Stay on top of your game

In the two diverse worlds of sport and business, the saying, ‘being on top of your game’ means you recognize the value of what you are doing, you have the edge, and you are determined to stay ahead of any competition. The trick is to make sure you don’t fall behind once you have gained this edge. One of the best ways to stay on top of any situation is to keep learning - whether that’s learning new skills, new business practices, new manufacturing techniques. It’s about welcoming change, embracing new ways of doing things, bringing new technology into the business, and accepting new information and using it effectively. By its very nature, business is always changing and successful entrepreneurs know that learning to adapt to those changes is key. Having the ability to quickly learn and apply those learnings directly into the business practically translates into a more flexible and agile business, better success down the road, and an improved ability to cope with the obstacles life throws in your path. As you learn, and as you apply the lessons in your life and business, you can stay on top of your game.

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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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Use being small and agile to your advantage

Every small business has probably experienced that feeling of being overwhelmed when trying to compete with bigger businesses. Yet often it is precisely being small and agile that wins the race. So how do you position your unique brand and business to win customers away from the bigger guys in the market? It starts with specialization, building a reputation for providing a product or a service that is unique or boutique, or that does things differently. Secondly, it’s all about the personal touch, having the opportunity to deliver a more personalized service, one that treats customers as individuals and creates a positive experience. Thirdly, communication is key, using that insight and knowledge of each individual customer to build up a regular touchpoint that in turn builds brand loyalty. Fourthly, smaller businesses are more agile, better able to respond to market conditions or customer needs, producing products or services that resonate. Ultimately, small businesses are at the heart of communities and can deliver unique customer experiences that big businesses cannot, so stop worrying about the bigger competitors and simply focus on what you do best.

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Owning your daily schedule is always a challenge

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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Keep your entrepreneurial fire burning

We all know the saying, “love what you do and you will never work a day in your life” and this especially rings true for many passion driven entrepreneurs. But the reality is that the day to day grind of running a business can be just that in the early start up phase, a grind! You will be required to tackle endless, seemingly menial tasks that drain your creative energy, such as managing your customer lists, or doing your accounts, or marketing to find new clients. You will often find that there are just not enough hours in the day to complete everything you have to do. At times like these, you have to keep that entrepreneurial fire burning, focus on the passion you have for what you do, and keep your eye on the end goal you are trying to achieve. Yes, there will be days when you have to do things that don’t inspire you, but the trick is to find that fire and approach any task as though it’s the most exciting thing in the world. That fire will drive your business and it will pay off in the long run.

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Your customers value the human touch

Have you noticed how much broadcast and social media talk, and how many newspaper and magazine column inches, are dedicated to talking about innovative technologies like AI and blockchain. And there’s no doubt that these have a lot of potential. But there’s a tendency to forget that the biggest trend in business is on how we understand and treat our customers and ensure we continue to meet their needs. New UK research indicates that consumers place a significant value on human interaction in the customer services process, with 87% reporting they tend to stay more loyal and increase their business with companies that offer a real person to talk to at the right stage of their customer journey. So while all this talk about innovation is exciting, there is no substitute for world-class customer service delivered by people who really care about the customer experience, who are responsive and open to listening to what customers really need. It’s why there’s nothing quite like the human touch.

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Freelancers bring skills and expertise to the table

As every start-up knows, in the early days you have to wear many hats and fulfill many roles, it’s just part of the journey. But not every entrepreneur is a natural marketeer, or a talented designer and content creator, or a detail oriented accountant or business strategist. And, taking on a specialist workforce during the start-up phase may simply not be an option. So it makes sense to work with freelancers who bring their skills and expertise to the table and undertake individual projects or key tasks when needed. The advantages of this approach can be seen on both sides. The freelancer gets the opportunity to build a multiple client and work portfolio, and the entrepreneur finds a solution to dealing with non-core work demands as they happen, freeing up essential time to focus on the things that matter most in the business. Time is a precious commodity to any entrepreneur, so it makes sense to ensure that it is maximized by outsourcing to specialist freelancers when needed.

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Co-working is now a part of our entrepreneurial lives

Co-working is rapidly becoming the norm in the world of start-up businesses. And it’s interesting to see how big business is also starting to tap into this way of thinking, with many of them setting up satellite offices for their innovation or intrapreneur teams in trendy co-working spots. As a result, co-working spaces are not only providing a sense of community for the independent entrepreneur who is looking to be part of a like-minded community, but also an inspirational environment for employees who want to think more like entrepreneurs. It makes for interesting and often dynamic spaces. Because they are often accessible 24/7 and people can come and go as they please, these collaborative spaces encourage interaction on what can often be an isolating entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial journey. Co-working is now a part of our entrepreneurial lives and thinking, and whilst it may not suit everyone, that sense of community created in these dedicated spaces is definitely a draw card for many. That’s why many businesses are now incorporating co-working into their strategies, seeing the value that can be generated from the experience.  

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Stress management is a continual challenge for women entrepreneurs

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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Choose your team very carefully

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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When you take risks you learn

It’s often said that there is never a perfect time to start a business and make the bold move into the world of entrepreneurship, and that’s particularly the case when you are creating something new and innovative. But talk to any uber successful entrepreneur about what it took to galvanize them into action and start their businesses, and they will tell you that the prospect of never having tried was far more regrettable than the prospect of giving it their all and failing. Ultimately, that was the key factor compelling them to take the leap. We all know that there are no guarantees when starting a business, and that failure is often part of the journey, but surely it’s better to have tried and failed than to live with the regret of never having started. As Ellen DeGeneres so aptly says, “When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important. It's failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.”

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Women entrepreneurs are natural skills coaches and job trainers

An overlooked benefit of women’s entrepreneurship to their economies is their natural strength as skills coaches and job trainers. Women are not only creating much needed new jobs through their businesses, but are also heavily invested in training up their staff. It is often said that the best kind of training is that received on the job, and it is here that women entrepreneurs are making an incredible contribution to training and skills development in their communities. It stands to reason that having created a job the entrepreneur has every reason to ensure the new hire is able to do that job productively and to the very best of their abilities. So whether it is a new sales person, a new machinist, or a new admin assistant, women entrepreneurs are not only creating the new job, but are also training up the new hire. And, because these women know people are their most valuable asset, they are more committed to training people than just about anyone else. In a nutshell, women entrepreneurs across Africa are not only job creators, they’re also great job trainers. It’s time policy makers start to recognize this fact and start to better support women entrepreneurs.

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Find products your customers want

What makes some businesses succeed and others fail? Well, according to the CB Insights Survey, the top reason for failure is creating products or services that consumers don’t actually want or need. Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was cited as the No. 1 reason for failure in 42% of cases amongst the companies surveyed. Product "pricing/cost issues" and "user-unfriendly products" were near the top as well. Businesses fail when they are not solving a market problem and when they don’t understand what consumers need and want. It sounds simple, but if it was easy then everyone would be doing it. Success comes from solving a large enough problem, need or pain point that can be addressed with a scalable solution. As author and business guru, Seth Godin says, “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”

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Build a great network of fellow women entrepreneurs

For women entrepreneurs in Africa, there are few things that will help you build traction in your business and support your growth aspirations faster than creating a strong network. It’s essential to have a great network of fellow women entrepreneurs for a number of reasons. Firstly, it can be isolating building a business, particularly if you are a solopreneur. Having access to a network that comes with a variety of specialist resources can increase your access to information, knowledge, expertise, advice, and importantly, access to opportunities to promote your business and brand to others. Secondly, if you work from home or are based in a remote area without access to face-to-face networks, then tapping into virtual online business networks means you can still connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and raise your business profile to potential clients and business partners. Another great way to build networks is to simply participate in specialist forums, e-mail discussion lists, and chat rooms that relate to your business or the type of customer you want to attract. Building a strong business network is key to success.  As Robert Kiyosaki says, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” 

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Reinvest in your business if you want it to grow

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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Restlessness propels entrepreneurs and innovation

Have you noticed a particular trait that is shared amongst the most successful entrepreneurs? They seem to display an inner restlessness, a desire to never stay still, never sitting back and just enjoying their success. They seem to always be on a mission to strive to improve, or create the next innovation, or find another solution to a key challenge. Over the years, this restlessness has always propelled entrepreneurship and innovation forward. It usually reflects a need to make a difference or an impact. Often this restlessness is personally motivated, with entrepreneurs getting frustrated with the status quo, and indeed, there are usually very personal and passion driven stories  behind many successful social or business ventures. So if you feel you are getting stuck in your business or in your life, and feel a little restless, then harness that inner restless dissatisfaction and those feelings and use them to propel your business and your life in a new direction.

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Be transparent and build trust with your employees

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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Every business starts with a vision and a mission

We all know that every business starts with a vision and a mission, it helps to create a solid foundation for the company and give direction to all those who have a vested interest in its success. But as an entrepreneur, do you have your personal mission statement to guide you on this crazy business and life journey you are on? Just as any business puts in place a strong mission statement to keep everyone focused on the end game, it also makes sense to do the same thing in your personal life. So what are the benefits of crafting your own personal mission statement? Firstly, it provides direction and motivation. Secondly, it keeps your eye on the ball during the craziest of times. Thirdly, it forces you to be honest with yourself and encourages you to ask difficult questions that are essential for the business. And finally, it reminds you each day of why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. Just as an example, Oprah Winfrey articulated her own personal mission statement as, “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.” So, have you written your own personal mission statement yet?

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Exciting prospects for E-commerce in Africa

The role that ecommerce plays in international business and commerce continues to grow, both in numbers and in importance, with total worldwide ecommerce sales expected to reach $4.5 trillion by 2021.The fact that ecommerce continues to grow at this rate suggest that online business represents exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs to tap into growing global markets. Despite the battle for market share amongst existing big online retailers, the African continent still has an attractive consumer base waiting to be unlocked. Commenting on whether e-commerce is going to be profitable in Africa, given the continent’s socio-economic challenges, Emilian Popa, CEO of Groupon explained, “There are 175 million online shopping users today and there will be 600 million users in 2025. Internet penetration is 16% today and will be 50% in 2025. There are 57 million people who have smartphones in Africa and there will be 360 million in 2025. There are clear opportunities.” The bottom line is that ecommerce represents an exciting mechanism for Africa’s entrepreneurs to get their unique products and brands out into new and exciting global markets, and to do good business. The planning needs to start now!

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Create collaborative, win-win partnerships

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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