Build an audience and they will come!

With any new startup business, one of the key challenges facing the founder(s) is that of getting customers. After all, you can create the most wonderful products and offer a great range of services, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have customers they remain the best kept secrets. The best way to really prepare your business to attract customers to your offerings is to start building your audience from day 1 when you officially turn your idea into reality. If you have done your research properly, you will have a pretty good idea of exactly who those potential customers are and what your audience looks like, what it wants, what appeals to it in terms of function, form and aesthetics. So the trick is to start connecting with your potential customers each day as part of your startup approach to building your business. How do you do this? It starts with having a conversation - try writing a daily blog which will interest your customers; or maybe create a vlog or a podcast where you can share your creative ideas and insights with them; or perhaps organize some networking events where you can potentially get to know them better. Taking this proactive audience-first approach means that by the time you are ready to launch your business, products and services in earnest, you will already have an engaged audience to convert into a buying customer base. 

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What's your entrepreneurial superpower?

I read a great article this weekend on Elon Musk, the South African born now US based, mega successful serial entrepreneur behind such groundbreaking business ventures as SpaceX and Tesla Motors. The writer Michael Simmons in his article ‘How Elon Musk Learns Faster And Better Than Everyone Else' was trying to analyze the secret to his success. Some suggest that it’s down to his incredible work ethic (he is reported to regularly work 85 hour weeks), or his sheer resilience in business, or perhaps his unique visionary ability to imagine and realize innovative new ways of doing things in the future. Yet what is really interesting and what sets him apart from others is that he appears to break all the rules of success in business with his approach to building expertise in lots of highly disparate fields of expertise. Instead of focusing on just one idea, he has the ability to simultaneously explore and venture into several business and industry sectors, all to a large degree successfully. Not everyone is hardwired in such a unique way, but what we can learn from Elon Musk’s example is his sheer work ethic, and his openness to constantly learning new things and applying them to the business. Maybe in that way, we can all take on board a little of his entrepreneurial superpower.

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Success starts with you

Flicking through a copy of the book, The Art of Work by author Jeff Goins, the premise of which is that we have to take ownership of our own success, I was struck by the thought that for many entrepreneurs, this remains a challenge. Often it seems like other people just seem to get lucky in business and in life, often with far less innovative ideas or product/service offerings. But as he argues, we have more control over our success than we think, and the people who succeed — in life and business — are those who understand how the system works, what the hidden rules are, and how to win. Research suggests there are some predictable patterns to how individuals go to the next level and it starts with something simple - taking ourselves really seriously so that others will. If we want to achieve success we have to boost our self confidence, believe in ourselves, believe in the businesses we are building and the products and services we are creating. We have to recognize that we can’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come along, we have to make it happen ourselves and take action. As Jeff Goins says in his book: “It’s not the smartest people who necessarily succeed. It’s the people who use what they have — how much or little — to create the biggest impact.” 

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How to see challenges as opportunities

Entrepreneurs tend to have a different way of seeing the world - with an opportunistic lens. For example, where your average consumer might complain about the lack of a particular product or service that they need in their country or city, or something that needs dramatically improving, an entrepreneur would see those needs as potential businesses in the making. Just look at someone like Richard Branson whose entrepreneurial ventures into the world of aviation, banking, exercise and leisure, were all stimulated by his seizing on an opportunity to do things differently, better and more creatively. Similarly, social entrepreneurs are driven by a need to find solutions to key social and environmental challenges through viable business models that allow them to make money and make a difference, once again turning those challenges into real opportunities. As Richard Branson says, “By turning challenges into opportunities you will find success you never realized you were capable of achieving.” Something to think about!

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How to see challenges as opportunities

Entrepreneurs tend to have a different way of seeing the world - with an opportunistic lens. For example, where your average consumer might complain about the lack of a particular product or service that they need in their country or city, or something that needs dramatically improving, an entrepreneur would see those needs as potential businesses in the making. Just look at someone like Richard Branson whose entrepreneurial ventures into the world of aviation, banking, exercise and leisure, were all stimulated by his seizing on an opportunity to do things differently, better and more creatively. Similarly, social entrepreneurs are driven by a need to find solutions to key social and environmental challenges through viable business models that allow them to make money and make a difference, once again turning those challenges into real opportunities. As Richard Branson says, “By turning challenges into opportunities you will find success you never realized you were capable of achieving.” Something to think about!

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Diversify your markets and spread your risk

Switch on your tv news, read a newspaper or check out the latest business news online, and much of the talk is about the impact, good and bad, of various global economic and political events. As one marketplace goes up, another comes down, constantly shifting opportunities and risks for the entrepreneur to think about. As a result, it makes sense to spread the risk and diversify our marketing and sales strategies to proactively counter the market movements that we have no control over. It’s the perfect time to revisit existing business strategies, to look critically at where our current active markets are and what the future conditions look like for business. Spread the risk by looking at new markets, perhaps doing some market testing for your products and services, attending one or two events in a new country to really get a feel for the opportunities that might exist there for your business. It’s all about diversification, ensuring that, as the saying goes, not all our eggs are in one basket. 

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Value your time as an entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs, how many times a day do we wish we could stretch the number of hours we have at our disposal to get things done, both in our business and our personal lives? Probably more than we think, as it’s a continual challenge. Yet, it doesn’t have to be like that, all it takes is a change of mindset. The trick is to know how to value our personal time, how to categorize low and high value tasks, and then how to delegate all those low value tasks to other people, freeing us to focus on what really matters. Sounds simple doesn’t it? So why is it that so many entrepreneurs still battle this concept when it comes to putting it into practice. The thing to remember is that all the time we are spending focusing on the low value tasks is sapping our creative energy and not actually contributing to building our businesses or enhancing our lives. It’s all about optimizing our time, making sure that the hours given to the business are high value hours, with maximum outputs. Success comes from knowing when and how to delegate to others, ensuring that efforts to realize the big vision for the business are what we personally need to focus our quality and precious time on.

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Stop procrastinating, do it today

We’ve all been there! Those moments when we know we have to get a particular job done, but we find every reason and excuse to put it off, doing anything else rather than actually getting started. But for entrepreneurs, procrastination can suck the life out of you and your business if you let it become a habit. When you are building a business it’s hard and there will be lots of tedious, routine tasks that will need to be done, particularly early on in the startup years. So instead of dreading them and putting them off until the very last minute and deadline, take a different, more proactive approach. It’s all a matter of getting your mind and habits trained to get things done today instead of thinking that tomorrow will be acceptable. Make a list each morning of all the tasks you have to complete that day that are non-negotiable, and then allocate a specific time slot in your day to focus solely on getting that task done. Build in review time during the day to look at each task remaining and keep yourself on track. Ensure you allocate specific time slots in your daily routine to eat healthily, get some exercise and clear your mind - it all helps to get your body and mind in the best shape mentally and physically to get things done. And at the end of the day, when you look at how much you have achieved, your business will thank you for your new approach to removing procrastination from your life and getting more focused on productivity.

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Celebrating socially impactful entrepreneurs

 The annual Cartier Awards, the initiative to recognize and support women entrepreneurs leading creative, for-profit companies that are socially impactful, took place last evening in Singapore. The winner for sub-Saharan Africa was Salma Abdulai of Ghana, founder of Unique Quality Product, a company that processes and markets fonio, a nutritious and climate resistant indigenous cereal. Congratulations go to her and the other two finalists from Sub-Saharan Africa: Kathy Ku, founder of Spouts of Water in Uganda, and Nneka Mobisson, founder of Mdoc Healthcare in Nigeria. Over the past decade, the Cartier Awards has become synonymous with supporting creative excellence from around the world, as more than 160 entrepreneurs from 45 countries have experienced first-hand. This year’s event attracted nearly 1900 applicants from over 120 countries, with 18 finalists selected, all of whom distinguished themselves by the impact they are making in ensuring food security for the future; leveraging technology to connect communities and empower individuals; enhancing the healthcare and social care systems; optimizing the use of resources towards sustainability. This international competition continues to contribute to the global economy by seeking out audacious female entrepreneurs who are finding effective and affordable solutions to key challenges for future generations. 

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Work smarter not harder if you want to achieve success

If you are one of those people who constantly battle the challenge of not having enough hours in the day and keep extending the number of hours you are working just to keep up, then it’s time for a rethink! Research suggests that the key to getting more done isn’t simply a case of working longer hours, but instead working smarter with the time you have. Remember Parkinson’s Law, the theory that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Think about it, if you have a deadline, you’ll almost always meet it,  because Parkinson’s Law forces you to bring more energy, motivation and focus to your work within a set period of time. Whereas if you don’t have a deadline, the same task will take much longer and you will constantly be distracted by other things. So, the trick to productivity is to limit not extend your working day, meaning it forces you to focus on completing tasks within a very specific period of time. Also, numerous research studies support the fact that people working longer hours each day and week don’t actually produce a greater number of outputs in the long term as fatigue sets in and productivity drops anyway. The bottom line is focus on working smarter and on the most important things, and within a set timeframe each day. You will achieve more, hit deadlines more often, and feel more refreshed each day. 

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Let’s move our businesses forward

April is a month for getting things done and moving forward in our businesses, and that means making sure we are getting our brands, products and services out there where customers can see and connect with them. It means networking with potential customers, business partners and influencers who can help us on our entrepreneurial journeys. And, it also means continually improving the way we do business and run our companies, making sure we are ready to take them to the next level. Lionesses of Africa is there to help you on your way - so here are three things you can do today to help move your business forward this month:

 

Firstly, share your startup story on Lionesses of Africa and get your brand and business out there - we have over 300,000 women entrepreneurs in our network in 49 African countries and in the Diaspora - that is a lot of eyes potentially reading your story. It’s simple to do, just click http://www.lionessesofafrica.com/startup-story-submission and fill in your detailed responses to each question. Send us some great images and we do the rest.

Secondly, attend one of our Lioness Lean In Breakfast Events - they take place each month in different locations across the African continent - they are free to women entrepreneurs and are a great way to network. Keep an eye out on our events page for more details http://www.lionessesofafrica.com/lioness-lean-in-breakfast-events/

Thirdly, if you are a Johannesburg based, woman owned business, then apply to attend our Lionesses of Africa Accelerator 12 Week Programme Cohort 2 - its fully funded but places are limited to 30 selected women entrepreneurs who are chosen through an independent adjudication process. Click http://www.lionessesofafrica.com/accelerator/ to apply. 

Let’s get moving our businesses forward this morning!

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The art of putting your commute time to good use

Have you noticed just how much longer it seems to take us to travel from our homes to our workplaces each day, or to client meetings and back? The roads are getting busier, trains and buses more jam packed with people, and city centre apartment and house rentals are increasing meaning we are more likely to live further away than ever from the places we work. So if longer commute times are now an everyday reality, then why not look for the positive and use that time travelling in a moreconstructive way. Here are some ideas to help you to make the most of this travel time in your daily schedule. Firstly, put your earbuds in and listen to an interesting podcast show on a topic that will help your business. Secondly, if relaxation is more your commuting cup of tea, then why not listen to an audiobook from your favourite author. Thirdly, make action lists and to-do notes for yourself using your smartphone on hands-free mode of course, and dictating your audio notes as your travel ready for action when you land at your destination. Fourthly, if you travel a lot for business, then why not learn a new language through your earbuds - download a great audio language course and put your travel time to good use. There’s no excuse now to let your daily commute get you down. Your time is precious so don’t waste a moment of it, plus your journey to work will become a whole lot more enjoyable.

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There’s aways time for networking

How often do you hear your fellow women entrepreneurs talk about how difficult it is finding time to network as they try and balance their pressurized working lives with their personal and family commitments? But the truth is that networking is key to business success - you have to get out there and meet people, introduce your business, talk about your specialist products and services with potential clients, strategic partners and connectors. However, today it’s never been easier to find different ways of networking and it doesn’t always mean travelling to someone’s office or going to a formal networking event. Now it’s all about making networking work for you and your business lifestyle. So here are some suggestions on how to build networking into your daily morning routine without really thinking. If you are a morning exercise person, why not arrange an early jogging or walking session with a fellow entrepreneur, mentor or business partner - you can network as you exercise. If enjoying a cappuccino or espresso is part of your morning must-do routine, then share one with a client or a future customer prospect in a local cafe. Back at your laptop and ready to start your working day, why not do some early morning networking on LinkedIn - make it a target to open up 10 new contacts each day and start those conversations going. During your mid morning tea break, arrange a FaceTime or Skype call with someone in your network. Take this approach to networking and before you know it, by lunchtime you will have networked with 13 people, without actually going to any formal type of networking event. It’s all about how you look at networking - make it work for you and your lifestyle.

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Mobile is now a business strategy for small businesses

Small to medium sized businesses that want to scale in the next 12 to 24 months are making mobile a key part of their business strategy, that’s according to the 2017 SMB Insights Survey just published by The Business Journals in the US. Over 65% of the 1300 SMEs employing between 5 and 499 employees are already driving their businesses through their websites, and 72% of those have designed their websites to be mobile ready to take advantage of the cloud. 84% of all those SMEs surveyed believe that cloud computing and cloud based service offerings are the way forward for their businesses, particularly as they are beginning to source their sales revenues from further afield, moving from local sourcing to national or international sales markets. Making mobile a key future driver of business means that looking to these new market sources becomes much more of a reality. So if scaling your business is on the agenda in the next two years, take a look at your business growth strategy and make sure mobile is the key word underpinning your thought process.

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Want to be productive? Then start the day right!

Are you constantly on the look out for new and innovative ways to be more productive as an entrepreneur? Don’t worry, you are not alone. But if you really want to get into a new productive mode, then it all starts with how you start the day. If you are one of those energetic people who leap out of bed first thing in the morning, put on your jogging kit and start running, then this article is not for you. If not, and your morning routine takes on a much more leisurely approach, then read on. Some of the most successful people on the planet wake up surprisingly early and have a set routine that pumps them up for the rest of the day, meaning they are highly productive and get the required work/life balance we all crave. So, if you want to take a leaf out of their books, try these 5 sure-fire ways of getting rid of your morning fuzziness and boosting your brain and body for a high impact day ahead. Firstly, take a look at yourself in the mirror and smile, a big broad teeth-baring smile. It’s been proven that smiling has a positive effect on your hormone levels and get’s those feel-good endorphins going. Secondly, get moving. Just half an hour of exercise, of any kind, will kickstart your body and clear your mind. Thirdly, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated throughout the day for maximum feel-good. Fourthly, head to the shower and if you are brave enough turn on the cold tap for a stimulating, refreshing and immunity boosting start to your morning proper. Fifthly, have a healthy breakfast and while you’re eating, catch up on the news. By this time, your mind is clear, your body is refreshed and ready for a busy day ahead, and you can hit the ground running.

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Self improvement is a journey that takes work

For entrepreneurs there is often no such thing as perfect, it’s a journey as we know! But if we are to continually improve the way we do business, the way we lead our teams, and the way we develop as individuals and those around us, then we need to also encourage self evaluation too. If everyone in the business is to improve, then they need to be inspired and helped to evaluate how they are doing along the way. Telling someone what they need to improve can be helpful, but asking the right questions and encouraging them to self evaluate can be even more impactful. Here are three easy steps to encouraging self improvement in the business. Firstly, stop focusing on perfection and instead focus on incremental improvements for every individual, and celebrate each improvement - that way, everyone remains committed to achieving the end goal. Secondly, acknowledge increased effort as your team members aim to improve - the results may not immediately be felt, but the greater effort is all important in getting there. Thirdly, keep focused on the positive instead of constantly reminding everyone about the negatives, the mistakes made, etc. By focusing on the positive, it encourages more positive thinking and behaviour, which can only be good for the business. Self improvement is a journey that takes work and effort, but it can reap huge rewards in the long run.

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Want to be successful, then build the right habits

Have you ever looked at other hugely successful entrepreneurs and wondered how they manage to achieve that success whilst apparently doing so many things at the same time, including finding precious time for leisure activity? Well the truth is that some people are just naturally good at juggling multiple tasks and squeezing the maximum out of every minute, hour and day. For the rest of us, it’s all about building the right habits over time that eventually create a solid foundation for success. Here are 5 key habits practiced by many successful entrepreneurs that could help you gain momentum on your business and life journey. Firstly, start waking up a little earlier each morning - an extra 30 minutes added to your day when you are freshest in the morning can make all the difference to your productivity and attitude. Secondly, manage your time better during your day and put in place a proper time management system to help you get things done on the work and personal front. Thirdly, set specific goals for yourself to achieve each day. Fourthly, make a daily action plan and put checklists in place to keep you on track. Finally, stop procrastinating and make completing your daily action plan a must-do, rather than a nice-to-do. If you practice these 5 daily habits and genuinely build them into your daily routine and thought process, you are putting in place a foundation for success. In the words of John Maxwell, leadership guru and author, “If your habits don’t line up with your dream, then you need to either change your habits or change your dream.” 

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Why virtual teams may keep small businesses agile and competitive

There’s no doubt about it, for today’s startups technology is the big game-changer, particularly when it comes to building teams of specialists who can deliver a wide range of services and solutions. No longer is it necessary to incur big overhead expenses with high-cost offices filled with lots of people. Instead the trend is towards the shared economy, with remote working and virtual teams providing startups with access to specialist expertise from like-minded, entrepreneurially thinking people, without the need to be in one location. So how do you make virtual team building work for you? It’s all about encouraging connectivity, productivity, and a sense of ownership in the company. As a business owner, you need to open up effective communication channels with your virtual team members, making them feel a genuine part of the business. To ensure productivity is maximized and managed effectively at all times, choose one of the great project management apps available in the marketplace - it means you are on top of everyone’s workflow. Schedule regular but quick virtual update meetings, to ensure you have some good team face-time and a check-in on deliverables. And finally, make sure your systems and processes are in place to help your virtual team members structure their deliverables. Happy virtual team building!

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Don’t be afraid of the unknown, write your own future

When you first start out on your entrepreneurial journey, there is so much that is unknown. You have a germ of an idea that you think could make for a great business; you have endless passion and enthusiasm for what you are planning to do; and you have determination to make it work. But the fact is, there are so many unknowns, and for many young startups this can be a little daunting and pretty scary. So it’s good to get some perspective when things seem a bit overwhelming. Remember that the unknown is not something to fear, instead simply look at it as an opportunity to experience things that are new to you. There will be plenty of challenges, but also opportunities to be seized with an open mind. There will be stumbling blocks and you will make mistakes along the way, but you will learn from each and every one of them, and the experiences will make you stronger and wiser. You will meet so many new people along the way, some will be your greatest supporters, others will not, but you will be enriched as a result of each of those encounters. Your journey to building a business is one long learning curve, and yes there will be lots of unknowns along the way - but instead of seeing them as something to fear, instead see them as steps to be climbed as you write your own entrepreneurial future. As the well-known motivational speaker and author, Steve Rizzo, said: “If you let fear of the unknown stop you from taking chances, you will stifle your true potential.” Something to think about this morning!

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The power of women leaning in to support one another

Have you noticed what happens when you put enough women entrepreneurs together in a room and ask them to connect with each other to make a difference? Positive, life affirming moments take place. This was certainly the case yesterday when Lionesses of Africa held one of its Lioness Lean In Breakfast events in Durban, South Africa. We heard the inspirational startup stories of women who had overcome some of the biggest personal challenges on their journeys to building their businesses - and their fellow women entrepreneurs in the audience were there to celebrate and applaud their success. We heard emotional stories of heartbreak and resilience, of bravery and tenacity, and women were there with tissues and a shoulder to lean on, not to mention practical solutions to challenges being faced right now. Probably the biggest learning outcome from the morning was that if we are there as a support system as women entrepreneurs and reach out to help one another when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will at some stage, we are always stronger together. 

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