Africa’s changing media landscape and the power of entrepreneurial storytelling 

This week, more than 100 senior executives, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders from the world of media and business gathered in Accra for the annual Africa Business Media Innovators summit to discuss the changing face of media. The event aimed to examine the many new trends and approaches in the wider communications sector, so that media companies can share their strategies for navigating these changes, and their efforts to impact inclusive and sustainable economic growth on the continent. One of the interesting topics discussed focused on how leveraging the changes in media practices would enable more Africans to tell stories about Africa, and particularly, how this could be utilized as a tool to help drive inclusive growth. Matthew Winkler, Co-Founder of Bloomberg News and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus said: “As the geopolitical landscape changes with African economies showing the most dynamic demographic opportunity for growth, the continent must continue to build media capacity that will serve Africans’ increasing need for accurate and relevant business information.” All of this should be good news for Africa’s women entrepreneurs who need to get their unique business and brand building stories told more frequently in the media, both at home and abroad, giving them a more powerful voice and greater visibility.

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Advocating for women’s leadership in clean energy entrepreneurship

COP23, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Bonn, Germany, right now is coming to a close tomorrow, but one interesting theme is emerging from the talks, and that is the central role of women in clean energy entrepreneurship to help address climate change. There are 2.7 billion people in the world that still rely on biomass (firewood, charcoal and animal waste) for cooking, lighting, and heating, many of whom live in Africa. Exposure to smoke from these traditional biomass-based cookstoves and open fires causes over 4 million premature deaths every year, the majority being women and young children as they do the cooking in their homes. The Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER) advocates for the direct involvement of women as entrepreneurs, innovators, decision-makers, and policy practitioners to be part of the solution to change things for the better. wPOWER has empowered a world-wide network of over 5,500 women clean energy entrepreneurs who work in rural underserved areas. This has significantly enhanced outreach, and enabled greater and easier access of clean energy information, solution and products to rural communities. wPOWER attributes its success to its unique model of operation comprising of three key pillars: Building evidence, sharing best practices, and advocating for women’s leadership in clean energy entrepreneurship. 

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Work smarter, not harder

We all know the phrase work smarter, not harder, but as entrepreneurs do we actually practice that approach as much as we should do? Here are a few practical tips that can help to really maximize your precious time in the business day. Firstly, the trick is to prioritize what needs to be done each day, and don’t allow distractions until those high priority tasks have been completed. Secondly, it’s important to know when to walk away from a particular task that is bogging you down, take a break and get some fresh perspective, and then return with a fresh eye. Thirdly, eliminate distractions (particularly in the social media space) whilst you are working on a particular task and focus - you will get that task done quicker. Fourthly, work in set chunks of time on bigger tasks so as to break down these seemingly onerous projects into manageable pieces. Finally, delegate - chances are not all your essential tasks and projects to be completed will need you personally to complete them, bring other people and expertise in to help. By working smarter, not harder you will manage your time better, get things done, and achieve your daily return on time and effort investment.

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Doing business in Africa just got easier

So just how easy is it to do business in Africa, and are some countries more geared up towards supporting entrepreneurs starting new businesses than others? Well, according to the latest World Bank Doing Business Report published this month, the answer is yes - and the top 10 African countries making the list might surprise you. Mauritius takes the top spot in this year’s list moving up to 25 in the list overall due to a string of reforms that make it much easier to register and run a business in the country. Second comes Rwanda, moving up 15 places in the list due to the fast turnaround time for getting new businesses registered. Morocco comes in at number three having improved its online tax filing and payment system and its overall business registration process. Kenya has also moved up the list thanks to its new procedures that make starting a formal business much easier. And Botswana has made it easier to trade cross border for entrepreneurs, taking it to number 5 in the list. Other African countries making this top 10 list include South Africa (dropping its ranking in this year’s line-up as it now takes longer to register a business), Zambia, Tunisia, Seychelles and Lesotho. To read the Doing Business report in full, click here.

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Celebrating the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week

Today, 13th November, marks the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week, a focused week of events, competitions and publicity taking place in 160 countries and aimed at inspiring millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare. During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. To find out more about what is happening during GEW on the African continent, click here.

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Success and sacrifice go hand in hand with entrepreneurship

Talk to any successful entrepreneur about how they built their business from scratch to a success and chances are you will hear the word sacrifice too. The two things often go hand in hand. Bootstrapping a business in the early days often means having to make tough choices. Some sell their possessions to raise essential startup capital; others downsize their living situations to free up cash at critical times; many give up life’s luxuries that others take for granted such as eating out in restaurants, holidays, cars, etc in order to bring down expenses and achieve greater liquidity. What they all share in common is a realisation that very little in life and business comes easy and that sacrifice in the short term helps pave the way for success in the long term. Granted, there will be tough times to get through, but it will make the taste of success all the sweeter when it finally comes your way. There is a well known saying that goes: “Nothing great was ever accomplished without making sacrifices.” Something to think about when you have tough decisions to make on your own entrepreneurial journeys.

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The art of knowing when to rebrand

So you’ve been in business for a while, and you’ve managed to build a solid company with brand recognition and a loyal customer base, but you start to notice your key market environment changing. It could be time to consider a brand refresh in order to reaffirm your place in the market or to find some traction with new customers. But how do you know if it’s the right move to make? After all, a rebrand is a major undertaking on so many levels for any entrepreneur. Here are some of the reasons that a rebrand could be right for your business, right now. Firstly, other entrants into the marketplace have developed brands that now look close in style and feel to yours. Revisit your brand and look at what you need to do to make it stand out in the crowd. Secondly, look at your messaging - does it reflect your company value proposition strongly enough for customers to engage with your brand? Consider refreshing your message book or your business tagline, it could make all the difference to the way your brand and company appeal to customers. And, get some specialist advice from those fellow entrepreneurs whose businesses specialize in rebranding, it could make all the difference.

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Be flexible and open to learning new ways of doing things

There is a well known quote that goes: “Be stubborn about your goals, and flexible about your methods.” In the world of entrepreneurship, this is particularly relevant. On any business building journey, there will inevitably be unexpected roadbumps to get over, changes in the marketplace you didn’t see coming, challenges that test you to the limit. But the key is being flexible and open to doing things differently if the circumstances dictate that change is needed. The question is, are you able to change direction and be agile? Are you willing to try something new and learn new skills that will help you to adapt? Can you learn new things? Flexibility is one of those soft skills that can help you survive as an entrepreneur. The trick is to keep refining your overarching vision and goals to react to changing market dynamics; to be open to changing course if new opportunities arise; to not simply stick to one course of action because that’s what is in your business plan, but be flexible enough to embrace change and do things differently.

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Hard work and patience pay off in business

The sporting world was alive with chatter this past weekend with the news that the New York Marathon, that gruelling testimony to physical fitness and mental fortitude, had been won by the first American woman in 40 years, Shalane Flanagan. She managed to finish the race ahead of the hotly tipped three-time defending champion, Mary Keitany from Kenya. So how did she do it, against all the odds? She puts it down to three key factors - courage, and lots of it; sheer hard work; and above all patience. When asked to sum up her success and what gave her the edge, Shalane said: ”I’ve been dreaming of a moment like this since I was a little girl. It means a lot to me, to my family. Hopefully it inspires the next generation of women to just be patient. It took me seven years to do this. A lot of hard work went into this one moment." There is a lot that entrepreneurs can learn from Shalane Flanagan’s success story, because in the similarly tough, highly competitive world of business building, there is no substitute for hard work, courage and ultimately patience. After all, most successful businesses were not build overnight, they took time, courage, hard work and perseverance.

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Speed to market is key to success

This year’s Doing Business Report has just been released and it makes for interesting reading, particularly when it comes to identifying the world’s top countries for making it easy to open a business in a matter of hours, and less than a working week. And, when speed to market is important around innovation and getting businesses and products launched, this can be a critical deciding factor. New Zealand tops the list once again and is the only country where it’s possible to open a business in just one day. Next up are Canada and the small former Soviet republic, Georgia — where it takes just two days to open a business. Good news for Africa is that two countries make the list of 23 countries - in Rwanda and Burundi, it takes just four days to complete the paperwork and to launch a business there. That is in stark contrast to countries like South Africa, where it takes on average 45 days to open and register a business. The long time it takes is mostly down to how long it takes to register with the Department of Labour for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and Workmen’s Compensation Fund — according to the World Bank.

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Get yourself pitch ready to win that dream client

As an entrepreneur, have you identified that list of dream clients you would like to work with in your business, but not yet found a way of getting to them? Well, it could be that you are simply not prepared well enough to get noticed by those clients when the opportunity arises. It’s all about the planning and preparation process, and the amount of effort you expend in making those connections happen at the right time. Start by doing your research and gaining a better understanding of those dream clients’ pain points and priorities. Once you have those vital insights, you are much better prepared to hone your product or service offering to fit those needs and become a more viable business proposition. Next, make sure you are networking in the right places where those dream clients are to be found. Again, do your research, look at conferences, trade shows, professional association gatherings where they may be speaking, and take any opportunity to ask questions or connect on a personal level. Finally, make sure you are 100% pitch ready if that meeting opportunity arises and get your idea, product or service offering to them in the most impactful way. Importantly, follow up immediately in writing to make the momentum work for you. So what are you waiting for, go out and get that dream client!

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Start preparing for a great year ahead

The end of the business year is rapidly hurtling towards us, so it’s not only the perfect time to ensure that key 2017 goals have been achieved, but also a time to start planning for a highly productive year ahead. Start by reviewing the past year in detail, take a look at what worked and what didn’t and what could be improved going forward. Revisit your business strategy and see if it needs a tweak to react to market conditions or new opportunities. Set your new goals for 2018 and create a practical action plan with timelines to achieve those goals. Importantly, look at your own business and brand and what needs to be done to build its profile, to improve awareness, to get people talking about it in order to generate more clients, contracts and sales. You need to hit the ground running in the new year, so now is the best time to set those wheels in motion.

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The Power of the Pride

There is something hugely powerful about seeing a pride of lionesses in the wild, watching them as they work together to create a collaborative team where every member thrives and supports the others. There are valuable lessons from the pride that can be learned for women entrepreneurs as they embark on their own business building journeys. For example, looking for synergies with other lionesses, recognizing that we are far more powerful together than we are alone. Or understanding how critical good communication is for building positive, lasting  relationships that can open up other opportunities for business. Or appreciating the importance of trust, knowing that a fellow lioness has your back in business and in life. The life of a woman entrepreneur, particularly in Africa, can be tough and often lonely - that’s why having a sense of belonging to a pride of fellow women entrepreneurs who understand your journey is so powerful.

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Not getting the right results? Change the way you work

Do you sometimes feel that no matter how hard you are working as an entrepreneur you are just not getting the breakthroughs you are looking for, and the results are just not coming? It can happen, but sometimes it’s a matter of taking a step back and making some incremental changes in the way you do things. For example, you may have been organising your day in the same way since you first launched your business, based on old working habits and timetables - so maybe that’s your first starting point to shake things up a bit. Perhaps starting your working day one hour earlier could get you that quality time you are looking for to get your essential strategic thinking work done - and that could be the key to getting that pivotal breakthrough. This is just one practical and small example of how changing the way you are doing things could help the business to achieve its goals. There is a famous quote that says: “If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan not the goal.” It’s great advice! 

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Happy clients are your best sales tools

As entrepreneurs we know the power of testimonials from our clients to position our businesses and brands as trustworthy, efficient, reliable, high quality deliverers of the products and services we offer. Yet are we really leveraging these happy clients as genuinely effective sales tools? There are so many smart ways to have our satisfied customers help us to get the word out there to new potential clients. Written testimonials are always a good way of having our happy clients speak about their positive experience with our products and services, but the trick is to ensure these testimonials have high visibility on our websites, on our promotional materials, and on our social media feeds. Video and podcast testimonials are the most powerful means of having our clients share their experiences with our audiences, and are easy to record and share using the power of social media to the full. New customers want the comfort factor of knowing your business and brand has a track record of successful delivery, so how better to get that message across than through the voices of your happy clients. Ultimately, they are your best and most powerful sales tools. 

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Why global connectedness is essential to your entrepreneurial journey

They say travel broadens the mind, but it’s more fundamental than that. For entrepreneurs it’s an essential part of growing networks, expanding market opportunities, and making valuable business connections. It’s also a great way of seeing how other parts of the world do business, build brands, and connect with customers - bottom line, it’s a great learning experience. But particularly for women entrepreneurs in Africa, travelling to new cities across the continent and around the globe generally opens up access to important eco-systems in each new market. One of the biggest challenges is always breaking into new markets, so having a headstart by tapping into an existing entrepreneur eco-system and one that is Africa focused, is always going to be an advantage. Ultimately, it’s all about connectedness, the big buzzword of the moment for entrepreneurs. Being connected means being able to tap into local knowledge and specialist knowhow, test out new ideas, better understand the dynamics of local marketplaces. In fact, the importance of global connectedness for entrepreneurs has just been highlighted in the latest 2017 Global Startup Ecosystem Report. It found that Global Connectedness strongly correlates with early-stage funding, the ability of startups to access global markets, and overall ecosystem performance. 

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Access to markets is key to unlocking startup success

Often startup businesses spend a lot of time agonizing about how they are going to get access to capital, and yes that’s an important part of the journey. But, perhaps more important is getting access to markets and that can often be just as difficult, if not more so, particularly for Africa’s women entrepreneurs. Making the move into high growth markets in different parts of the world can certainly provide opportunities for success, especially when local business conditions are tough or over saturated. But breaking into these new markets can be daunting if you have no starting point, and often knowing where to get that starting point is a challenge. If there is one thing we know at Lionesses of Africa it’s that having an established community or network to tap into in any new country or city market can be key. Having other women entrepreneurs to connect with through that shared sense of community can provide essential local market insight, connections to useful contacts, partnership opportunities and much more. So the bottom line is use your communities and networks to make those all important breakthroughs into new and exciting markets. A world of business awaits you!    

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Get your business launch ready

So, you have a new product or service that you have spent months of hard work and resources perfecting, and now it’s finally ready to get out to market. But the question is, are you launch ready? Ensuring you have a great product or service launch takes planning and preparation if you are to reach those key audiences and turn them into sales. Here are four quick tips to help you on your mission. Firstly, get your launch team in place - this could be a combination of your own employees, your hired-in event crew, your promoters, and your partners - everyone who is going to be out there helping you to get product to customer. Secondly, get people talking about your launch and your new products, and that means writing. Make sure you have powerful copy written about your new products or services in multiple forms, ready for use on social media, in advertising, on press releases, in marketing e-mailers, etc. Thirdly, put your promotions action plan in place, including launch events and roadshows, webinars, special sales activations and demo days, and ensure your promotions team are briefed on the story behind the product. Finally, ensure your payment systems are in place and fully working, because it’s all about converting the interest into the sale. You should now be ready to get out there and launch that new product or service with confidence.

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Show gratitude to your customers and supporters

It’s been a busy year, and now that it’s coming to an end, it’s a great time to show gratitude to all those customers and supporters who have been so loyal to your business and brand. There are lots of ways of making that all important gratitude touch point count. You could start wth a personal note from you and your team to each of your customers, thanking them for their support and business over the past year. It’s a small but powerful act of recognition that keeps those customers coming back. You could consider some small end of year token gifting, a small branded product from your range that says thank you but also connects them to your brand. Or perhaps you can say thank you in the form of a special end of year promotion for loyal customers, such as a big discount on a particular product or service offering. Whatever way you choose, when you show gratitude to your customers and supporters it’s a simple yet powerful way of connecting and building powerful long-term relationships that are good for them and good for your business.

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Work towards ending the year with a strong finish

We are at that point in the last quarter of the year when as entrepreneurs we revisit the goals and targets we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year, and evaluate what we need to do to have a strong finish. Motivation is key right now, and keeping focus on the end goal, putting concrete action plans in place for not only ourselves but also our teams to follow, to ensure we get the results we need. It’s worth taking a look at the world of sport and how coaches keep their players motivated at crunch times to get that much needed last minute goal to save the match, or to win that final race that will clinch the series. It’s all about acknowledging and rewarding effort; incentivizing to make that final sales push; celebrating the wins, both big and small, to keep spirits and motivation high. If you need any more encouragement, there is a great quote by Robin Sharma, the author of the bestseller The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, who said: “Starting strong is good, finishing strong is epic.” Something to remember in these last few weeks of the year.

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