Clearly define the core values at the heart of your business

Look at any successful business that resonates with you and the chances are that you connect with it because you appreciate and understand its core values. It’s something to think about with your own business. When a customer makes that all important decision to buy from you, they’re endorsing your own values and those associated with your brand. That’s why it’s important to define the core values of your business right from day one. Customers need to know what you stand for as a business, what’s important to you, how you operate in the marketplace, how your brand is viewed by others. Your core values help to guide and safeguard your reputation, and help you to build a successful business that reflects who you want to be, and where you want to go in life. They also play a pivotal role in helping you to make big decisions. So, if you haven’t spent time defining the core values that are at the heart of your business, then you could be undermining your business and brand in the eyes of your customers and your employees.

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Find a way to differentiate yourself

If your business is operating in a busy or congested marketplace, how do you find a way of differentiating yourself and your brand from everyone else around you? How do you make that all important connection with customers when they are being bombarded with rival brands, products and messaging 24/7? No matter what product or service you want to provide, it’s all about doing your homework, studying the market and whose playing in it, watching to see what brands and products are connecting with customers, and then importantly finding practical ways to differentiate your offering. You can do this in various, equally effective and impactful ways - personalize your products and take a more bespoke approach; change your look and feel to reflect a completely different and more cutting edge brand persona; change your customer service approach to offer something that none of your competitors are doing. How you differentiate is up to you, but at the end of the day it’s all about standing out in the marketplace and getting those potential customers to notice you and your brand, and importantly make that purchase.

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Humility is an essential part of being an entrepreneur

It may not be something that immediately comes to mind, but humility is a core component of entrepreneurial thinking - that’s according to a study undertaken by the University of Washington Foster School of Business. It drives even the boldest business builders to challenge their existing thought processes and ways of doing things and recognize their potential for continual improvement. The study identifies three essential aspects to humility that can enhance your effectiveness as a leader and an entrepreneur. Firstly, humility means having the ability to listen, to actively solicit feedback from customers, colleagues, and community. As a result this boosts employee morale, improves your product offerings and develops customer loyalty. Secondly, humility means never assuming you’re right and being open to test your assumptions to gain genuine insight into what’s working -- and what’s not. Thirdly, humility means admitting mistakes and not seeing them as a sign of weakness but instead a sign of being human. Humility may not obviously be the most glamorous signifier of success, but it’s an essential part of being an entrepreneur.

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Take a team approach to achieve more

There is a great sporting quote that goes ‘there is no I in team’, extolling the virtues of building teams that are stronger when everyone unites together to achieve one goal. And in the world of entrepreneurship, there is something to be said for taking a team approach to building a successful business. As women entrepreneurs, we know that we cannot be good at every aspect of our businesses. We are not all natural accountants, or sales people, or human resource managers, but we have to try and be all those things in the early days of business building. Taking a team approach to filling the gaps could be the way forward. By identifying your weaknesses, you can seek out other women entrepreneurs to collaborate with or to provide their specialist expertise where you find it lacking in your own business. By teaming up with other like-minded women, sharing knowledge, and exchanging strengths, you will help to keep your overhead costs down, improve your own efficiencies, and ensure long-term success.

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Women find it harder to build business networks

A study published by McKinsey and the LeanIn Organisation found that typically women have smaller networks than their male counterparts, and this could be impacting on their ability to tap into new business opportunities more regularly. The study found that there were two reasons for this apparent imbalance. Firstly, women are more reticent about building extensive networks because they have concerns about achieving work-life balance, and see belonging to and building too many networks as negatively impacting on their abilities to achieve this balance. Secondly, women see networking in the way that their male counterparts do it as being transactional and not genuine, with everyone looking to build a relationship in order to get the next deal, whereas women are interested in building genuine relationships with like-minded people. The downside is that because women don’t view networking in the transactional way that men do, they don’t make as many connections. Getting the balance right between these two approaches is perhaps the key to making networking count.

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Don’t be afraid to ask

There is not a single entrepreneur out there who has not needed help or advice at some point on their journey, so why is it that all too often, women entrepreneurs find it tough to ask for that help. My biggest piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask, after all, what’s the worst that can happen? Just someone saying no, or not right now! Remember that everyone who has achieved success in business or the corporate world will probably have had to face challenges and hurdles along the way, it’s inevitable. So they will understand what you are going through, and importantly, how to provide some much needed advice or information to help you on your journey. So don’t be afraid to reach out to someone more experienced, to request a chat over coffee, or to ask for advice on how to deal with a particular challenge in your business. There is a wealth of experience and great insights out there, so get over any hesitation you might have and just ask. You might be pleasantly surprised by the response you get!

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Is your business swallowing your identity?

As an entrepreneur, if you have ever felt that your business is beginning to shape your identity because your whole life revolves around it, then you are not alone. It seems like more and more of us are dedicating almost all our waking hours to work on our businesses, putting other things such as hobbies, recreational activities, personal relationships, healthy eating and even sleep to one side. This approach inevitably means we become one dimensional, and this isn’t healthy for us, the business, or those around us. It also increases the chances of burn-out. So, how do you reclaim your identity and maintain a healthy sense of self outside of your business?  Well, it all starts with your schedule. Make a conscious effort to book time in the diary for you and your family and friends; times for doing the things you enjoy, whether it’s exercise, reading a book, watching a movie, or meditating; set boundaries - times and places where everything except business is talked about; and build personal relationships that are based on you and your interests, not your business. Here’s to reclaiming your identity so that you and your business ultimately benefit.

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Ignite that spark

Talk to investors, VCs, and bankers about what they look for when entrepreneurs are pitching their businesses and projects to them, and often they mention waiting for that intangible ‘spark’ that comes from a passionate business builder. But for many entrepreneurs, finding and igniting that spark can be challenging - particularly if they are on the receiving end of predominantly ‘no’s’ when pitching, even though that’s an inevitable part of the journey. But it’s worth remembering that on every level, both personal and business, igniting that spark is key. Think about the huge rush of excitement when you land a new client, or when your work is recognized publicly, or that moment when you finally get the ‘yes’ from that pitch meeting. One spark is all it takes to reignite your passion for your business, and that spark is what connects you to those who can help take your business to the next level, be they customers or investors. As Richard Branson says: ”When you believe in something, the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals. This is essential to success.”

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Debunking the myth that startups are created by youngsters

Pick up any magazine on entrepreneurship, or watch the news of the latest startup sensation making waves in Silicon Valley, and you would be tempted to think that the most successful businesses are built by young whizz-kid founders. But a group of economics researchers in the US have conducted a major new study into the starting age of founders of high-growth startups, and are debunking that myth. It appears that the average age is about 41.9 years of age among all startups that hire at least one employee. Among the top 0.1 percent of highest-growth startups, that average age moves up to 45 years old. Another interesting finding from the research was that older entrepreneurs appear correlated with better startup performance. For example, the 1,700 founders of the fastest growing new ventures interviewed in the US for the research had an average age of 45, compared to 43.7 for the top 1% and 42.1 for the top 5%. All of which would seem to suggest that for older entrepreneurs, with age comes wisdom, and at a practical level, experience in their respective business fields, all of which seems to improve the changes of high growth startup success.

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Learn from your mistakes and then let them go

How often as an entrepreneur do you find yourself spending precious time re-hashing mistakes or bad decisions you have made - over and over again? You are not alone! It seems that one of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to do is to stop pressing the replay button and to let that mistake or decision go once it has been made. It’s all about mindset - it’s important to learn from our mistakes and our errors of judgement, but then to move quickly on, incorporating those learnings as we go. As tech entrepreneur and founder of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell, says: “Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.” Something to remember when you are tempted to press that replay button in your head and relive your latest mistake.

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Have you lost your creative spark?

It can happen to the best of entrepreneurs - that period of time in business when you know it’s important to keep things fresh and to ensure products and services stay relevant and interesting to your customers, but your creativity dries up! New ideas suddenly refuse to appear, inspiration is hard to find, and you hit that proverbial creative wall, worried you will never have an original idea of your own again. The truth is, creative slumps are par for the course in business, and they can strike at any time. The trick is to find ways of getting that spark back in your life, and there are some practical methods to do that. Start by surrounding yourself with other creative entrepreneurs, get a dose of their passion and enthusiasm for their new ideas, be stimulated by the conversations you will have. Try something new, develop a new interest or skill that could help the business further down the line, set up a chat with someone whose creative work inspires you, and share experiences. Chances are, you will beat your slump, and if all else fails, at least you will know you are not alone.

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Stay calm during the highs and lows of your business

Talk to any entrepreneur about the challenges they face in running a business and the list will be very long. However, one of the most commonly faced challenges is knowing how to stay calm and keep a consistent focus during the highs and lows of business. For example, we all know that great sense of euphoria when you make your first sale. It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s an endorsement of your decision to become an entrepreneur. However, it’s the opposite feeling when you can’t repeat that sale immediately and you then begin to question your decision. The reality is that building a business takes time, hard work, tenacity and ultimately a cool head. There will inevitably be good times and bad times, it’s all part of the journey. One of the biggest lessons to learn will be how to stay calm and focused, no matter what life and business throws at you. 

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Successful founders often come from difficult backgrounds

Sometimes out of great necessity and great difficulty comes great success, and that’s often the case in the world of entrepreneurship. Oprah Winfrey said, ”Although there may be tragedy in your life, there's always a possibility to triumph. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.” In the Lionesses of Africa community, we often hear the most inspirational stories shared by women entrepreneurs whose successful businesses were born out of the toughest of personal circumstances. A great example of this is the multiple award-winning Carol Hien, founder of Carol’s Produits Naturels in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, who gave an inspirational speech at a recent Lioness Lean In event in the country. She found her way out of personal tragedy and desperate poverty by turning her skill for jam-making into a business. Today, she has built a successful and growing manufacturing and retail food processing business that not only takes care of her own family, but creates job opportunities for many others. Carol, and other women like her in Africa, are great examples of how to overcome a difficult start in life, and to triumph! 

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The advantage of being a startup

If you have ever wondered what advantage startups have over big business, its speed and innovation. Think about it, a startup has nothing to lose when creating a new product or service, which means they are faster to market and can afford to fail. Big business does not have that luxury, they are constantly worried about their brand reputation and therefore they are never quick to market with new ideas. Just look at how startups have changed the world as we know it today with their disruptive approach. For Twitter to reach 50 million users took just two years. The Angry Birds app took a mere 35 days to reach 50 million users.  Look back in history and things were very different. It took 75 years for the telephone to hit 50 million users and television, 22 years. So, disruption is the new normal today and it’s being driven by innovative startups moving at speed who are not afraid to fail and to constantly try new things. 

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Disruptive startups are shaking up traditional business

Things are changing in the world of big business and it’s entrepreneurs who are shaking things up. A new study of the S&P 500 shows that 50% of the companies listed will cease to exist over the next 50 years. Many renowned companies who have been on the S&P 500 list for decades have given way to digital disruptors such as Facebook, PayPal and Netflix. It’s the same in the banking sector. Take a look at what is currently happening in the South African banking sector, for example, with the Big 5 banks seeing a new competitive threat coming from agile, disruptive digital banks such as Discovery Bank, Tyme Digital, Bank Zero and others. It’s a brave new world and smart startups are reinventing traditional business sectors by introducing innovative, digital solutions and business models. Today, no sector is off limits, and ambitious startups with the right products, services and ideas are able to breakthrough and find their niche.

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There’s no such thing as work-life balance for entrepreneurs

Countless books and articles have been written on the concept of work-life balance. Chances are, we have all read more than our fair share of them as we try and make this crazy entrepreneurial life work more efficiently. But the truth is that if you want to build a successful business, there is no such thing as work-life balance. And we need to accept that fact and come to terms with it. There will always be huge pressures on our time, both from the business and from our families. Priorities will need to change according to the unique circumstances we find ourselves in. One day we will be travelling to another city or country to deliver a big business pitch to a new client in our role as CEO. The next day we could be at our children’s school play or sports day as Mom in Chief. As women entrepreneurs, we make our business and home life work for us, and there are no set rules. It will never be perfect, there will never be balance, and that’s okay.

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Time is your most valuable resource so manage it well

We all know the phase ‘time is money’, but it’s true, time really is our most valuable asset. If you look at the habits of successful entrepreneurs, you will notice that they manage their time in the most disciplined way. It’s not a matter of how many hours you work each day, but rather how effectively you spend that time. And it all starts with how you kickstart each day in the morning. Positive morning rituals keep your mind focused and help you to deal with the stresses and strains of entrepreneurial life. Many entrepreneurs start with a few minutes of quiet meditation in the morning to clear their minds and get focused. Others use exercise to get energized for the day ahead. It is also worth taking time to organize your goals for the day as this help you to achieve maximum productivity. Great time management starts with a great morning, so get those early morning rituals into your life and you will  be surprised by how much more you can achieve. 

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Stop sabotaging your entrepreneurial dreams by procrastinating

It’s easy to think of a business idea, to create a business plan, and to practice your sales pitch. But taking it to the next level and turning that idea into a viable business is easier said than done. Most people never get beyond the idea stage. Why? Because they procrastinate. In a world filled with distractions and time pressures, there are often too many reasons not to take the big step to launching a business. The idea of getting started can be daunting, and this in itself can lead to procrastination. You give yourself the excuse of waiting for the perfect time to launch, but the fact is there is no such thing as a perfect time. So, stop procrastinating and just start. Take that first step to building your business. Create your website, produce your first product, make that first sale. The road to success starts with that first step!

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Mentoring makes a tangible impact in the lives of entrepreneurs

Mentoring has long been regarded as playing an important role in the lives of entrepreneurs. But some interesting new statistics have just been published on the tangible impact that mentoring can make. The 2018 Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship Report from the SCORE 9th annual Client Engagement Survey has just been published by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The results are insightful. Getting a mentor for five or more hours improves the success of a business. It also increases the likelihood of a business opening and staying open. However, even if entrepreneurs get only half this amount of mentoring, 41% of these businesses report an expansion in size or revenue. But it goes up to 47% for five or more hours of mentoring. So it’s a fact! Mentoring is key to business success for entrepreneurs.

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Hire your weaknesses

As entrepreneurs, we are on a continual learning journey, and it’s always useful to get invaluable insights from other hugely successful women entrepreneurs. A media interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of revolutionary US underwear company, Spanx, caught the attention this week. She was asked about the biggest lessons she had learned in her business over the past ten years, and her answers were: fire faster, hire your weaknesses, and stay in your lane. Sara makes a lot of sense, and the continuing success of her business is testimony to those lessons she has learned. She is a big fan of hiring people with specialist skills sets that she does not possess. She knows what she is good at, focuses on those skills, and then builds teams of people who bring their own knowledge, expertise and talent to the business. We can all learn from this approach and harness the same self-awareness to recognize when we need help in the best interests of our businesses.  

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