the company of around 350 leading businesswomen, entrepreneurs, government decision makers and global influencers, at an amazing women’s networking event in Berlin. Hosted by the visionary and energetic German Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, Brigitte Zypries, the event aimed to bring these women game-changers together to talk about the challenges and opportunities for women in the country to collaborate, to share ideas and experiences on a wide range of socio-economic topics, and of course to network. I was invited to be the keynote speaker, sharing the story of Lionesses of Africa and introducing the women gathered to the opportunities to support, and do business with, the millions of women entrepreneurs on the African continent who are creating world class products and ready to do business globally. The reception received was wonderfully enthusiastic, and demonstrated a real desire to know more about Africa’s women entrepreneurs, the unique products and services being created on the continent, and the impact they are making. The event was another important reminder that the world is one big marketplace with so many opportunities waiting for those women entrepreneurs in Africa who are tenacious and have ambitions to build brands and businesses that can truly go global.

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Success takes hard work and a long timeframe

I’ve written about this subject before, but the fact is there is very seldom an overnight success in business, and that’s something that everyone starting out on their entrepreneurial journey should think about in the early days, no matter what the aspirations are. I was reminded of this again today when I was reading an article which talked about the Amazon business success story. Founder Jeff Bizos made an interesting comment about his company’s rise to the stellar success it is today. He said: “In order for innovative ideas to bear fruit, companies need to be willing to wait for 5–7 years, and most companies don’t take that time horizon.” He’s right of course, the norm is for a much longer time horizon for a business idea to start realizing the dreams set out for it by the pioneer behind that business and brand. Talk to any large-scale successful entrepreneur and the chances are they will tell you that they didn’t go into business thinking about a get rich quick scheme, instead they were looking to build a sustainable business, one that could grow organically, adapting along the way to deal with changing market conditions and consumer attitudes. So the question you have to ask yourself as an entrepreneur is, are you in it for the long haul?

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Nominate the most inspiring women in tech in South Africa

The Kingdom of the Netherlands has launched Inspiring Fifty South Africa with an open call for nominations for inspiring women entrepreneurs in South Africa working in the different spheres of the technology and innovation sector. Inspiring Fifty is a Dutch based non-profit organisation that showcases inspiring female role models in the technology industry in the Netherlands, France, Europe and the Nordics. Built on the core philosophy ”If she can see it, she can be it”, Inspiring Fifty annually awards the 50 most inspiring women in the technology sector with the aim of providing a platform that brings more visibility to the achievements of women in the innovation and technology sector. Inspiring Fifty has now partnered with the Kingdom of the Netherlands to launch the initiative on the African continent, creating the first platform of inspiring women in technology outside Europe. To meet the criteria, a nominee has to be a founder of a technology company; or hold a position in a C-Level position in a technology company; or be an influencer, academic or politician in the technology or innovation space. Inspiring Fifty encourages South Africans and the technology ecosystem to nominate their most inspiring female role models. Role models can be nominated through www.cocreatesa.nl Deadline for nominations is 24 June 2017.

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Invest in networking, it’s good for business

Are you one of those people who can comfortably walk into any room full of strangers and immediately start networking? If so, you are lucky, not everyone has the confidence to do it, and for many people it can be a daunting prospect. But it can be easier to be a good networker with a mindshift, some good planning, and a good dose of old fashioned gumption. So, here are a few tips to move your networking into top gear. Firstly, make yourself feel and look more confident and approachable by smiling, it’s amazing just how many more people will come up and talk to you with a great smile on your face. Secondly, plan your opening greeting and first few questions in advance, then you won’t struggle for conversation starters. Thirdly, remember to show real interest in the people you are speaking to, engage in eye contact, and ask questions. Fourthly, look to give value in your interactions, people will engage better with you that way. Fifthly, make sure you are attending the right events that will have the type of people you are interested in speaking to. Finally, have your short but powerful elevator pitch ready for those moments when people ask you what you do. And remember, have your business cards at the ready. Now go out and make that networking count!

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Persistence pays off

As entrepreneurs, one of the many hats we wear is that of salesperson. We are constantly selling and pitching our businesses, promoting our brands, selling our products and services - and let’s be honest, it’s hard work. And for many women entrepreneurs, selling doesn’t come naturally and can be pure hard slog most of the time. So what’s the answer? Well, it all comes down to persistence. According to research, only around one in fifty sales deals are concluded at a first meeting with a potential client, and the average successful sales close-out takes anywhere from 8 to 13 touchpoints. Today, the sales process is all about doing the research, getting to know your sales prospects, understanding their pain points in business, providing solutions, and ultimately, building solid relationships and trust. Persistence underpins the whole process, together with a never give up attitude, a thick skin, and a constant communication and engagement approach with clients. As Bill Bradley, the former US basketball star, politician and author once said: “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.” 

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Are you looking to cross border markets for your growth?

Take a look at the map of Africa - it’s a big potential marketplace for any woman entrepreneur on the continent looking to push the growth button on their business. But it can also be daunting for those who have never considered exporting their products and service offerings to neighboring countries, and more than a little scary a prospect. But the bottom line is that if you are not looking to the business opportunities that are on your geographic doorstep and working out how to get your goods to market, then you are holding your business and brand back and limiting yourself to a very small consumer universe. So, if you still need some convincing as to why you should start thinking about exporting to other countries on the African continent, here are 5 very good reasons to change your mind and to start looking at the potential of one of the fastest growing and potentially most exciting parts of the world from an export sales perspective. Firstly, if you are looking to keep up with or pass your competitors, then the quicker you look outside your comfortable geographic box, the better - if you don't, they will! Secondly, leverage the proudly #WomanMadeinAfrica connection to make customers take notice of the high quality, unique products you are creating and the back stories behind them. Thirdly, get more productive and get ready to scale up once you start to gain interest in these new markets. Fourthly, make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket and focus on one new market only - spread your potential risk when you put a toe into the water in these new African markets. Finally, do your research really well on all the new cross border markets you are considering before you start your in-country marketing - it will make it less stressful once you are on the ground there. 

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Africa's Growth Prospects Good for Women Entrepreneurs

The World Economic Forum has just published its much anticipated Global Economic Prospects report on the world’s fastest growing economies in 2017 and Africa features prominently, with Ethiopia topping the list overall. Ethiopia’s GDP is forecast to grow by 8.3% in 2017. By contrast, global growth is projected to be 2.7%. The East African country’s accelerating growth comes on the back of government spending on infrastructure. Tanzania and Djibouti also make the top 10 list of fastest growing economies. Overall, emerging-market and developing economies are anticipated to grow 4.1%, far faster than advanced economies.This rapid growth brings opportunities for women entrepreneurs in those countries and across the African continent to tap into, providing access to exciting new markets for their products and services. The trick is to gear these women-owned businesses up for growth too so they can fully maximize the opportunities that are opening up to them, and to help them to fulfill their potential. 

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Build a legacy business for future generations

Have you ever wondered why family businesses over the years have seemed better equipped to be able to go the distance and succeed, despite global economic ups and downs and other market and business challenges? Is there a formula for family business success that others can follow when it comes to growing a legacy business for generations to come? That was a question firmly top of mind at this year’s EY Family Business Summit which has just taken place in Monaco. The event took a forward looking perspective on the next 10 years, acknowledging that family firms are going to face new realities that will challenge even their strongest of features, notably shared vision, goals and values, strong internal support systems, the collective approach to getting things done. Insights from some of the most successful global family businesses looked to identify what the new competitive advantages for family businesses will be in the future and to redefine what success will look like for the next generations - and it's likely to be very different. One of the important take-outs from the discussions seemed to be that if you are building a family business that you want to ensure succeeds for generations to come, it’s all about constantly innovating, pursuing growth opportunities, and nurturing talent. 

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Human interaction is good for business

For many entrepreneurs it’s becoming easier these days to run an entire business remotely, online harnessing the power of great technology, without actually having to physically interact with customers, contractors and even staff who may be located anywhere in the world. That’s all good and well from a productivity perspective, but at a human level we also need to ensure that we have meaningful, in-person connections with everyone who is part of our business. It’s how we get to understand the needs of those who are essential to our business success, it’s how we grow as human beings, and it’s how we get perspective in our business and personal lives. We can use brilliant apps and platforms such as Skype, Zoom, Periscope and others to interact remotely, but there is often no substitute for getting out there, seeing a client, meeting for a coffee and a catch up, going to a conference, or just meeting a fellow entrepreneur for support and encouragement. As Margaret Heffernan, serial entrepreneur and author of the best selling books ‘Women on Top - How Women Entrepreneurs are Re-Writing the Rules of Business Success’ are ‘A Bigger Prize’ says, “For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument and debate.”

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Learning the art of reinventing a brand

I was reading today about the amazing turnaround of one of the world’s iconic toy brands, Lego, a brand I grew up with and loved as a child. This privately owned family business and brandspectacularly went from being on the verge of collapse and in $800 million in debt in 2003, to overtaking Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand in 2015. The company announced profits of £660m, making it the number one toy company in Europe and Asia, and number three in North America, where sales topped $1bn for the first time. Lego’s story has been called the greatest turnaround in corporate history. So how did the company go about achieving this incredible turnaround? Well, it took a long hard look at itself as a brand and at its product offerings, and then set about on a journey to methodically rebuild that brand and its products literally brick by brick, getting to know and reconnecting with its customer base. It changed its attitude and approach to the business, constantly innovating to remain fresh, relevant and ultimately fun. The lesson learned is that you can never take a brand and your customers for granted, and you can never stay still.

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Communication is key to collaboration

So you want to collaborate with a fellow woman entrepreneur to move both of your businesses towards greater success? Then it’s best to put a few guidelines in place before you start to ensure a happy working relationship. Firstly, ensure you have a clear set of goals or outcomes for your collaboration and a methodology to achieve them. Secondly, establish some clear and regular channels of communication to ensure you are both on the same page. Thirdly, formulate a clear action plan and agree on who is going to do what in terms of roles and responsibilities for any action points. Fourthly, ensure there is a mechanism for capturing any data or metrics from your shared activities, and then agree how that data will be used going forward. Finally, formulate a regular review process for your collaboration to ensure it stays on track. Remember, a successful collaboration is all about sharing the same values and approaches to the task in hand. As Henry Ford said: “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

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Get creative and cross pollinate 

This past week I have been meeting with a variety of women entrepreneurs in New York, all of whom come from very different business backgrounds, but share in common a fascination for Africa and the potential business opportunities that could exist there. What is interesting is that they all speak of collaboration, of cross pollinating ideas and inspiration from both continents, and as a result, creating something exciting, new and vibrant. It’s the same when I speak to women entrepreneurs in Africa who look to the US as being a potentially game-changing marketplace for their businesses and products, but hard to break into. Once again, collaboration and cross pollination is key. So perhaps the starting point should be talking about how, at a practical level, we can start to get women entrepreneurs in Africa and in other key business centres in the world, thinking about the power of creative collaboration and to start sharing experiences and ideas that can open up new business opportunities.  

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Start thinking big

I was lunching in New York today with best selling author and entrepreneur, Julia Pimsleur, the inspiration behind the book Million Dollar Women, the essential guide for women entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses to the next level and to $1 million revenues. We were discussing the things that hold women entrepreneurs back when it comes to thinking big - and guess what, it seems that often the biggest barrier for many women entrepreneurs is themselves. Over the past 20 years, women in the US have started nearly twice as many businesses as men, but astonishingly only 3% of all women business owners ever make revenues of $1 million or more - that’s in stark contrast to their male counterparts. The figure in Africa is even lower. So what needs to be done to rectify this? Firstly it’s all about changing the mindsets of women entrepreneurs - we need to start thinking about building significant businesses from the get-go, and then having the confidence, skills and the determination to make them a reality. It’s about building the right foundations, developing powerful networks, raising capital, and getting the necessary coaching and support. It’s also about learning from those women entrepreneurs who have built their successful $million businesses and applying those learnings to our own businesses.

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Getting over the dip on your business journey

Most entrepreneurs that have been around a long time will tell you that at some point or other, you will experience ‘the Dip’ on your business journey - that moment when you are through the honeymoon phase of building your business and brand, and you hit a proverbial wall. Seth Godin brilliantly writes about this moment in his book appropriately titled ‘The Dip’ and describes the inevitable time when seemingly overwhelming hurdles and barriers stand in the way of the desire to succeed. It could be when you run out of initial funding for the business, or you run out of time to get critical products to market, or you suddenly feel demotivated just doing the same thing day in and day out. But Godin believes that this dip is what ultimately separates the successful entrepreneur from the quitter, because at this point it’s all about sheer perseverance and the will to keep pushing no matter what. So, if you are going through your own dip right now, remember you are not alone. Try to remain focused on your end goal, don’t let your seemingly overwhelming fears subsume you, and remember a dip is temporary, you willcome out the other side.

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Conserve your profits for the future

Building a sustainable business requires careful, well thought-out planning for the future, and ensuring that precious money earned is made to work for the business, not wasted on unnecessary expenditure. In the early days, it’s essential to take a frugal approach to spending, knowing how to distribute money wisely and getting informed on how to best manage money kept in the business. There will be lots of temptations along the way, for example putting money into new product or platform development, which in theory is okay, but it’s essential to ensure that all the necessary research has been completed before going into production. A badly researched market landscape may result in the creation of products that simply don’t have the market size to be viable, and as a result, wasting precious time and resources. Try to stay nimble in the early days - it’s not about renting expensive offices or factory spaces, or hiring lots of employees, or buying expensive suits and cars. It’s about being agile enough to respond quickly and effectively to opportunities that present themselves, and keeping expenses to a minimum until those precious first customers, orders and cashflows start coming in. Conserving profits provides a much-needed cushion to prepare for growth and the inevitable challenges that will emerge along the journey.

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Open your mind to new things

Do you sometimes feel you are stuck in a rut, not able to see clearly or find solutions to key challenges in your business and in life, or to see new opportunities for what they could be - exciting steps into the unknown? It happens to all of us at some time or other. The solution lies in opening your mind - being open to new ideas and expanding your way of seeing and connecting with the world, expanding your perspective, experiencing new things, and therefore opening your mind to new possibilities. The secret is to start with a few mind-shifting steps to get the ball rolling. Why not get out of your usual work space once or twice a week and into a more unusual, creative environment, such as an outdoor cafe, an art gallery or sculpture park, a trendy co-working space? Why not take your next few meetings in an entrepreneurial coffee shop or tea room, where artisan entrepreneurship is celebrated and like minded entrepreneurs gather to share creative ideas. Or maybe make a point of taking half an hour each morning or evening to read a chapter or two from an inspirational book written by a fellow entrepreneur who has been where you are now. Sometimes all it takes is a few steps to open your mind to new things, and as a result, a world of possibilities opens up.

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Focus on what you are good at, and outsource the rest

There is always so much talk in the world of entrepreneurship about what it takes to build a million dollar business. Is it a case of understanding if there is a ‘secret sauce’, a cast-iron recipe for success, or if it simply comes down to sheer guts, determination, hard graft, and of course a big vision that can be turned into reality through a combination of all of the above? Julia Pimsleur, author of Million Dollar Women, and an expert on the art of thinking and going big in business, has an interesting take on this subject. She says, “There is one major difference between entrepreneurs who succeed in "going big" and those who don't. The ones who DO know what they are good at, own it, ace it, and outsource the rest. The ones who DON'T keep doing it all themselves and stay small, or worse, burn out and shut down.” So, if you want to grow your own million dollar business, take a leaf out of Julia’s book, and look at your strengths and your areas of personal expertise, focus on those and build your team and supplier network to provide the support that you need to fill in the gaps. Check out Julia's website for more insight, advice and tips to grow your million dollar business - www.juliapimsleur.com

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