Recognizing When to Pivot

A really interesting observation I’ve made from our Lioness Accelerator programme is this: just how many early-stage women entrepreneurs who come into our programme almost immediately recognize the need to rebrand, or pivot their businesses. This is a good thing! It’s one of the great benefits of being on the Accelerator, you get to deeply assess and question your business model, and more importantly, have your business analyzed by your fellow cohort members. However, it does raise one of the biggest challenges for any entrepreneur - what to do when your plans aren’t working out as you expected? It’s surely one of the most common reasons for startup failures - failing to recognize when your business isn’t working, and not pivoting to something that does. This is why ‘Pivoting’ has become such a hot buzzword in the startup world. The idea the experts say is to fail fast and pivot even faster. For many women entrepreneurs this can be daunting experience and often feels like failure to them. But, when your first business model is simply not working (and this happens more often than not), your chances of survival rests on pivoting to a plan B as quickly as possible. Smart startups that change direction quickly, but stay grounded in what they've learned, are inevitably the ones that have a better chance of going the distance. If you can embrace the need to pivot, keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new future you are ultimately improving your chances for success. Anyway, you can take comfort from this: some of the best known companies in the world had less then auspicious beginnings before they made their pivot to success. Twitter was a less than successful podcasting network named Odeo. Instagram was a confusing mobile app called Burbn that nobody used before it pivoted. Flickr was an online role-playing game, and Nintendo was a manufacturer of playing cards! So, if you’re pondering your pivot today, don’t worry you’re in good company.

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The mobile economy means opportunities for Africa’s entrepreneurs

The GSMA has just published its report on the Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2017, and it makes for interesting reading for entrepreneurs looking for new market opportunities on the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly a tenth of the global mobile subscriber base and is expected to grow faster than every other region over the next five years. The contribution of the mobile industry to GDP in Sub-Saharan African in 2016 was $110bn (7.7%); it is anticipated that by 2020 it will be $142bn (8.6%). The mobile industry is playing an increasingly important role in the social and economic development of the African continent. Mobile connectivity has become the main platform for innovation and the driving force for greater inclusion, while the mobile ecosystem, including mobile network operators and device vendors, contributes significantly to economic growth and jobs. Across the region, mobile is enabling life-enhancing services that directly impact the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), complementing the efforts of governments and their development partners. The mobile economy means digital inclusion, financial inclusion and innovation can thrive in Sub-Saharan African, and that means more entrepreneurs have access to opportunity and can drive their own businesses to be economic success stories. 

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Keep talking to your customers

So you have a brilliant new idea for a product or service that could be a real winner for your existing business or perhaps a brand new business, but you need to test it out before progressing full steam ahead towards launch. You can do all the preliminary desk research you like but there is no substitute for actually getting out into the market and talking directly to your potential customers. You will learn more from sitting down and talking face to face with your potential consumer base than you will from the piles of market research and competitor monitoring reports you are probably wading through. If you get up close and personal with your potential customers, they are much more likely to be honest and direct about your idea because you are asking for feedback and insight, rather than trying to sell to them. Surveys, email questionnaires, or analytics can all be useful in the bigger scheme of things when it comes to feedback gathering but they miss out on all sorts of contextual information. Your customers might say they have a particular pain point that needs a solution, but you won’t know which one are they really passionate about or which one truly keeps them up at night until you hear them speaking directly. It’s all about digging deeper and getting to know your customers, getting that all essential feedback. As Microsoft Founder Bill Gates says: “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” Bottom line - keep talking to your customers!

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Inspiring change, one person at a time

Amongst the many profound statements made by the inspirational Nelson Mandela, he said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Today is Nelson Mandela International Day which commemorates the lifetime of service Nelson Mandela gave to South Africa and the world. He passionately believed that every one of us has it in our hands to make the world a better place and called on everyone to inspire positive change, one person at a time. So today, as we remember Madiba’s life and legacy, we celebrate all those women entrepreneurs across the African continent who in their own way are making a real difference. They are building sustainable and innovative businesses that provide jobs for local people, opportunities for local craftsmanship to be celebrated around the world, training and development for young people, and most of all, inspiration that individuals can make a difference. So this Mandela Day, what will you do to inspire change and make a difference?

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Build your business one customer at a time

They always say that building your business organically, one loyal customer at a time by their positive ‘word of mouth’, is more sustainable in the long run because those customers in turn become your brand ambassadors. This approach is backed up by one of the most interesting entrepreneurial success stories in recent years, Airbnb. Co-Founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, openly shares the company’s story of building a sustainable brand and business, and so much of it centres on the premise that you need just enough people to fall in love with your product in the early days to make it marketable. He says: “It’s better to have 100 people who love you than finding a million who just sort of like you. Build your business one person at a time. Just focus on 100 people. If they love you, they will market the product for you and tell everyone else. Go to your users. Do one scalable thing, one person at a time. It’s actually so simple, that’s the secret… that’s all you need to do.” Great advice for all entrepreneurs looking to build a business - it all starts with one customer.

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Build your entrepreneurial life on your own terms

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t come with one definitive manual to follow that shows us how to build the ultimate successful business and manage our busy lives, every journey is different - and that’s what makes it so appealing and challenging in equal measures. The trick is to build your entrepreneurial life on your own terms and in a way that makes sense to you and your personal aspirations and dreams, not to mention your personal and family commitments that also have to be taken into account. However, it starts with a passion for something and a heartfelt desire to turn that passion into a viable business. Combine that passion with a great business model and a strong sales plan, one that is driven by you as the business owner, and your idea can grow wings. Next, harness the power of technology - there are so many great tools and resources out there for entrepreneurs to tap into, and many of them free - so use everything at your disposal. Build your great team in a way that makes sense to you and the entrepreneurial life you are building - that team could comprise of employees, freelancers, partners, volunteers, family members, who knows? It’s your team to build! Finally, remember that social capital is a great investment in your business, so get out there and start networking with fellow entrepreneurs who can help you on your journey. Every business building journey is different - your own entrepreneurial life is yours to build on your own terms.

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Being an entrepreneur takes a leap of faith

So here’s an interesting statistic! Did you know that in the US alone, 70% of Americans have a desire to become self-employed as either a freelancer, entrepreneur or small business owner - that’s a huge figure. But here’s the really interesting fact, only 10% of the active workforce in the US actually does anything about making that desire a reality. So why is there such a gap? It appears there are a number of factors holding them back from taking the leap of faith into entrepreneurship. Firstly, the notion of not having a regular, reliable source of income each month is too scary a prospect. Secondly, the loss of a daily work routine that is dictated by others is daunting. Thirdly, the need to step out of a familiar comfort zone and into the unknown world of business building is too risky a prospect. Fourthly, the huge burden of responsibility of looking after self and others, is too stressful. Fifthly, the perceived lack of job security is a source of huge concern. And finally, family and particularly spouses, are not on board the entrepreneurial journey. So the bottom line is that for many people, there are simply too many reasons not to become an entrepreneur. But for the brave few that have a dream of building a business, that all essential leap of faith is what separates them from the rest. As the author and inspirational speaker, Katrina Mayer, says: “A leap of faith is only scary until you land.” 

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Dig deep and keep going, no matter what!

It’s great to have heroines in our lives - women who inspire us daily through their efforts and their approach to life. I was reminded of this as I was reading the post match coverage of the big tennis match at Wimbledon yesterday. A packed Centre Court once again witnessed a piece of history when British sporting underdog Johanna Konta beat 2nd seeded Simona Halep to reach the semi finals. This might not seem like a big deal until you realize that Johanna is the first British woman tennis player to claim a semi-final place for almost 40 years at the birthplace of tennis, so as you might imagine, excitement is at fever pitch in Wimbledon right now. However, what really inspired me yesterday was one young woman’s sheer determination to win, and her ability to keep going despite all the critics and the armchair commentators telling her she couldn’t do it. When interviewed post match, Konta said she had dreamed of the moment since she was nine years old, commenting: “I have always believed in my own ability and I’ve always dreamt big.” This is a great piece of inspiration for women entrepreneurs out there who similarly have a big vision and need to dig deep to find the determination to keep going until that vision is realized.

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Focus on the positives

Flick through your newspaper, switch on your tv, put your earbuds in and listen to the radio, and it seems like all we ever hear are negative news stories. And we all know how draining that can be, it can affect our mood and our outlook on life in general. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Look and listen harder and there will always be a positive news item, however small, to provide at least some perspective and balance. It’s the same in business, there will always be difficult days and challenges to overcome, it’s part of the journey, and it can often be overwhelming at times to see through those to more positive times ahead. But take the opportunity to find the positives in each day - it could be a new business win, or a compliment paid by a satisfied customer, or an employee who goes the extra mile to get the job done - and focus on those instead of reliving the negatives over and over again. There is a great quote by the first US Olympic Gold Medallist Gymnast, Mary Lou Retton, who said: “Optimism is a happiness magnet, if you stay positive good things and good people will be drawn to you.”

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Ideas are only as good as their execution

Everyone can have a great idea, but not everyone can turn that idea into a viable business proposition - it’s all about the execution. As Mary Kay Ash, founder of the legendary Mary Kay Cosmetics empire in the US said: “Ideas are a dime a dozen - the people who implement them are priceless.” It’s true, how many times do you listen to people talking about an idea for a business that could be the next big thing, or a new product that could revolutionize our lives, or an app that could disrupt an industry sector,  but that never actually get past the idea stage? Why is that? Well,  its often really tough and time/money consuming to take an idea and turn it into a viable business proposition - and that’s not something many people are willing to take on in their lives. It’s what makes tenacious entrepreneurs different in the world - they see challenge and opportunity as part of the journey and are willing to put in the hard yards to make things happen. They understand that an idea remains just that until it’s successfully executed. The renowned award-winning Nigerian media entrepreneur, Mo Abudu, founder and ceo of Ebony Life TV, says: “The most important piece of advice I can give to any entrepreneur is make sure your ideas are grounded, make sure they are realistic and that you must be able to execute them.” 

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Start your day on an optimistic note

Life as an entrepreneur has its challenges, we all know that. But the approach you take to the start of each day often sets the tone for the rest of it and prepares you to meet those challenges head-on. If you start your morning stress-free and relaxed, then the chances are you are more likely to be able to cope with the usual stresses and strains that come with running a business later in the day. If you go to the gym and have an early morning work out or go running, it tends to lead to more energy throughout the day. And therefore it stands to reason that if you inject a good dose of optimism to kickstart each morning, it can help you to stay positive and constructive as you go through the ups and downs of your day. So here are a few suggestions to get you to see the glass half full this morning and give you the optimistic boost you are looking for. Why not put your earphones on and listen to your favorite motivational entrepreneur speaker podcast or audiobook on your way to work this morning; or choose a favorite quote by a leading successful entrepreneur who inspires you and make it your screensaver on all your electronic devices today; or have an uplifting conversation over your morning cup of coffee with a fellow optimistic entrepreneur. As Alana Muller, a guru on networking and author of the book, Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking says: “Optimism should be at the top of every entrepreneur’s checklist.”

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Let’s get young women thinking entrepreneurially

The Aspen Ideas Festival has just taken place in the US and one of the topics for discussion centered on the notion of more young people being taught the subject of entrepreneurship in school. One of the guest speakers at the event, Tina Seelig, a faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, shared some of her insights on the best way of getting young people to think more entrepreneurially. She believes that entrepreneurship can be taught using a framework of skills, building upon our natural ability to imagine. She suggests: Imagination is envisioning things that don’t exist; Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge; Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions; Entrepreneurship is applying innovations, scaling the ideas by inspiring others’ imagination. This framework doesn’t simply apply to young people, however - it can help every entrepreneur to more proactively engage with the world around them and envision what might be different, creating the solutions needed to the challenges they see.

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Make those first business impressions count

How long do you think you have to make a first impression on someone you meet in business or in life generally? One minute, 30 seconds, 20, 10? As it turns out, it’s actually just the blink of an eye. A series of experiments by two Princeton psychologists, Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those first impressions. These judgments include opinions about a person’s trustworthiness, disposition, personality, and social status. How people judge us as entrepreneurs and how they judge our employees, reflects on what they think about our businesses and brands, that’s why it’s so important to make a good first business impression. So, here are the top six tips from that research on how to make the best possible first impression. Firstly, make eye contact; secondly, smile; thirdly, actively listen to the person you meet and pay attention to what they are saying; fourthly, speak with passion about your business; fifthly, read body cues; and finally, relax and be yourself. Above all, remember, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression, so make it count!

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If you want to be more efficient, learn to delegate

Entrepreneurs know only too well that attention to detail is critical in business, including having an innate understanding of all aspects of a company’s activities such as cash flow, product manufacturing, operations, customer management, sales and marketing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean trying to myopically do everything yourself - that could be a recipe for disaster and inevitable burnout as an entrepreneur/founder. If you are trying to juggle every aspect of running a business, chronic fatigue is not simply on the cards, but the chances are you will inevitably miss a key task or client deadline if you are trying to pack too much into every waking hour. The key is learning to delegate key tasks and specialist areas of business operations to others who are skilled and experienced to deliver what is needed. Build a trusted team if you want to free up valuable time and energy to focus on more critical parts of your business. Or alternatively, look at the possibility of outsourcing key tasks to specialist suppliers, freelancers or solopreneurs. Finally, harness the power of technology to fulfill those mundane tasks that can be carried out automatically with the right systems in place. As serial entrepreneur Richard Branson says, “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.”

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The African Development Bank estimates financing gap for African businesswomen is as large as $42 billion 

The AfDB estimates that the financing gap for African businesswomen is as large as $42 billion, of which $15.6 billion is lacking for women in agriculture. To address this financing gap, particularly for African women entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector, the AfDB and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at promoting investments that benefit women in Africa.

The MoU signed on Tuesday May 22, 2017, during the 52nd Annual Meetings of the AfDB would leverage financing for the AfDB’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) programme, which aims at providing available, accessible and affordable financial services to women in business through selected financial institutions, the Bank says. The Bank hopes to leverage some $3 billion over a period of 10 years.“Women pay back loans. They are bankable, but the banking system does not lend to them. We want to change this; we want to de-risk the financial system and allow institutions to give loans to women. Together the AfDB and the IFC are showing confidence in women’s bankability,” says Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

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What is the secret sauce to running a successful company?

We all know that it takes more than simply sheer hard work and determination to succeed in business, it also takes a strong foundation with a number of important building blocks in place. Firstly, a strong team of people who bring different but much needed attributes to the table and who share a common vision for the success of the business. Secondly, a strong product or service offering that has proven market appeal and a strong track record of sales, with repeat customers making up the bulk of the business revenues. Thirdly, a laser-like focus on the part of everyone in the business on ensuring the end goal is well understood and shared, and that each team member understands the part they have to play in delivering high quality products and services to customers. Fourthly, agility - the ability to adapt to changing market conditions with innovative approaches to product and service development. Finally, solid cashflow. Ultimately, there are no guarantees to business building success, but putting in place some of the key building blocks to create a solid foundation will increase the odds.

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Are you making the connection with millennial consumers?

There’s no doubt about it, millennials are changing the consumer landscape globally. But the question has to be, is your business and brand making the right connections with this important consumer audience? Millennial consumers are often regarded as hard to reach, hard to attract, difficult to retain - but an interesting new research report, the ‘2017 Millennial Shopping Trends’ from digital marketing agency International Marketing, highlights that actually millennials are more brand loyal than other generational markets. The trick is connecting with them in the first place. The report shows good prices (56 percent) play a big role in driving millennials’ loyalty toward a brand. Affinity towards a particular brand (33 percent) and reliable delivery (25 percent) are other key factors. Here are a few other facts to get you thinking about how your business and brand is connecting with millennial consumers. 54% shop online; 50% buy goods using their smartphones; 60% research online ratings from other consumers before buying; 53% explore brands on social media networks; and 37% become brand loyal depending on the higher causes supported by a business and brand. So the bottom line is that millennial consumers can be brand loyal, it’s not a myth, but the loyalty has to be earned. 

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Make time in your daily routine to just think

As entrepreneurs we are constantly being pulled in different directions to deal with micro operational issues. Inevitably this means we can find it hard  to find the essential time needed to focus on the bigger picture and the strategy for taking our businesses to the next level. So the only way to achieve this quality thinking time is to schedule it into the diary, just like you would do for a meeting, setting aside a dedicated time slot each day. Just 30 minutes to one hour could be all that is needed, as it's the routine of setting aside this quality thinking time that matters, not the duration. In her book 'Time to Think: An Imperative of Behaviour, Not Time', Nancy Kline, author and guru on the thinking environment says: "The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first." So the question you have to ask yourself is "Have you set aside time today to do some serious thinking?" Your business will thank you for it!

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Listen to your inner cheerleader if you want to stay motivated

We’ve all got one - that fabulous inner cheerleader who tells us to keep going when things get tough, or encourages us to stay focused when there are lots of distractions around to take our eyes off the ball, or reminds us as to why we became entrepreneurs in the first place. Our inner cheerleaders are always positive, always optimistic, always on our side - they can always be relied on to keep us motivated when we need that extra push. So why do we sometimes let that inner cheerleader get drowned out by detractors, naysayers, doubters and those who simply don’t get where we are coming from as entrepreneurs?  As Karen Salmansohn, the former senior VP ad creative director turned best selling self-help book author with over one million books sold, says: “Surround yourself with cheerleaders, not fear leaders.” And remember, our best cheerleaders are those inside our own heads!

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Why names matter for your startup

I was reading a really interesting article today about the importance of choosing the right name for your startup business, and let’s be honest about this, there are many entrepreneurs out there who have agonized at length about naming their companies. We look at some of the most successful companies globally and their short, catchy names appeal to us, and it would appeal to the market at large for a reason. Adam Alter, Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business says that companies and brands with simple, easy to pronounce names typically experience greater success than other startups because their names are easy to remember and connect with. The question is, how to get to the same point when it comes to our own companies and brands and finding the right name that will stick with our potential customers and investors - that’s the tricky part. So here are a few guidelines to consider when choosing that perfect name for your startup. Firstly, choose a simple name using one or two syllable words that will be easy to remember and easy to say, one that rolls off the tongue in any language. Secondly, create a memorable and tangible connection between your chosen name and your product or service offering, so that it’s relatable. Thirdly, make sure you get the SEO (search engine optimization) right for your chosen new startup name, after all, if your customers can’t easily find you, then it’s the wrong name. Fourthly, don’t emotionally over invest in your startup name as you never know when you will have to change it along your entrepreneurial journey! 

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