Staying focused in spite of all the distractions

Everywhere we look there are distractions - our smartphones constantly encourage us to check on things that are happening in our 24/7 connected world; our team members want to bounce ideas around or chat about projects in a constant stream of engagement; our electronic meeting schedules remind us throughout the day of people to see and deadlines to make. We live in a world where there’s always another distraction to take us away from what we should be focusing on. But research points to a need to stop multitasking and working at a shallow level, and instead to focus our attention on individual tasks, and to remove the distractions around us until those tasks are completed. So here are four tips to cutting the distractions and getting the job done. Firstly, put your smartphone on silent and out of sight for the set period of time you have allocated to your task. Next, inform your team that you are not available for meetings or discussions during that time. Thirdly, switch off any electronic reminders or email alerts. Finally, be in the moment, just focus on the task at hand and it will get done quicker and less painfully.

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Focus on being productive instead of busy

Speaking about what it takes to build a successful life and business, best-selling author and serial entrepreneur, Tim Ferris, said, “Focus on being productive instead of busy”, and he has a point. As entrepreneurs we all have busy lives, that’s just a given, but if we really want to accomplish our goals we have to become more productive. It’s not about the number of hours worked, it’s about doing things that will move our businesses and lives forward. And, it all starts with knowing when your body feels at its most productive in the day - if you are a morning person, then harness those early hours of the day to tackle the most pressing jobs before most people have arrived at their offices. If you are more of an afternoon and evening person, then get your scheduling right to ensure you have quality uninterrupted time to work on your priorities, and squeeze in any essential meetings. Create a productivity checklist to review at the end of each day to ensure you have achieved your goals. Now, that’s being productive!

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The appeal of becoming your own boss

Ask many entrepreneurs why they made the choice to build a business instead of working for someone else and chances are they will tell you it’s because they wanted to be their own boss. And that’s fine, it’s a great motivation to go out and fulfill the dream of working for yourself. But the reality is that being in business means that you still have to deal with the challenges of working with clients who sometimes make you feel like they are bosses in the workplace. Deliverables and deadlines still have to be met, products and services have to be created and targets reported on, senior executives who are paying your bills to answer to. The trick is to ensure that you are the boss of your business from the outset, setting the ground-rules when you engage with clients so that they are a win for both parties. As a business owner, there will always be people you need to answer to, but there is a way of managing that process so that it works for you.

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Celebrate what makes you and your business unique

Women entrepreneurs often spend too much time worrying about the competition, and not enough time focusing on what makes their business more attractive to customers in the marketplace. It’s a common trait, but one that needs to be avoided. Competition is a reality, but how you approach it is what sets you apart in business. Celebrate what makes you and your business unique, and remember that no other company or entrepreneur has your story, so leverage that fact with your customers. Acknowledge that we live and operate in a new economy, one that celebrates sharing and collaboration, so perhaps instead of seeing other entrepreneurs as competition, explore whether there is the opportunity to share expertise and collaborate to win new business.  And importantly, stop comparing your efforts and results with those of other entrepreneurs. Everyone has a different business building journey they are on, so learn from others, celebrate and be inspired by other entrepreneurs’ success, and focus on your own journey. It’s a mind-shift that is needed, but one that is worth the effort.

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Building the perfect team

It’s said that a business is only as good as its people, and in a startup, everything revolves around people. In those early days of building your business and developing your products and services, it’s essential to build the right team, and often that’s the hardest part of the journey. Make the wrong hiring or partnering decisions, and it can cost the business quickly, but get it right and build a team that works and thinks well together, and it can be the fastest way to success. This is a fact that most entrepreneurs underestimate. A dream team is made up of people who bring the right combination of skills and experience to the table, but most importantly, the right collaborative mindset and a winning mentality. It’s not just about bringing in as many people as possible in the early days in order to speed up the process, it’s all about getting the right people to the table and into the team. South African entrepreneur, Emma Kaye, founder of Bozza, has some great insights on the subject. She says, “You can see your company turn in a heartbeat from just a couple of bad people. So the most powerful thing for me is choose your team very carefully because your team is you. Always employ people who are far better than you at what you do, and empower them.”

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Managing the hard slog and continual stress

There’s a big difference between starting a business and then successfully running and growing that business over time. It can be a hard slog with continual stress, pressure to effectively manage finances through the inevitable peaks and troughs, managing and developing your employees, retaining your existing clients and finding new ones, and still finding the time to innovate and develop new products and services along the way. It can be a lot to deal with, and unlike corporate employees, you can’t simply leave it all behind at the office each day when you are an entrepreneur. Stress management amongst entrepreneurs is a continual challenge. That’s why you need a really effective support network of fellow entrepreneurs, friends, family and people who can be there when you need them, to offer advice, a shoulder to cry on, a familiar face to have a moan to when the going gets tough, and a cheerleading brigade when you have something to celebrate.

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Be disciplined and reinvest in your business

Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that their businesses have grown and been sustainable over the years because they have taken conscious decisions to live frugally in the startup years and reinvest back into the businesses. It’s a wise strategy to adopt, particularly because so often one of the biggest challenges facing fledgling businesses is managing cashflows at critical times, and ensuring there is always a source of critical capital available when the business needs it most. But the temptation is always there in any startup business to take cash out in the moment, instead of reinvesting it for the longer term. So take some advice on this subject from one of the most successful women entrepreneurs on the African continent, Divine Ndhlukula, founder of Securico Security Services in Zimbabwe, one of the country’s most successful businesses. She says, “Don't be tempted to take cash out of your early-stage startup venture....when a bit of cash starts rolling in, have the discipline to know that it is not your money yet.  It is still the business’s money because you want the business to grow. So for you to sustain it and enjoy phenomenal growth, that anyone going into business wants, you need to reinvest all the little bits of cash that you get then you can be assured that your business will grow.” Great words of advice!

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Transparency and trust are key to business success

Building trust in your business, particularly amongst your employees, is a critical foundation stone for success. As the founder of your business, it’s so important that those around you have trust in you, your judgement, and your leadership. When your employees, your shareholders, your suppliers and your customers trust you, they are more likely to engage with the business. And that’s where transparency comes in - if as the founder of the business you are transparent in your leadership and your decision-making, then that in turn will inspire those around you to adopt your values in their own working lives. It’s really all a matter of practicing what you preach. It sends a message that openness, sharing, and collaboration are all core values in your business and ones that are adopted from the top down in the business. So if you want everyone to join you on this entrepreneurial journey and fully engage in all aspects of the business, then transparency is key to building that all essential trust that is needed for success.

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Collaboration generates stronger business outcomes

In an ultra competitive business environment where the challenges for women entrepreneurs trying to break through into key markets still exist, collaboration could be the key to generating stronger business outcomes. Collaborative, win-win partnerships with like-minded women can open up new business opportunities, strengthen business offerings, put additional power behind pitch situations, and ultimately speed up growth. When thinking about embarking on any partnership arrangement, many women entrepreneurs voice concerns about trust - they worry about potential partners possibly stealing their ideas, poaching their customers and their employees. But ultimately, successful partnerships are built on trust and loyalty, and it should be remembered that behind every successful company and entrepreneur, there is a network of supporters, strategic partners, and mentors. They appreciate the power of partnerships to bring something fresh to the business table, to fill the gaps where key skills and experience are needed. That’s why women entrepreneurs should perhaps look to complementary partnerships being the smart business decision to make.

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Own your strengths in business

Well-known author and entrepreneur, Sallie Krawcheck (read her book Own It: The Power of Women at Work) believes that the qualities women inherently bring to the world of business are exactly what make them great entrepreneurs in the world. From managing risk and complexity to seeing things holistically and focusing on the long term, Krawcheck says women are in a better place than ever to harness these abilities in the entrepreneurial world. These insights are supported in the latest Hiscox DNA of an Entrepreneur Report which found that the top three attributes associated with being a woman entrepreneur are the abilities to promote their businesses, to delegate, and to be patient - a winning combination. The study also found that women have an inherent sense of independence: 48 percent of women are the sole employee of their businesses, while only 37 percent of men can say the same. Women are also playing to their strengths through the types of business sectors they choose to enter. So if you want to get ahead in business, it makes sense to know and leverage your unique strengths - they could be your best assets.

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Africa’s women are using online retail to take their brands global

Read any global socio-economic development report and it will point to women playing a significant role in regional economic integration. But one of the most interesting trends beginning to emerge in Africa is the rise of women micro-multinationals. The digital world has made it possible for women entrepreneurs with small businesses and brands to expand not just in their immediate country markets, but also regionally and increasingly globally. Online retail has opened up opportunities to connect with wider markets, to build customer bases and distributor networks, and to export the goods and services produced to those expanded markets. This trend is good news for a new generation of women micro-multinational entrepreneurs who are digitally connected to a global marketplace, but who manufacture and produce their goods and services locally. This means that local and national economies in Africa benefit from this approach, as it strengthens global trade and positively impacts communities closer to home. This trend is reflected in the growing number of women entrepreneurs in the Lionesses of Africa community who are successful examples of micro-multinationals and who regularly tap into the Lioness Lean In events in different African countries and Startup Night! Africa events in European cities to connect to new global markets.

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Women are leading change through their businesses

Entrepreneurs are very often seen as leaders, whether they are setting new business or design trends, or creating innovative new products that shape future marketplaces, or disrupting existing ways of doing things. They epitomize the very notion of leaders from a business perspective. But it’s also interesting to see just how many women entrepreneurs are also leaders in their communities, using their businesses and their success as a means to help those communities to grow and thrive too. They say that the value chain created by women entrepreneurs is so much longer because they are hardwired to spread the benefit of their business success to others. They look at ways of tackling socio economic challenges in their local communities, they are interested in educating the next generation of children, and they are passionate about finding solutions to environmental challenges affecting those communities. These women entrepreneurs are real leaders, passionate about using business to make a lasting impact, and showing others how it is done. We can all learn from their example and be the change that is needed in the world through the businesses and products we create, and the experience and knowledge we share with others.

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Is your to-do-list out of control?

Are you in charge of your daily schedule, or is it in charge of you? If you are one of those fortunate people who is naturally organized around your schedule and you make it work for you, then that’s great. However, there are many entrepreneurs out there who struggle daily with their schedule. So here are five ways to help you get to grips with it, and fast! Firstly, shorten your daily to-do list - if it’s too long, chances are things will never get done and that just adds to the daily stress. Secondly identify your priorities for the day and make sure you tackle those first. Thirdly, if meetings take up the majority of your day, something’s probably wrong. Determine which people need a face to face meeting, and which ones can be dealt with online, ultimately keeping all meetings short and to the point. Fourthly, take control of your email, use an email scheduling tool, and set aside designated times to deal with your messages. Finally use a calendar application, making your scheduling much more efficient. This should help you to reclaim your time and maximize your productivity.

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Women entrepreneurs harness the power of collective knowledge and networks

Crowdsourcing has become the resourceful entrepreneur’s path to finding the right support and solutions when most needed, by tapping into the power of community and networks. So it should come as no surprise that women entrepreneurs are naturally talented at harnessing the power of crowdsourcing for their businesses. Think about it - as women we are no strangers to asking other women in our networks for help and advice on how to get something done, or where to find a particular product, or how and where to get the best bargain. As a woman entrepreneur building a business with often stretched financial resources, the ability to come up with creative strategies, access other people’s knowledge, connections, and resources is crucial. Therefore, tapping into our natural abilities as crowdsourcers and harnessing the power of collective knowledge and networks can be a real asset.

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Women are starting companies to better balance their work and family lives

For many women entrepreneurs, their business building journeys do not start with a ‘Eureka’ or ‘Lightbulb’ moment, instead they are the result of a measured and well thought out lifestyle decision to start companies to better balance their work and family lives. By choosing to step away from the world of corporate and instead enter the world of entrepreneurship, women have the opportunity to achieve economic independence whilst at the same time satisfying their combined needs to build family and business simultaneously. And it’s not always just about the money - although that’s an important factor. Many women are choosing to run their own businesses from home to better control work and personal lifestyle, and harnessing the power of the digital economy to help them to realize their goals. As creating wealth for the sake of it is often not their primary focus, many women owned businesses remain smaller by choice - and it works for them both on a personal level and for their families.

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Focus on your unique business journey

Women entrepreneurs often spend too much time worrying about the competition, and not enough time focusing on what makes their business more attractive to customers in the marketplace. It’s a common trait, but one that needs to be avoided. Competition is a reality, but how you approach it is what sets you apart in business. Celebrate what makes you and your business unique, and remember that no other company or entrepreneur has your story, so leverage that fact with your customers. Acknowledge that we live and operate in a new economy, one that celebrates sharing and collaboration, so perhaps instead of seeing other entrepreneurs as competition, explore whether there is the opportunity to share expertise and collaborate to win new business.  And importantly, stop comparing your efforts and results with those of other entrepreneurs. Everyone has a different business building journey they are on, so learn from others, celebrate and be inspired by other entrepreneurs’ success, and focus on your own journey. It’s a mind-shift that is needed, but one that is worth the effort.

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Keep growing your business network

A study published by McKinsey and the LeanIn Organisation found that typically women have smaller networks than their male counterparts, and this could be impacting on their ability to tap into new business opportunities more regularly. The study found that there were two reasons for this apparent imbalance. Firstly, women are more reticent about building extensive networks because they have concerns about achieving work-life balance, and see belonging to and building too many networks as negatively impacting on their abilities to achieve this balance. Secondly, women see networking in the way that their male counterparts do it as being transactional and not genuine, with everyone looking to build a relationship in order to get the next deal, whereas women are interested in building genuine relationships with like-minded people. The downside is that because women don’t view networking in the transactional way that men do, they don’t make as many connections. Getting the balance right between these two approaches is perhaps the key to making networking count.

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Women entrepreneurs tackle environmental challenges

The world’s environmental challenges are front and centre of global political, economic and social discussions and debates right now, with daily calls for innovative and sustainable solutions. And there is no doubt that major innovative thinking is needed if solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges facing the world are to be found, such as how to combat climate change, how to lower global greenhouse gas emissions, how to deal with waste in an effective and environmentally friendly way, and how to preserve biodiversity in the environment. And it’s everyone’s problem and responsibility, to be part of the solution, not the continuing problem. Africa is undoubtedly feeling the impact of many of these environmental challenges, and that’s why a new generation of innovative women eco-preneurs is emerging from the continent with practical solutions. They are building sustainable recycling businesses to deal with waste management challenges in some of the continent’s biggest cities; they are building companies that create world-class products using recycled plastic as their base materials; and they are tackling invasive weed infested waterways by using them as a source of new materials for beautiful products that the world wants. This is the age of Africa’s women eco-preneurs who are making a real difference to the environment through their high impact sustainable business models.

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Connecting online to new global markets

The digital world has made it possible for women entrepreneurs with small businesses and brands to expand not just in their immediate country markets, but also regionally and increasingly globally.  Online retail has opened up opportunities to connect with wider markets, to build customer bases and distributor networks, and to export the goods and services produced to those expanded markets. This trend is good news for a new generation of women micro-multinational entrepreneurs who are digitally connected to a global marketplace, but who manufacture and produce their goods and services locally. This means that local and national economies in Africa benefit from this approach, as it strengthens global trade and positively impacts communities closer to home. This trend is reflected in the growing number of women entrepreneurs in the Lionesses of Africa community who are successful examples of micro-multinationals and who regularly tap into the Lioness Lean In events in different African countries and Startup Night! Africa events in European cities to connect to new global markets.

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Are you building a a caring company?

In today’s business world you can have the best products and services, but if your brand ethos is not built on a foundation of a caring company, one that does business but also does good, then your business may not be sustainable. Many research studies have found that today’s consumers are much more likely to make conscious purchasing decisions based on their connection to brands that are caring and committed to good causes. This is certainly the case for the increasingly influential millennial and Gen Z consumers, who take a very different approach to their purchasing decisions. You only have to look at the huge success of purpose-driven brands such as Toms, Warby Parker and Patagonia to see that their back-stories resonate with and influence these consumers directly. Social responsibility makes an emotional connection with customers and today it’s not a nice to have, but a must-have in business.  

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