You don’t have to see the whole staircase – just take the first step


It was apparently Dr Martin Luther King who said you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. And as I sat with a group of 70 odd women global leaders at a meeting convened by Vital Voices in Johannesburg, I completely understood Dr King’s words more so than ever before.

Of course Dr King was probably remarking on the civil rights movement which he led in the United States. He was probably saying that even though a dream may seem far off, our responsibility is to take the first step towards it. As I conferenced with these 70 remarkable global female leaders, it became blatantly obvious that each one had travelled a road. Each woman had travelled a road less travelled, and each had created a path rather than followed a path. For each of them had dreamed a unique idiosyncratic dream. A dream that rendered them weird and obtuse, but a dream that they could not help but pursue even though they may not have been able to see the whole staircase from the outset.

The entrepreneurial staircase

All of these women are doing remarkable things in their communities. They are making positive change in their societies, and some are doing so with tremendous danger to their lives as they tackle social and cultural taboos. In fact what they are doing in their communities is so peculiar and pioneering that their voices are vital in their communities and societies. Much in the same way that the Suffragettes were a vital voice the in late 19th century and Billie Jean King remains a vital voice in women’s sports and tennis in particular. All of these women stayed true to their own authentic voice and calling, even though they may not have been able to see the whole staircase. Even though they may not know the end of where they are going and how they will reach the destination. They carried on knowing that a desired destination had to be reached. Further, they have refused to stop until that desired destination had been reached.

So it is in business. Sometimes as a business woman and CEO, you may not know how or if that dream is possible. You may not know how and even if you will achieve that dream. Yet you soldier on because you must, because it is only in throwing in the first pebble that the ripple effect begins. Therein lies the ingredient for leadership and legacy. When you dream an original dream or are gingered in calling to a new path, you begin a transformative journey for society and for yourself.

The need to execute goals

As the year draws on and we reach mid-year, many may be wandering how and if they will get to the top that business staircase. The one that they began climbing with clear goals at the beginning of 2016. But goal setting and goal execution is a journey and a process. It is not just an exercise completed in a workshop and which, as if by magic, comes to life without any disturbances. Setting the goal is one thing, it is in fact a very commendable achievement. Many do not even bother to do so, preferring to go with their ‘gut feeling’. However, executing the goal is another. The former speaks to the genesis of a thing. It speaks to an aspiration, an idea, a noble ambition. The latter, goal execution, to me speaks more to the hunger for achieving that aspiration.

Just take the first step

It is the ambition for an aspiration that keeps you working at 3am to deliver on a report even though the fees for the service may not be as appealing as you would like. Yet you understand that growth is a process, that this piece of work could potentially lead to the next bigger, project. It is this hunger and ambition that keeps you investing in your business and your brand through deliberate and meticulous attention to detail. In doing the work that you do and doing it to the best of your ability even though you may not see the fullness of the result that you would like yet. It is this hunger and ambition that causes some (and many later) to begin to notice and positively respond to your business service and product. Eventually leading them to becoming the net promoters of your business even as you pay less attention to the acclaim and focus of service and operational excellence. It is this hunger and ambition that keeps you climbing the staircase even though you cannot yet see the top of the staircase.

Many of us may not yet see the whole staircase, we may not yet see the expected end that we desire, but we must be kind to ourselves. Rome was not built in a day and so long as we take the first step, the second, third, fourth and fifth step to the attainment of our business dreams and ambitions, we are making the necessary inroads.

Have big dreams. You will grow into them

How to start a media company with no money and no clients

illume media diner en blanc

If you’re ready to take the leap and start your own media and communications company, there’s no reason not to! Sometimes life requires you to take just jump and make your idea a reality. There must be some method to the madness though especially when you’re on a budget and have no clients upfront.


We got some insider tips from Anne Mazimhaka, co-founder and creative director of Illume Creative Studio, a communications agency based in Kigali, Rwanda.

Launch online

There’s no need to launch your company with a cocktail party, bottles of champagne and a fancy guest list filled with big names that likely won’t show up. Go the easy way and start with a simple but good looking website.

Like with Squarespace which offers solutions for easy websites that will be eye-catching enough to your future clients. Your website should clearly list the services you offer. Remember to keep things clear and direct, let people know what you’re offering from the word go.

As a communications agency, you can start out offering services such as content development, creative consultancy, editorial roles and social media strategies which you can offer from the comfort of your home. Your contact details should also be well displayed for when people need to reach you.

Make full use of your network

This is something that you should start on before you take that leap. Build a network through attending events and rubbing shoulders with the change-makers in the industry. Save their business cards and contact details for when you’re ready to launch your company. As your launch date approaches send a newsletter announcing it through a service like MailChimp.

The key is the leverage the power of your network, and when contacting them do so strategically. Emails easily get deleted but people do not mind receiving an email announcing a company if they can see what’s in it for them. This is why you should include an offer in your initial newsletter, such as 20% off for first-time clients. This is a great opportunity to attract clients.content+development

Invest wisely

You’ll want to ensure any little money you have is spent wisely. Get business cards and postcard sized pamphlets printed out. These should again advertise your brand and the services you offer.

Once your business cards and pamphlets are ready, you should reach out to people who you would target as clients and leave those behind with them. This way you’re doing your advertising yourself.

By the time you snag your first couple clients you’ve set the ball rolling. When people see the value in what you have to offer, they will come flooding in.

Creating impact that works: Tips from my start-up experience in Ghana

Eu'Genia Shea - Impact

Naa-Sakle Akuete is the founder of Eu’Genia Shea, the first line of premium shea moisturizers dedicated to using 100% natural ingredients in partnership with female cooperatives in Ghana. She shares what she’s learned from working with rural communities for her natural products.

When my mother founded a shea butter manufacturing company in Ghana in 1999, she had never heard the term “double bottom line.” She did, however, know that if she was going to succeed in business, she wanted to do so in an ethical manner.

By partnering with pickers from female cooperatives, paying them above-market prices, and offering organic and financial training, she was able to ensure that her community thrived along with her business. Her decades of experience inspired me to start my own finished products line last year: Eu’Genia Shea.

As I pore through her life’s work, applying lessons learned and trying to avoid mistakes already made, one point shines through brightly: good intentions do not always yield good results.

Hopefully, some of these points will be helpful to others aiming to make mutually beneficial business partnerships in rural developing communities.

Build Trust

You know yourself, you understand your motives, and without a doubt, your heart is in the right place. But even if you are native to the country/region/community, how can others be assured of this goodwill if they do not know you? SNV is a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to “creating effective solutions with local impact”, in this case facilitating savings. They entered Damongo, Ghana with speeches and promises, but without any connections. The cooperatives with which we work were understandably wary.

How many times have they encountered non-profits who raised their hopes only to disappear, or worse still, people claiming to have their best interests in mind, only to cheat them? They sent the confused SNV away then SNV came to my mother to explain their mission. My mother spoke on their behalf, and now SNV is a valued contributor to these cooperatives.

Bottom line: Understand the legacy of the community and approach accordingly, whether through an intermediary or through years of proving yourself (which takes a bit longer, but Mum can confirm it works!)


There are thousands of aid organizations flooding millions of dollars into poor communities globally. Most of them have good intentions, but their money still goes to waste. For example, on one visit to our facilities in Damango, Mum occasionally saw workers without shoes. As a westerner, or a native with a westerner’s perspective, this is jarring for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the safety implications.

She spoke with the women and made a point of purchasing shoes for all of the workers on her next trip to the US to ensure that no one was left unprotected. Upon her return, some women again were not wearing shoes. When she inquired about it, she discovered two things: some husbands were absconding with their wives’ shoes and some women found it difficult to maneuver in the new shoes.

Had my mum taken the time to dig a little deeper originally, she would have found that buying local shoes closely fitting each woman would have helped solve both problems.

Encourage them to maintain assets

Now you’re partnering with a community whose needs you understand and are able to address. You’ve suggested ideas and implemented technology where appropriate; they’ve told you why half of your bright ideas aren’t quite so bright, and everything is moving along swimmingly. It’s come time to leave them for a couple weeks, months, or years…

Before you leave operations in their hands, make sure you’ve given them the tools and know-how to maintain (and how often to maintain) any machinery you’ve introduced. The once shiny, now corroded Japan Motorbike rusting by our plot is a great example of something that made life easy for a couple months before falling into disrepair.

Choose the right customers

You’re running a business not a charity. On one end, you have Bill Gates in Microsoft era and on the other, Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Foundation era. You don’t have to be either extreme, but what you have to do is make enough money to keep yourself afloat and to continue the work you’re doing.

If social impact causes your products to be slightly more expensive than competitors, find the customers who care. And make sure your product is worth it! At Eu’Genia Shea, not only do we pay above market wages, provide training, and give 15% of our profits back to our workers, our longevity in the industry helps ensure our products are always of the highest quality.

Our customers get expertly moisturized skin, our partners make a good living, and we get to keep on doing what we love — win/win!


Your aim is to do great things, so be open about it. Maybe you’re not doing quite as much as you’d like yet. For example, 15% of profits covers some of the tuition costs of our worker’s children, but not all. I’d love Eu’Genia to be able to give all the children in our communities a free education. I’d love to provide all past and future workers with a pension when they retire. I’d love to offer free daycare to workers whose children are below school age.

The reality, however, is that I’m not in a position to do any of this yet. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try though. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But my mistakes can be learning points for me and other entrepreneurs like me. Being transparent about our goals and processes not only allows others to give us valuable feedback, but also supports the growth of all enterprises looking to make an impact.

We live in a big and complicated world with many societal issues I’ve never heard of or understood. If those who are able can contribute to improve the landscape how best they know, our actions will magnify each other’s. I’m excited to be a small part of this effort.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

How to start an event planning company with no money and no clients

So you want to quit your job to start your own event planning company (or any other one) but you have no money and no clients, yet. What do you do?

Have a roof over your head and food to eat

JamJar Frances Frances QuarcoopomeFirstly, if youre going to quit your job, make sure you have some back up. This doesnt necessarily have to be cash, but a family or someone that is willing to maintain a roof over your head and food on your table. If you dont have that, then you will need to ensure you have some cash back up to keep yourself going through your start up phase, this will be a minimum of a year – two years, depending on your company.

This back up, in whatever form is comes is essential! Its essential because you will need all the energy and focus to get clients and start earning an income.

For an events company, you should be earning a small income within your first year to at least cover some costs.

Once youve figured out your back up, quit your job! It will be the scariest but most liberating thing youve ever done, but a word of caution, you will now work 24/7. Be prepared!

What makes your company unique

The next step is to figure out what your unique selling point (USP) is, what sets you apart from all the other event coordinators. As JamJar, our USP is customer service, efficiency and pushing the boundaries. We are willing to go the extra mile for our customers and promise to push ourselves as we create concepts and experiences that are truly one of a kind for the customer.JamJar Frances QuarcoopomeOnce  you have your USP, start using your contacts. Your first job is likely to be someone you know. If you do a good job, the word will start to spread. E-mail people you know and ask them to recommend you. Send out your company profile to people and test their reaction to your information.

Be realistic and original. People can tell when you are trying too hard or being fake. Initially, you may need to take a few jobs that you do not make much money from but is worth value in terms of marketing, building your portfolio and experience for yourself. Keep note of this, however: there will become a point where you no longer need exposure, and exposure wont pay your bills. Be aware of your business and your value and continue to reflect. Once you reach that point, own it and do not be ashamed.

calabash corner (5)-1 (1)

Listening is key

Until you reach that point, continue to work, listen and learn from your jobs and experiences. Make sure the experience of working with you is memorable from when the person first takes your card to the end product. This is everything! Even when something goes wrong or you have a difficult customer, remember your response is key and will last forever.

People will tell 4 out of 10 people about a positive experience but 8 out of 10 for a negative experience.

Jamjar Frances Quarcoopome

Get to bookkeeping

Slowly you will start to increase the number of customers you have, do your best to keep them. As you start to grow, make sure you have a good financial system, this does not have to be fancy. Keep track of what you are receiving and what you are spending.

The event planning industry is one that is not heavily reliant on start up equipment – your brain and a piece of paper are all you need to be organised, efficient, and reliable, the main characteristics an organiser should have. Take advantage of this fact, it means your start up capital required is much less and you can pace the growth of your company.

Jam Jar

Share with like-minds

Lastly, Collaborate. Collaboration is powerful if you are strategic. Dont just collaborate because someone asks you to. Collaboration usually means you will foot the bill for whatever you are willing to contribute to the project, or provide your time for free.

Be sure you are prepared to lose or not gain as much as you hoped. Moreover, make sure you do what you can and get the most as much as possible for your brand while working with your collaborators.

Good luck starting up and enjoy the journey!

Always be a dreamer: The story of Grace & other successful women

Taiye Selasi

Grace is a seasoned banker with over 20 years on international banking experience in Europe as well as several countries in Africa.  She boasts a successful career and a number of ‘firsts’ in her current bank. Though she at one time loved her job, the enthusiasm is waning as office politics thickens, even as she seeks a more fulfilling vocation.

But Grace has another burning desire – to own her own executive events management and floral business.  Having grown up in Nairobi, with her stay-home mother, being a keen gardener and floral enthusiast, Grace has a keen interest in flowers. She watched how the floral business flourished and prospered in Kenya –even at export level. Grace is also a good organizer and has a keen eye for events management, particularly corporate events.  She has dreamed of having her own events management and floral business for many years – but to date, fear of financial insecurity and stepping leaving her banking job holds her back. She remains frustrated with her job and her life, yet dreams of stepping out into the world working in the area of her passion.

Dreamers are daring people

They dare to imagine. They dare to imagine a change; they dare to imagine a possibility.  Where the audacity to dare becomes a limp hope is when the dreamer ceases to execute for lack of courage and for much of fear.

But when we cease to dream and to execute our dreams, we make a folly of our hopes. Our dreams form the very essence of our desires and hope –and we owe it to ourselves, and perhaps even to the world at large, to have the audacity to execute.

Oprah Winfrey

Ms Oprah Winfrey records that when she decided to move from Baltimore to Chicago as a Talk Show host, everyone thought she was insane, for she, a black woman, was going to the eye of the storm. Chicago was Phil Donahue land, and Phil Donahue was the king of talk show hosts. How and why on earth could Ms Winfrey do this to herself?  

Why would Chicago want to see a black woman hosting a talk show when they had Phil Donahue? Oh, but Ms Winfrey was a Dreamer. Ms Winfrey was not only a Dreamer but she was also a Doer.

She dreamed about her tomorrow, envisioned her futurist self, and had the audacity of hope. She packed up and moved to Chicago.  Her audacity delivered on to her – even far beyond what it did for Phil Donahue.

Taiye Selasie’s example

Let us bring it more home. I recently came across Ghana Must Go, a fascinating book by Taiye Selasie (in feature image). Reading her interviews and her book itself, I was reminded of what Selasie said in one of her interviews on the book: ‘I’m very willing to follow my imagination’.

She recalls that the idea for Ghana Must Go came at a yoga retreat in Sweden and got typing. For her, the book was entirely realized. It was a book that she wanted to read, a book whose characters she had dreamt about and conceived, and a book she dared to write.

She dared to dream, she dared to write, and the book has delivered much international acclaim. That’s the audacity of hope.

Writer, Producer, and Director Nicole Amarteifio with An African City stars Maame Adjei and Marie Humbert

Nicole Amarteifio’s example

Some of you may have seen the web movie series An African City, created by the fabulous Nicole Amarteifio. The story goes that whilst at University, and having recently seen Sex in the City, Nicole was intrigued to imagine what an African story line may look like. The intrigue literally captivated her, and Ms Amarteifio began the journey of script writing.

Research, research, research; script, script and yet more script and a few years down the line (even whilst working an international job), the final script was born. Still working a full time job, Nicole made time and used funds from her savings, friends, and family to gather actresses and all necessary resources to produce the movie, and now the rest is living history.

From CNN and BBC interviews, to Forbes Africa Woman features to speaking at the Cambridge University Business School, and being contacted by numerous international TV channels for Season 2 of An African City. Small, deliberate steps.

Yes, Oprah Winfrey, Taiye Selasie and Nicole Amarteifio could have fallen flat on their faces, like many others. Yet, the bottom line is that they took small, deliberate steps to actualize their dreams.   

Small, deliberate steps.

They bring us nearer to our hopes and dreams.


1. Oprah Winfrey. Fabrizio Ferri / Harpo Productions.

2. Writer, Producer, and Director Nicole Amarteifio with An African City stars Maame Adjei and Marie Humbert.

The smart entrepreneur’s guide to cutting startup costs

The Smart Entrepreneurs Guide To Cutting Costs

Just when you thought entrepreneurship was a walk in the park. Fantastic idea? Check. Grit? Double check. Money? Not so much. Let’s face it, getting a startup off the ground requires money and costs can quickly pile up.

Often times entrepreneurs who are starting out have to operate on a tight budget until they get major funding. Raising money from investors is not an easy task either and it does take time. So how you do you make your dreams a reality with limited finances?

Be realistic

You may have envisioned working out of a glass-walled office on the topmost floor of the tallest building in your city. The reality however, is that you can only afford a co-working space or the vacant room in your parents’ house.

If you are running an online business you don’t immediately need an office space. Avoid the nice-to-haves at all costs and focus on the most important things for your startup.   

Hire freelancers

There are thousands of Nigerian youth willing to offer the services you need at a fraction of the cost you’ll incur hiring full-time staff members. They are flexible with their time and can be hired on an as-needed basis.

They have specific sets of skills and are used to working independently so you don’t have to invest in training them. Use that to your advantage.

Learn something new

In order to thrive, you need to know something about everything. So before you get to the “Hire people who are smarter than you are” phase, learn some basic accounting, be your own salesman, and run your errands.  

One of the benefits of this is that you are eventually able to wear more than one hat with ease. Trust us, it works.

Advertise through word of mouth

Word of mouth has for a long time been the strongest form of marketing for startups. You need your money to provide the best product or service not to make the most noise. Got a few happy customers? Great!

Ask for an in-person referral or a social media shout out. Leverage your network to get the word out to potential customers.  Get as much free marketing as possible – that way you’ll know when and what to spend on advertising.

Keep track of everything

Always remember the books. Keep in mind that you are running on a lean budget and those little expenses easily add up. Document how much you spend on a daily basis regardless of how irrelevant it seems.

Make it a habit to keep records. This will go a long way in both saving you money and supporting your pitch to potential investors.