Don’t just sell a product or service, tell an authentic story

Read any newspaper or magazine, watch any TV show, and you will experience the full force of global brands that have achieved sheer market dominance and appear to be in a league of their own. Take Nike for example - it owns almost half of the American athletic footwear market and its domination of the basketball footwear market stands at a staggering 96%. So what’s the secret? You might be tempted to think it's all about the sporting superstars who endorse the brand in their ads, or the celebrities who lend their names and faces to the products. But actually it’s all about leveraging the power of storytelling - making an emotional connection with customers through highly emotive, inspirational stories. In reality, they’re selling more than a product; they’re selling aspiration and that’s a powerful motivator. The brand, through its powerful storytelling and accompanying tagline, Just Do It!, inspires us to believe in ourselves, to achieve victory through our hard work and effort, to overcome all challenges. And ultimately, that message sells. It’s a lesson that every entrepreneur and every fledgling brand out there can learn from. It’s all about harnessing the power of authentic and inspirational storytelling to connect on an emotional level with the customers you are trying to reach. 

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How to keep focused when life throws you curveballs

As entrepreneurs we always like to think we have things covered, that we can keep all the proverbial balls in the air whilst trying to juggle all aspects of our life. And, for the most part that’s true - and then life suddenly throws you a curveball. I was reminded of this when watching the truly awful coverage of Hurricane Irma in the US on my laptop when suddenly the power went down and the internet connection went down in my own city (I was in Johannesburg at the time), one of an increasing number of such failures during peak work times. However, despite such challenges, business has to keep going so it’s essential to keep focused and stay productive. So if you find yourself in similar challenging circumstances, here are a few tips to stay on top. Firstly, use the 80/20 principle, focus on those activities that will deliver 80% of the results from 20% of the effort. Secondly, take anything that is not a priority off your to-do list, it just causes unnecessary stress having one huge, ever growing list staring at you. Thirdly, delegate to others and share the workload. Finally, keep calm, focus on what’s important and remember that tomorrow is another day.

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Africa needs more women global brand builders to get the world talking

In recent years, we have seen more and more African women entrepreneurs building world-class retail brands and breaking into exciting and lucrative global markets. Women built brands such as soleRebels in Ethiopia, Rain Africa and Carrol Boyes from South Africa, to name but a few, have successfully pioneered a path and achieved international success for other women to follow. They are tapping into what is currently a growing global fascination with all things African, with consumers interested in supporting and buying from purpose-driven brands that have a socially impactful back-story, rooted in community. Each of these successful woman-owned global brands understands the power of connecting with consumers through storytelling, through their celebration of local craftsmanship, ultimately creating impact at a local level through the unique products they create. There are lessons to be learned here for the next generation of aspirant global brand builders looking to emerge from the African continent.

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Africa’s women entrepreneurs are leveraging technology for social innovation

African women entrepreneurs are increasingly building businesses for achieving scalable social impact through technology. They are demonstrating how technology can make a huge impact on the lives of Africa’s citizens by harnessing the power of technology for good. More and more game changing women techpreneurs across Africa are working to integrate technology into the work of social change. So, what’s driving this trend? And, are we seeing women leading the way? In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of mobile subscribers will grow from 600 million today to 930 million by 2020. Even more exciting, by 2020 nearly half of the world’s 6.1 billion smartphone users will live in the developing world. This explosion in mobile penetration means that we now have the ability to hear from, and reach Africans like never before, and incorporate their voices in exciting new ways. Women techpreneurs are leveraging mobile to great effect in Africa, such as Rapelang Rabana of Rekindle Learning, a great example of a company looking to improve education in Africa by turning people’s compulsion to check their phones into an opportunity to learn; or M-Farm, founded by Jamila Abass, a Kenyan computer scientist, who connects buyers and farmers to sell your produce, or receive up-to-date market prices via an app or SMS. We’re seeing award winning projects like Wecyclers, the brainchild of Bilikiss Adebiyi, and Recycle Points from Chioma Ukonu, both of whom are using mobile technology to drive waste recycling projects in the poorest communities in Lagos, Nigeria. The next frontier of tech-powered social impact companies in Africa is being driven by these inspirational women entrepreneurs who are making a difference and pushing boundaries on so many levels. 

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Africa’s women eco-preneurs make a difference to the planet, and a profit

Africa’s critical environmental challenges require immediate and effective solutions, that’s a fact. The world is facing more such challenges today than ever before, and Africa is feeling the harsh impact of many of these problems, from environmental degradation and deforestation, to shrinking water supplies, threats to biodiversity, lack of affordable green housing, and waste management issues. Innovative and effective solutions are needed and increasing attention is now being paid to the role that women entrepreneurs are playing on the continent in helping to provide possible solutions to many of these environmental problems. And the continent’s women eco-preneurs are showing themselves capable of rising to this challenge by building innovative green businesses capable of addressing environmental problems, whilst at the same time creating jobs and opportunities for communities to thrive. Africa’s women entrepreneurs really can make a difference to the planet, while still turning a profit. 

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Africa’s women entrepreneurs are a force for social and economic change

Much has been written about the impact that women entrepreneurs can make to the social and economic future of the African continent, but the scale of that impact is often underestimated. Consider these facts: as women entrepreneurs we typically reinvest 90% of our revenues back into our communities — by investing in education, in nutrition, in household expenditure, and in caring for our children and the elderly. This is not us saying it about ourselves — this is what the World Bank tells us is happening. Women entrepreneurs typically invest 90% back into their communities, whilst at the same time creating jobs and opportunities for other micro-entrepreneurs along their value chain. This significant impact is being recognised by governments in the region, with South Africa, for example, now acknowledging through its National Development Plan that 90% of the approximately 11 million jobs that need to be created by 2020 will be created through small businesses. There are women game-changers on the continent who are practically demonstrating that individuals with vision and the right skills can be a force for positive social and economic change in Africa, such as entrepreneur Victoria Kisyombe. Through her company SELFINA, she has financed 27,000 women micro-entrepreneurs, created 150,000 jobs, and economically impacted over 250,000 Tanzanians. Now that’s impact! 

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Social entrepreneurs envision a future where individuals make a difference

If you read your edition of The Mix this weekend, and were following some of the truly remarkable sessions at last week’s Lionesses of Africa Annual Conference, you would have no doubt been inspired by a new generation of women social entrepreneurs putting Africa on the global impact map. Social entrepreneurs have the ability to envision a new future that is driven by individuals who believe they can make a positive difference in the world through their actions and their approach to problem solving. Women like Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee in Uganda, who shared her story at the conference. Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a for-profit social enterprise aiming to improve livelihoods of coffee farmers whilst at the same time protecting mountain gorillas in the area. GCCoffee pays a premium price to enable marginalised small-holder coffee farmers living in remote sub-counties bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to improve their lives, which keeps them from resorting to damaging the forest through activities like poaching and removing resources like wood. This in turn helps protect the gorillas and their habitat. It’s a win-win scenario, created by a passionate social entrepreneur on a mission to make a difference and make an impact. 

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Every big business started out as a small business

Sometimes we get so immersed in the hurly burly, tough, day-to-day struggles of trying to grow a business, that it’s hard to keep perspective. We all know that entrepreneurship is not an easy path to take. Building a business is hard and often can be a very lonely journey, particularly for women business builders. But we can take heart from the many other great women entrepreneurs who have come before us. We can make a conscious decision to take every opportunity to learn from them, so that we can avoid making their mistakes when it comes to our own businesses. We can allow ourselves to be inspired by these women pioneers. And, importantly we must remember this one key fact: every big business started out as a small business.  

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Africa’s women entrepreneurs are powerful agents for change

A huge number of studies show that Entrepreneurship and Democracy are closely linked. Democracy works best when there is this kind of turbulence in the society, when those that are not already well-off have a chance to climb the economic ladder by using their brains, their energy, and their skills to improve their economic status, to create new product and markets, or to serve existing markets better than their older competitors. Simply put, entrepreneurs are a key building block of thriving democracies and the links between women’s economic empowerment, women’s entrepreneurship, and democracy are well known. In Africa specifically, women entrepreneurs uniting as a collective, speaking with one voice, must realise that they can become powerful agents for change in their countries, their communities, and on the continent as a whole.

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Busting the gender gap in manufacturing in Africa

Africa has an urgent need to develop a strong value-add manufacturing base and to address the under-representation of women in manufacturing on the continent. This is one of the key topics for discussion at this week’s Lionesses of Africa Conference which welcomes a high profile panel of 5 pioneering women manufacturers who are tackling this challenge head on. They have built their businesses against the odds, taking on previously male dominated industries, and are succeeding in creating great manufacturing companies that are an example for others to follow. Yet these women trailblazers remain in the minority. Africa’s manufacturing sector is not fully capitalizing on a critical talent pool, which could aid in closing the skills and opportunities gap. And particularly, women entrepreneurs who have the potential to create significant, high growth companies that create products for sale at home and abroad, and importantly employ local people in the process. So the question has to be, how can the historical gender bias that has tended to exclude or deter women from entering into the manufacturing sector when it comes to starting a business be addressed? Perhaps it starts with the need to reframe perceptions of traditional manufacturing as unprogressive and male-dominated, to high-tech and high-paying opportunities, in which women entrepreneurs can thrive. Follow this with inspirational examples of women manufacturers who are building genuinely significant businesses, and you have the start of a solution to addressing the manufacturing gender gap in Africa.

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Self belief is a key driver of success

If you were to take a look at the traits of highly successful women entrepreneurs, chances are you would find self-belief right up there at the top of the list. It’s an essential driver of success in business and in life. After all, as the founder of your business it’s your vision that sets the path for others to follow, whether they are customers, employees, partners or investors. It’s your belief in yourself and your abilities that will keep you going during the tough times. And, it’s your self-belief that will see you taking on the competition head-on, finding new ways of doing things, creating new and innovative products and services for the market to love. A true exponent of self belief was the irrepressible US entrepreneur, Mary Kay Ash, who founded the hugely successful company that bore her name, Mary Kay Cosmetics, a pioneer of the retail cosmetics industry. She said: “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right.” 

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Be an optimist, not a pessimist

You know those days as an entrepreneur when it seems like everything is hard - an uphill struggle to get things done? Days when it seems like everyone around you is simply just adding to the stress, not coming to the party to help find solutions, and piling on unnecessary irritation. It could be all too easy in times like these to get overwhelmed by pessimism. But there is another way of dealing with these times, and it requires a mindshift. Staying optimistic and not letting ourselves get dragged to other people’s negative levels is a choice - being an optimist instead of a pessimist is our choice. So the next time you are confronted with challenging days, ask yourself three questions that will help you to find the positive in any irritating situation. Firstly, find just one thing that is positive about the situation you find yourself in. Secondly, ask yourself if there is any lesson to be learned from the situation, and turn that into a positive. Finally, ask yourself, is there an opportunity to be seized from this situation? Chances are that by putting on your positive lens when tackling a tough day, you will become a whole lot more optimistic about the outcome. As Winston Churchill famously said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

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A little perspective goes a long way

How often as entrepreneurs do we find ourselves getting bogged down in the things that really don’t add positive value to our entrepreneurial experience. For some that will be dealing with never ending paperwork and admin; for others it may be spending too much time and energy dealing with continuous HR challenges. We allow ourselves to get sucked into the myopic, instead of keeping our focus on the bigger picture, essential as business founders responsible for making the business vision a reality. So how do we deal with this challenge at a practical level? One answer is smart delegation of key tasks so as to free you up to do the things that will have the biggest impact on the business. The other answer may seem simple, but it is harder to practice in reality - it is maintaining perspective, at all times.  As the old saying goes: “Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance, and it allows us to appreciate their value.” In our businesses we can simply get so close to the challenges and the mundane that we lose focus. Perspective brings us back and gives us an all essential birds-eye view of what needs to be solved. There is a great quote by Michael Dermer, ceo of The Lonely Entrepreneur, who says: “Perspective is the oxygen that fuels your ability to thrive while facing the personal and business challenges of being an entrepreneur.” How true! 

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It's time to think globally in our businesses

Sitting here in a sun-filled square this morning in the business centre of Berlin, writing my Edit Daily article, and listening to a soprano practicing her performance in a nearby concert hall, I'm waiting to take my first meeting of the day. It represents the opportunity to talk to some key decision-makers and opinion-formers about the need for Africa's women entrepreneurs to get greater access to global markets and genuinely take their businesses and brands to a whole new level. I am struck once again by just how entrepreneurial a city Berlin is, and how interested it is in Africa's development to grow and support a whole new generation of ambitious, innovative and impactful women entrepreneurs who can make a real difference with their sustainable businesses. It reminds me that sometimes it is too easy and the safe option simply to think of our local business environment as being the only one that could be interested in our products and services. The world is a big place, with consumers in vast numbers, interested in making conscious purchasing decisions on products that have a great back story. Africa's women entrepreneurs have no shortage of those. So let's get the world to sit up and take notice, let's keep sharing our startup stories that resonate and connect with global audiences, lets keep thinking globally, and let's keep promoting the truly world-class, quality products that are already capturing the world's attention.  

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Understanding the entrepreneurial value chain in Africa’s women owned businesses

The real impact of women's entrepreneurship in Africa can be best understood when you look at the extended value chain that is integral to the businesses they are creating across the continent. For so many women entrepreneurs, it’s not just about building a business or a brand that can take care of their own economic futures. Instead, it’s also a question of the lives that can positively benefit through the creation of those businesses; the innovation of new products and services that can make a difference; the environment that can be improved through innovative new ways of doing things to protect our precious resources; and the businesses that can benefit through responsible supply chains that employ and support local people. I saw a great example of this philosophy during my visit this past week to Accra, Ghana, where I had the pleasure of meeting a young and dynamic entrepreneur, Kimberley Addison, cofounder of homegrown artisan luxury chocolate brand, 57 Chocolate. The company’s philosophy is based on a bean to bar approach to manufacture and distribution, adding value to everyone along the value chain, from cocoa bean grower to consumer. 57 Chocolate is a world-class brand that believes in not merely trading the country’s natural resources in their “natural” state, but instead using creativity to transform these resources by developing made in Ghana products of premium value. Africa needs more such women entrepreneurs who really understand the power of the entrepreneurial value chain in their countries. 

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Is your business investment ready?

So here’s the dilemma. So many women entrepreneurs in Africa, in particular SMEs, highlight as a key challenge the lack of access to funding to scale a business. And global reports such as the recent one published by The World Bank seem to back this up. It estimates that women-owned businesses represent over thirty percent of formal, registered businesses worldwide, yet, seventy percent of formal women-owned SMEs in developing countries are either shut out by financial institutions, or are unable to receive financial services on adequate terms to meet their needs. This results in a nearly $300 billion annual credit deficit to formal women-owned SMEs. But that’s not the only challenge. Women entrepreneurs in Africa need to improve their prospects for attracting funding by getting their businesses investor ready. Pitch decks need to be prepared; the business case needs to be convincing and authentic; financials need to be in order; market research done; and facts and figures need to be presented in a world class way. When the opportunity presents itself to pitch, the question is are women entrepreneurs business investment ready and sufficiently prepared to seize that opportunity. 

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What makes a great startup city for women entrepreneurs?

Creating a strong, supportive city environment in Africa where women owned businesses can thrive requires a combination of key factors, not least of which is a city’s culture, which is widely believed by women entrepreneurs to be a critical enabler for their participation in the economy. That's according to the findings of the recently published Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index. A city's entrepreneurial culture is measured by the level of access for women to specialist networks, essential mentoring support, and importantly role models - other women entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses from the ground up, often with limited resources. Getting this culture right and creating a strong startup city environment for women entrepreneurs is key to success. Given that this year's Index lists only two African countries that apparently have created the right environment to attract and support high potential women entrepreneurs i.e., women that want to grow and scale their business, the question is where will the next one come from, and how soon? Africa's women entrepreneurs are waiting! 

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It’s all about trust in business

We all know how important it is to be able to trust those who are integral to the success of our businesses - our employees, our suppliers, our partners, and also our customers. But it all starts with building a high trust environment in which everyone can thrive. Harvard Business School published a really interesting study earlier this year which found that building a culture of trust in any business, large or small, is what makes a meaningful difference - to everyone involved. Employees in high-trust companies tend to be more productive, more collaborative, more committed, and definitely more passionate about their work and its contribution to the overall success of the business. As a result, customers benefit and are more likely to return or stay loyal to a brand. The renowned author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar famously said: “If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you they will do business with you.”

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Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice

This may seem like a generalisation, but on the whole women entrepreneurs tend to be hesitant when it comes to asking for things. Whether its help and advice in starting a business in the first place, or assistance with accessing networks or finance, it seems like we would rather battle along independently in the first instance rather than just getting help when we need it. Perhaps it’s pride, or maybe it’s being embarrassed at not knowing all the answers (but who does?), however not asking for help and advice when you need it can hold your business back. There is something refreshing about the very direct, no-nonsense approach taken by successful entrepreneur and best selling author of the fantastic book More Balls Than Most, Lara Morgan. She says: “Over the years I have found that the more I ask, the better things get….. In business knowing when, how and whom to ask for help is absolutely priceless and can help to move you along much faster than just fumbling about in the dark on your own.” Great advice and remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! 

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Design your entrepreneurial life your own way

How often as entrepreneurs do we think we can do it all - keep juggling all the various balls in our lives at the same time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year in and year out, as we build our businesses? But it inevitably comes at a price and something has to give, usually in our personal lives. I was reading a great book this weekend that offers some perspective on this approach to better managing an entrepreneurial life. Design Your Life by Pernille Spiers-Lopez, who was the President and CEO of IKEA North America for ten years, believes it’s about creating a more balanced paradigm of living. Rather than women trying to pursue an unattainable idea of perfection where you can have it all, she suggests it should be more about discovering your own definition of entrepreneurial success and designing a life guided by your personal values. Her advice is to say goodbye to the illusion of being perfect, and instead have the courage to live the life that makes sense to you. 

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