"It's better to be a lioness for a day than a sheep all your life!"
The Edit Daily and Melanie Today are the personal blogs of Lionesses of Africa's founder and ceo, Melanie Hawken. They feature community news, opinion, and commentary on a wide range of topics of interest to today’s women entrepreneurs on the African continent. They are your daily must-reads for relevant, thought-provoking entrepreneur news, with the occasional irreverent moment thrown in for good measure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
A great team is often regarded as one of the main assets of any successful startup business. So why is it that so many entrepreneurs don’t invest as much time, energy and money on building a great team as they do on building their products and service offerings? The renowned William A. Sahlman, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School and a successful entrepreneur, is a specialist on this subject and has written about it extensively. He says, “When I receive a business plan, I always read the resumé section first. Not because the people part of the new venture is the most important, but because without the right team, none of the other parts really matter.” Building a solid business foundation starts with people as the essential building blocks. When you bring skilled, experienced, energetic people into your business, each one contributing something unique, then you can bring life to your vision. Your team really is your strongest asset, so take it seriously and invest in it.
Have you noticed how many women entrepreneurs have a great product or service, but are let down by a poor or non existent business presence. Their website, social media platforms, and elevator pitch lets them down. Often, you hear the reasons for this situation being there is not enough time or money to spend on getting the marketing done. Yet, here is the sad reality. A business with an inferior product or service that is branded and marketed in a more appealing and professional way will always outperform a superior product with poor marketing and branding. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend a lot of money or hire professional experts to get your business noticed. Invest some of your spare time in creating a great looking website, or writing a regular blog - customers always head straight online when looking for products and services. Make sure yours stand out. Keep your social media platforms updated, and communicate with your customers on them each day, even for just a few minutes. And ask your customers to write reviews of your products and services - happy customers can be your best source of marketing. Whatever you do, invest in your business presence, it really does matter.
What separates good businesses from great businesses? It’s leadership! Even in the smallest startup businesses, strong leadership is key to success. Strong leaders create the vision, make the tough decisions, and inspire others to achieve the goals. As an entrepreneur and the leader in your own business, you need to continually develop your management and leadership skills. You need to find your own personal leadership style, one that works for you, your business and your team. You need to invest in your leadership skills, getting specialist training and advice to develop important skills sets. And you need a mentor to help you to gain the confidence and clarity to steer your business through both good and tough times. If your business is to fulfill its potential, it needs you to be a leader who can inspire and motivate all those who are important to its future growth. Are you ready to be an exceptional leader in your business?
In life and in business, nothing is certain. Crises will inevitably happen and it is important you find a way manage these crisis in order to protect your business. Here are three ways of increasing your chances of surviving a crisis. Firstly, prepare your business by doing some scenario planning. Look at the things that could go wrong, and then develop a contingency plan to deal with that situation. Secondly, remember that when a crisis happens in one area of your business, it can easily spread to another. So, create a plan that allows you to isolate any problem area and not allow it to affect your entire business. Finally, communicate any crisis to your employees and investors so they know what is happening. It will help to calm the situation. Ultimately, there is no one formula to dealing with a business crisis, but planning for it will increase your chances of surviving it.
Ask any entrepreneur about the biggest challenges in scaling their businesses and they will probably tell you that hiring people can be tough. Hiring is critical for any organization, but can be especially important in a startup business. It’s why the founders of many startups hire people they already know and have worked with in the past. But to grow, you need to hire people who bring new skills and experience into the business. So what do you need to look for to guarantee the people you hire are the right fit for your startup now, and several years down the line? Firstly, you need to find team players, people who can bring their skills and knowledge to any task or project, to help achieve those big goals. Secondly, you need good collaborators, people who are happy to work with their fellow employees to innovate and get things done. If you hire the right people for the job, your business has a better chance of growing and thriving. So, when trying to find that perfect new hire you should be lazer focused on finding a team player with a proven ability to collaborate.
Have you noticed how much talk there is amongst startups about how fast growth is a measure of success. It certainly makes for good media headlines. But a high speed business growth trajectory is not for everyone, in fact it is for the relatively few in reality. Researchers at UC Berkeley and Stanford have found that premature scaling is the most common cause of failure for startups. What makes more sense is to aim for slow and steady growth, which is ultimately more sustainable. There are some great examples of businesses that started small, lean and agile, but which are today huge success stories, such as the online ticketing platform Eventbrite. It was founded in 2006 and for the first three years was a very lean business before going after its first venture funding round. By 2009, the company had been turned down by almost every VC firm in Silicon Valley. The founders continued to bootstrap and work hard to build the company from the ground up as the only three employees. By 2014, the company was valued at over $1 billion. Now that’s a great example of that old saying, “slow and steady wins the race.”
Globally, there is a powerful industry trend underway as women of colour are reinventing the lucrative beauty and wellness sector, and this trend is being mirrored in Africa right now. A whole new generation of savvy women entrepreneurs from all corners of the continent are developing innovative new cosmetic, beauty and haircare products, specifically catering to the needs of women of colour. Not only are these makeup, haircare and skincare brands gaining real traction with customers, but they are also creating new manufacturing businesses that provide employment for local people. So what makes these products different and have such appeal in this rapidly growing marketplace? Traditional natural African ingredients known to have great healing and skincare properties, such as marula oil, are being harnessed in these new products and brands. Beautiful new product formulations are being packaged in a world-class way to have maximum consumer appeal. More beauty and wellness online shops, apps, and media platforms being created to specifically appeal to and meet the needs of women consumers in Africa. The $3.7 trillion global wellness and beauty industry holds incredible potential for the African continent and is a prime sector for job creation, manufacturing, and opportunities for women entrepreneurs to build powerful new businesses and brands.
We all know that mentors play an important role in the building of successful businesses. But according to a new research study which has just been published on the subject, 89% of successful entrepreneurs wish they’d had a mentor at the start of their journeys. And it makes sense if you think about it. Mentors help you to gain perspective, they know how to solve complex business problems, and bring a wealth of experience in dealing with key challenges. But that’s not all! Mentors act as practical and visible reminders that success is achievable, and that hard work and determination really can pay off. So if you think that it is too early to have a mentor when just starting out, think again. A mentor is a valuable resource to you and your business, and it’s never too early to have one on your side. As Oprah Winfrey says, "A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
Here’s an interesting statistic to think today. A new survey from Clutch has just been published which reveals that around 60% of small businesses didn’t have an official documented budget for 2018. This is in stark contrast to those businesses with 10 employees or more, where almost 80% created an annual budget. The data from the Clutch survey shows that growing companies understand the importance of creating a budget, while many small businesses still don’t have a full appreciation of the benefits of having an official budget. The survey suggests that entrepreneurs should create a budget if they don’t want to risk the financial health of their businesses. The added bonus is that budgeting helps small businesses focus and achieve their goals. For example, in 2018, 50% of the small businesses who had a budget stuck to their Q1 and Q2 targets, while 11% actually came under budget. The report recommends setting clear budget goals at the beginning of the business year and keeping an eye on those goals. It also recommends reviewing the business finances and spending every thirty days instead of quarterly. The longer the gap between each review, the higher the chances of the business going over the budget.
I often hear this from women entrepreneurs in our network: “Had I known then what I know today I probably wouldn’t have started!” We have probably all felt like that sometime during the course of our entrepreneurial journeys. Yet there is something to be said for the power of naive optimism in those early days of building our businesses. It’s all too easy to get bogged down by people around you who question your business ideas or new product concepts; or to feel overwhelmed by the masses of information available to the newbie entrepreneur about how to build the perfect business model. There can often seem to be far more reasons not to start a business than to take the plunge. But ask any seasoned entrepreneur how they got going all those years ago, and chances are they will tell you they didn’t overthink things, they blocked out all the naysayers, and armed with a good dose of naive, some might say blind optimism, they just went out and did it!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
Success means different things to different people. Whether it’s building a substantial business or product that has gone global, or a business that has scaled into multiple locations, or a business that is making an impact in its chosen field, success comes in many forms. So in the world of entrepreneurship, why do we find ourselves sometimes trying to measure up to other people’s ideas of what success looks like? Perhaps it’s time to think about what success really means to each of us individually, and to create our own, very personal definitions that we can work towards, instead of trying to emulate other entrepreneurs’ notions of success. We each have our own entrepreneurial path to follow, and part of the journey is understanding what success means to us. It’s not about chasing a life that is unattainable. It’s about creating a vision and a path for ourselves to follow that means something very personal to us as individuals. And each step we take towards achieving our goals, and each milestone we reach, brings us closer to the success we have defined for ourselves.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the power of community when it comes to supporting the growth and development of Africa’s women entrepreneurs - and, it seems like I’m not alone in my thinking. A fascinating research report by Facebook has found that female founders who are part of a business community are twice as likely to forecast growth compared to those who are not. Despite this, half of female founders say they are not part of such a network. The research revealed that women are aware of the benefits of tapping into business communities, with 49 per cent of those interviewed for the report believing the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people would greatly benefit their business. 31 per cent of the women surveyed said the current business environment is better set up for male business leaders. Reading these research findings reminds me once again of why we started the Lionesses of Africa community - welcome to the Pride!
Have yourself an inspired entrepreneurial day! - Melanie
So here’s an interesting fact! Did you know that the artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, behind agriculture, worth around $32 billion every year? Millions of people, particularly women, in developing countries around the globe are key drivers of the artisan economy - and that’s certainly the case on the African continent. They are producing handcrafted goods often utilizing traditional skills of all types to build businesses that can sustain themselves, their families and their communities. The artisan sector is significant and growing - international trade in artisan goods more than doubled between 2002 and 2012. Yet ironically, these very same artisan businesses are seldom recognized as drivers of real economic growth. But it’s important to remember that countries in the developing world have a competitive advantage in the artisan sector because of their rich cultural traditions, diverse artisanal skills, and unique raw materials. And that is certainly the case on the African continent. So it’s perhaps time to start acknowledging the truly important role played by women artisan entrepreneurs in driving Africa’s future economic growth, and at the same time, ensuring that traditional craftsmanship skills are both preserved and taken to the next level.
Being in business can sometimes seem like we are continually climbing a mountain, seeing the summit in the distance, but never quite reaching the top. It can often feel exhausting, and more than a little dispiriting at times. As human beings, we are pre-conditioned to set big goals for ourselves, and it’s natural to want to achieve those goals as quickly as possible, but often we give up when the going get’s tough and that mountain simply seems too big to climb. So how do we get over this hurdle? Well, often it starts with acknowledging that our big goals are not going to be achieved overnight, it’s a journey - and often a long one!. The trick is to celebrate all the small wins along the way, to keep us going. With each small win, our confidence builds, our energy levels rise, our feel-good-factor returns, and we are then much better equipped to keep going, to keep motivated, to keep the big end goal in sight. So if you feel that your own big goals are like that mountain, just too daunting, then remind yourself to keep going by celebrating all the small wins along the journey. It will keep you on track.
When I speak to women entrepreneurs each day, one of the things they feedback probably more than anything else is how valuable they find it to hear the inspirational startup stories of other women entrepreneurs - told in their own voices and often with great honesty and frankness. These stories remind them that they are not alone, and the challenges they are facing are not unique, but shared amongst all those women who bravely go out there each day and build their businesses. There is something really powerful about finding your voice and using it to engage others on your entrepreneurial journey. I often talk about the fact that as business founders, we are our own best salespeople, and our voices count when we are trying to get our businesses and brands seen and heard above the noise in the marketplace. Increasingly, customers want to know the backstory of the products they buy and the brands they give their loyalty to, so every woman entrepreneur’s voice and story counts. Finding your voice and writing your startup story is part of the journey to becoming the author of your own successful life.
For me, there is nothing quite as gratifying as seeing great women business builders succeed, it sends a clear message to the world that we’ve got this, that we are creating impact driven businesses that matter. But it’s even better when we see those women, and so many other women entrepreneurs, paying it forward and making a real difference in the lives of others. If there is one thing that everyone realizes, it’s that being an entrepreneur is tough enough without having to compete with each other, as is so often the case in the corporate world. Instead, by paying it forward and helping other women entrepreneurs on their journeys, these women gain mutual respect and propel their own businesses forward and others too. So today, why not take the same approach? Help another woman entrepreneur out by referring a business opportunity, or offering to pool resources and collaborate, or offering mentoring advice to deal with a particular challenge being experienced. It will make you feel good, but importantly, it will make a big difference to the life of a fellow entrepreneur.
If there’s one topic of conversation that keeps coming up time and again at our Lioness Lean In events, particularly when I’m chatting to the women entrepreneurs who are our guest speakers and pitchers, it’s that they are not confident public speakers. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the word used most often by many of them is that they are nervous about taking to the stage and speaking in public to an audience. Yet, it’s a skill that is worth learning as it’s good for business. Chances are at some point you will have to talk to a group of investors, or perhaps do a live television or radio interview, or speak at an industry conference on your specialist subject, or address your employees. Public speaking is part of the journey for entrepreneurs, and remember there is no one better than you, as the founder of your business, to speak on its behalf. Fortunately, effective public speaking is a communication skill that can be learned. And, as I have seen many times before at our Lionesses of Africa events, often the most reticent public speaker can turn into a star on stage.
You know that feeling, when you walk into a coffee shop, store or restaurant, and you are greeted by the owner or staff as friends, made to feel welcome and at home immediately, and then given a great customer experience? It’s what keeps you going back, time and again. I was reminded of this yet again when returning from one of my frequent business trips. My first port of call is always my favourite local coffee shop (although ironically I am a tea drinker, not a coffee lover!). I am always greeted by the amazing staff on arrival, who know my order (a pot of Earl Grey tea) and have it waiting for me at my favourite seat in the window. They happily chat and fill me in with what has been happening in the neighbourhood whilst I have been away, and generally make me feel like family. It’s a truly great customer experience, and as a result, I go back time and again, recommending it to everyone I know. As entrepreneurs, creating a memorable customer experience is a powerful sales tool - and it’s all starts with your people!
These days, what’s the first thing people do when trying to find out more about you and your business? They check out your digital presence, of course! So, when was the last time you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and checked out your own digital presence to get that first external experience of you and your brand? We live in a 24/7 digitally connected world, so it’s important to have a strong, authentic digital presence, both personally and for your business, that works for you; that people can connect with and feel like they can trust. It should also be the first place that people can get to learn more about you and your business before they make that all important face to face connection. So if you haven’t checked out your own social media pages or your personal or corporate websites recently, then now could be a good time. After all, you never know if that next potential big client is evaluating your digital presence right now!