Are you ready with your elevator pitch?

I experienced one of those moments earlier this week that we talk about a lot at our various Lionesses of Africa networking events - being ready to go with our elevator pitches at any time as entrepreneurs, as you never know who you will bump into. This was certainly the case when I was in a corporate elevator in Johannesburg, returning to the ground floor from a meeting in the upper floors of the building, when a young entrepreneur had the opportunity to pitch his business to a senior decision maker from the client company he was chasing. Such opportunities are rare and have to be grasped immediately. The entrepreneur introduced himself to the potential client, who then asked what he and his company did - there it was, the invitation to do the elevator pitch. The problem was that the young entrepreneur was so keen to meet and get to know the client, he completely forgot to make the pitch as the elevator reached the ground floor, missing out on a golden opportunity. Such opportunities very rarely come around twice, so it’s important to be ready. Prepare and practice your elevator pitch on a regular basis, and hone it until it’s both informative and impactful. Remember that if you can’t get your business, brand and product message pitched in around 15 seconds, then the chances are you won't make your message stick with your potential client. So get practicing that elevator pitch now! 

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Don’t let overthinking things hold you back

If there is one thing that entrepreneurs know all too well, it’s that it’s easy to get paralyzed by overthinking things, particularly when you are about to launch a new business, product, service or innovative idea. You are excited at the prospect, but you start to become distracted by all the noise out there in the marketplace, worrying about the potential competition, the market reaction, whether the idea is new enough, good enough, etc. In these situations it can get stressful if you let all your negative thoughts about possible failure start to creep in as a result of overthinking. The important thing is to harness all your positive energy that comes from your excitement about your new business or product, and to keep thinking about the bigger picture instead of myopically stressing about everything that could go wrong. As Pinterest founder, Ben Silbermann says, “Don’t over-analyze everything. I myself have been guilty of over-thinking problems. Just build things and find out if they work.” Great advice.

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So you want to scale your business?

If you are one of those women entrepreneurs who has reached the point where to take your business to the next level you realize you have to scale, it’s worth taking time to consider what that potentially means in practical terms to your role as founder/ceo. Inevitably, it means handing over certain aspects of the business to other people to implement on a day to day basis in order to free up your time to focus on the high growth activities needed. That often means hiring in new people to expand your team; it could mean bringing on board a highly experienced personal assistant to manage your time and your diary better; or possibly outsourcing key administration aspects of the business to external specialists. The bottom line is that scaling your business requires you as the founder and visionary to set the pace for growth, and that means providing the right environment in which you can make sustainable and smart decisions to take the business forward. To achieve that goal you need to focus, extract yourself from the mundane tasks that will detract from the big picture, and learn to delegate better to members of your team. Happy scaling!

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Resilience is a key building block for success

Talk to any successful entrepreneur about how they have grown and sustained their businesses over time and the chances are the word resilience will come up in conversation. It’s one of the key building blocks required to create a genuinely sustainable business. But how exactly do you go about building this resilience on the entrepreneurial journey? The bottom line is that it all starts with you, the founder, the person with the vision for the business. Resilience comes from how you approach the world of business and how you handle the challenges you will undoubtably face. Firstly, it takes huge quantities of self-assurance, optimism, and self-belief, and very clearly defined goals at both a personal and business level. Secondly, it requires calm problem solving, the ability to find innovative solutions that push the traditional envelope. Thirdly, it needs a highly proactive approach to continuous communication and engagement with all those who are on this journey with you, from employees to suppliers, customers to family. Finally, it takes personal responsibility to ensure that promises are delivered upon, and that vision for the business is realised.

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We are stronger together than we are alone

Talking to so many women entrepreneurs today at one of our regular networking events, one challenge kept being repeated, that of how lonely it can be as a woman entrepreneur. That’s why having a sense of community is so important when you are working so hard to build your business and your brand in the early days. It’s essential to have fellow women entrepreneurs around you who know how hard the journey can be and are there to offer advice, support, a shoulder to cry on, and be a source of inspiration when you need it. It’s also so important to have other successful women entrepreneurs to look up to, those that have reached the point where they can look at leaving a legacy and positive example behind for others to follow. So for all those experiencing a sense of loneliness on their entrepreneurial journey, remember that the strength found in a pride of Lionesses comes from a group of strong females being there for one another, working and collaborating together to get the job done, knowing that they are stronger together than they are alone. As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people.” It’s worth remembering this on those lonely days of the entrepreneurial journey. 

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Get your personal brand working for you

Ask yourself this question - when was the last time you took a close look at your company’s brand and thought about revamping it or giving it a much-needed refresh to keep it relevant and dynamic? Chances are it was quite recently, as entrepreneurs are mindful of the importance of maintaining a strong brand in the marketplace. But ask yourself another question - when was the last time you thought about updating your personal brand as the driver of your business? It’s important to remember that our personal brands should be just as dynamic and ever changing to respond to where we are on our particular business and life building journeys. Also, our personal brands are the most important ones we will ever build, as they underpin everything else we do. They help us to connect with customers, partners and influencers; they help us to gain an audience for our thoughts, opinions and insights; they help us to be taken seriously; and they help us to be seen as experts and leaders in our field. So if you want to gain the edge in your business, work on your personal brand, it could be the most important investment you make.

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Manage your stress levels, it’s good for business

Do you ever get the feeling that as an entrepreneur you are constantly looking at time in monetary terms, trying to squeeze the most out of every minute in the day because to a small business time really does represent money? Well, you are definitely not alone it seems, according to a new study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, but this approach to life comes at a cost. The study found that when you put a monetary value to your time, your stress levels automatically increase - by on average around 25% - that’s a big spike in stress in your life each day. And it appears that it also influences our thoughts around getting essential work/life balance. Those who constantly measure their time in monetary terms experience greater difficulty switching to relax mode, making it harder to do simple things like enjoying time with family and friends without constant clock watching. The bottom line is that it’s not good for our health and wellbeing, which means that it’s also not good for our business. The report contrasts the different approach taken in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Spain, where those running businesses also take very long lunch breaks each day to relax, meet people, eat great food and just recharge the batteries to prepare for the rest of the day ahead. They also have some of the longest life expectancies and lower stress levels. Something to think about! 

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Get your morning routine right!

How we start our day often determines how it will go for the rest of it, so it’s really important to ensure we have a morning routine that makes us productive, energized and ready for anything. Experts tell us that we function better and more efficiently when we have structure and repetition to kickstart our day, with morning rituals that make us feel good. So if you feel that your own morning routine is in need of a boost, then try these few steps to get it on track. Firstly, take a few moments to meditate, get those positive thoughts going, and focus on the type of day that you want to have. Secondly, get your body’s energy levels moving with a short, sharp exercise routine - it could be a quick jog around your neighbourhood, or some stretching, or a quick cycle ride, whatever you enjoy doing. Thirdly, eat a healthy breakfast and maybe catch up on some news to feed your mind as well as your stomach. Fourthly, plan your day, making an action plan of what you want to achieve. Finally, start the day with the most challenging task, one that requires you to be fresh and with your mind at its peak of performance. Now that’s a morning routine that can help you get more productive and achieve the results you are looking for.

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Africa needs a new generation of young game-changing entrepreneurs

When this year’s Africa Competitiveness Report was published and distributed at the World Economic Forum earlier this month, it made for both interesting and sobering reading. On the one hand, the report notes that Africa has a growing population of educated young people, but on the other, admits that there are not enough engines of job creation to ensure they will all have access to employment in the future. The solution, according to the report, lies in ensuring the African continent focuses its attention on increasing competitiveness, pushing forward structural reforms that can boost productivity, and create jobs and opportunities for young people. Whilst this is undoubtably a political and economic step in the right direction to providing the right environment for countries to grow and people to thrive, it’s not enough on it’s own to create a new generation of young people that can take the continent forward to the point where it can fulfill its true potential. We need to create an environment where young people can start to think more entrepreneurially, be given the tools and resources to create their own sustainable businesses, and be encouraged to take their socio economic destinies into their own hands through their entrepreneurial ventures. In particular, Africa’s young women need to be encouraged and supported to realize their own futures through the building of a new and exciting generation of women-owned and operated businesses.

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Collaboration in the shared economy is key

These days we don’t stop to think about how the shared economy has transformed our lives because it’s just part of the way we do things. We Uber around towns and cities, we AirBnB when we visit new places - the shared economy has become part of the lexicon of our lives. For entrepreneurs and innovative startups with vision, it has also opened up minds to opportunities that would once have seemed impossible - being able to take on and revolutionize traditional industry and business sectors. And we can thank those early disruptors, the pioneers who created the whole notion of the shared economy and who introduced real and edgy competition to traditional industries through technology. It is also a reminder that behind these game-changing disruptive businesses were highly collaborative entrepreneurs, sharing their knowledge, technical expertise, insights and ambitions. They drove each other to get things done, to push boundaries, to try new things, to challenge established thinking. Collaboration in the shared economy is creating a new business landscape in which entrepreneurs can challenge the status quo, and in doing so, change the world we live in. It’s a great time to be a collaborative entrepreneur. 

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Find your niche!

More often than not, consumers know exactly what they want to buy. The problem is they are not always able to get what they want because it’s simply not available in the local marketplace, so they are forced to compromise. This opens up great opportunities for entrepreneurs to fill that gap and tap into a niche consumer market that is not being adequately catered for. Some of the most interesting companies in the Lionesses of Africa network are those that have been founded by women entrepreneurs who understand niche markets. Whether it’s creating beautiful designer lingerie for the larger woman; or chocolates for those with dietary challenges; or recycled furniture and homeware for consumers passionate about eco-solutions. Niche markets represent exciting business opportunities that can benefit both consumer and entrepreneur alike. As Seth Godin said: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” So have you found your niche as an entrepreneur? 

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It’s all about confidence!

Have you noticed that many of the really successful entrepreneurs around the world share one particular trait in common? Confidence! They seem to be brimming with it. Whenever they are heard speaking at a conference, or being interviewed in the media, or simply engaging with customers and talking with passion about their businesses and brands, they come across as highly confident people. And that in turn makes us, the listeners, feel similarly inspired and confident in their ability to deliver a great experience, product or service. So where does this confidence come from and were they born with it or did it come with life experience? The truth is, it is probably a combination of both, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from learning how to be more confident when it comes to our own lives and businesses. It all starts with self belief. Speak to any of these successful entrepreneurs and they passionately believe in their abilities, their ideas, and the businesses they are building. This self belief and confidence equips them to deal with the hard knocks along the way, to find solutions to any challenge, and to seize any opportunities that come along. So if you feel a lack of confidence is holding you back from taking your business to the next level, then ask yourself the question - do you believe in yourself, in your business, in the value you are creating through your products and services? If the answer is yes, then you can harness that self belief to really take your confidence to the next level. It starts with you!

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Lionesses of Africa launches its 2nd Accelerator programme for women entrepreneurs

We are just one week into the month of May and already we have a packed and exciting programme of new initiatives and events to announce, including introducing the 2nd Cohort of 30 women entrepreneurs who have been selected to participate in the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator 2, powered by Standard Bank and Liberty. Each of these high growth potential women entrepreneurs will be making their way to the Standard Bank Business Incubator in Rosebank, Johannesburg this morning to meet one another, to introduce their businesses and product offerings, and to learn more about what lies in store for them on this unique growth programme. We will be profiling each of these women entrepreneurs over the coming weeks as they embark upon this game-changing journey to take their businesses to the next level and into corporate supply chains. Keep following their stories on all the Lionesses of Africa platforms over the coming days and weeks and watch their progress. We wish them all luck as they learn great new insights, gain valuable experience, and develop their businesses ready for the next stage of their growth. You can learn more about the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator here

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Take a step by step approach to growing your business

So you want to grow your business - don’t we all? The question is how to do that in a sustainable way? Growth isn't just about increasing our customer numbers - meaningful growth comes from getting those customers to join you on your business and brand building journey. It’s worth remembering these four key steps to creating growth that can be sustained. Firstly, the trick is to get those new customers through the door, which means you need to develop an effective user acquisition strategy - it could be a combination of direct sales and marketing, event activation, social media campaigns, etc. Secondly, once you have those customers hooked, how do you get them to start using your products and services on a regular basis? That’s where your activation strategy comes in. Consider demo events, try before you buy incentives, promotional campaigns. Thirdly, you need to create an effective plan to get those customers to try your products, use them happily, and fall in love with your brand, that’s where your engagement strategy is key. You need to develop regular ways of connecting with your customers to keep them interested. It could be regular newsletters, invites to customer events, loyalty campaigns and incentives, etc. Finally, you need to make your existing customers your brand ambassadors, getting them and their networks talking positively about your products and services. This step by step approach to growing your business is more sustainable in the long run.

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Africa needs a new generation of homegrown women-owned consumer brands

The World Economic Forum has been taking place this week and interestingly one of the key topics for discussion was the notion that there has never been a better time to be an investor on the African continent. After all, at the moment the continent ticks so many of the economic viability and long-term growth boxes that investors are looking for. In fact seven of the ten fastest growing global economies are all to be found in Africa (Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Djibouti), with another three in the top twenty (Rwanda, Kenya and Senegal). Capturing the attention of the big global consumer brands is the rise of a powerful consumer market, the rapidly-emerging middle class in Africa, which is creating unprecedented consumer demand and opportunity. With a population of around 1.2 billion people in Africa and the youngest population with 40% under the age of 14, it represents an exciting market opportunity. The question is, will it be left to the big global consumer brands to take advantage of this marketplace going forward, or will there be a new generation of proudly African companies emerging, hopefully led by women entrepreneurs, creating world-class products specifically catering for this market? 

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Don’t overthink it, just do it!

When you have a new business idea, or perhaps a new way of doing things in your existing business, how many times do you find yourself spending precious time and effort thinking about all the things that could go wrong before you actually do something about it? Do you convince yourself that you need to do more research, meet more people, get access to more specialist types of information? Are you actually afraid to start or to launch because you fear failure, or because your idea won’t be perfect at that stage? Are you in reality just becoming paralyzed to the point where you don’t actually take your idea any further than just that - an idea? If that rings a bell in your ear, then you are not alone. But the fact is that as soon as you make a conscious decision to take that idea and run with it, your mind switches into action mode. No longer do you overthink things, you simply do! As US marketing guru, Guy Kawasaki says: “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” So, what are you waiting for? Take that idea and make it a reality.

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Smile your way to success

Have you noticed how smiling is contagious? It’s a natural phenomenon, if you smile at someone it’s almost impossible for them not to smile back, and it changes the atmosphere immediately. Try speaking to a room full of people and starting with a smile - the room smiles back at you - and it’s a wonderful life affirming feeling for everyone. But have you thought about how powerful a tool it is in business? As entrepreneurs we interact with people every day, from customers and employees, to suppliers and service providers, and everyone in between. It is so important that those touch points are positive and leave the right impression. So it’s interesting to learn that scientific studies (check out the Penn State University study on smiling) have proved that smiling makes people come across as more likeable, approachable, well mannered and even more competent. Importantly it also gives people another reason to want to potentially do business with you. Need a reason to smile? Then look no further than this famous quote by Marilyn Monroe who said: “Keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

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Use your precious time wisely

Can you believe it? We are now at the start of May, and the year is almost half over already - where does the time go and why so fast? It makes it the perfect time to pause, take a step back, review where we are in our businesses and our lives in relation to where we hoped to be by now, and take action accordingly. It might be that we need to revise our strategy if original goals are not being achieved; or perhaps take a more aggressive approach to our sales and marketing plans if those precious revenue streams are not coming in fast enough; or maybe hire more staff if workloads are proving to be too much to deal with for our existing teams. It might also be that as entrepreneurs, we simply need to focus more and squeeze every bit of productivity out of each day, making the most of every opportunity that presents itself. So it might be a case of looking at the rest of the year and reminding ourselves that there is still more than half a year left to achieve our goals - it’s all about how we use that time. As Yale Professor Charles Richards said: “Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.”

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Learn to take criticism on the chin!

You love what you do as an entrepreneur; you love what you are creating; it excites you every day and gets you talking about your business with passion. That’s natural, it’s your baby and you are watching it grow and thrive. But human nature says that not everyone is going to share your passion in equal quantities, and there may also be detractors along the way, critics who just want to say something negative about your approach, your business model, or your products. It’s important to develop a filter that let’s constructive criticism in for the purposes of learning and growing, and let’s the just plain spiteful criticism out. Remember, it’s worth remembering that often such criticism is not always personal, it’s just someone else venting their frustrations in your direction. So acknowledge that you can’t always please everyone, and not everyone will love what you do all the time. Take criticism on the chin, learn from it and move on. 

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Know your why!

It’s great to have ambition, and lots of it as entrepreneurs, but perhaps more important than ambition is knowing your why! What do I mean by that? Well, it’s that big vision or goal that set you off on your entrepreneurial venture in the first place. It’s the ‘big picture’ that motivates you to work harder and encourages you to devote all your energies to making it a reality instead of just a dream. It’s important to remember that in this increasingly consumer conscious society, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and therefore being able to communicate your why is essential. There is a desire and a need on the part of consumers to connect on a deeper level with the entrepreneurs who are creating the products and services - to know their stories, to understand their whys. In the words of Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you know why.” So, this morning, take some time out to think about your own why, and use it as your means of keeping focused on the end goal.

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