To succeed in business, you need Self-Awareness, Client Awareness & Market Awareness – Nnanke Essien

Nnanke Essien is a HR professional and a business consultant. Her experience in business began when she was 14 years and helping her mom with her crayfish business.

Since then she has been a business partner to many business owners leveraging on her experience in providing strategy and human resource solutions for diverse industries including manufacturing, oil, and gas, consulting, communications, retail, energy, education, etc.

Her core is transformation, (people, process and culture integration) and her superpower is helping businesses with interventions for value-based/profitable visibility, resonance, growth, and sustainability.

In this interview, Nnanke Essien talks about her introduction to business consultancy and her just-concluded event for fashion entrepreneurs.

You recently organized an event for fashion entrepreneurs. What triggered it?

The dream began for me in December 2017, when I began to observe the behavior of attendees at a goal setting hangout. It was fascinating watching folks create their vision board by tearing pictures from magazines and posting them on cardboards.

My analytic head kept wondering if this was just a fun activity or it made sense to them.

I knew something had to prepare them for this experience to be worthwhile and useful and that thing was beyond the five-hour business lecture they had just received.

Fast forward to March 2018, one of the participants at the event sent me a lengthy message beginning with “coach how can I be visible? I have tried everything and nothing seems to work”.

I immediately put on my business growth doctor hat and began to teach.

I spoke to her about the psychology of her business, her products, her promise, the right platforms for her, promotion style etc

Alas! her reaction simply showed that what I was saying didn’t sound like the solution she wanted, she just wanted a quick solution to help her be visible.

How can fashion business owners optimize their businesses?

The fastest way to optimize your business is through service and collaboration – @gnnanke Click To Tweet

While growing up, my church used to be in a location where spare part dealers were dominant. I used to marvel at the apprenticeship structure, a young boy will learn and aspire to be like or even greater than his master.

Likewise, new fashion designers should take time to learn under someone they aspire to be like not for three months but for an extended period, where they can gain mastery.

There are a lot of advantages to this model. They gain undisputed mastery and get leverage riding on the positioning of that person they learned from. The market also trusts them faster and they have a reference point and a benchmark for success.

They exhibit great business success skills because of their learning process.

I don’t believe in quick fixes, I believe in sustained consistency over a period of time – @gnnanke Click To Tweet

You are guaranteed to get results. Don’t be in a hurry to get on the gram and then begin to run helter-skelter with the excuse that the fashion industry is over saturated

Know what you want to be visible for, find out what the leaders in your space have done to get to their positions, mirror them especially those that align with your values, get results and remain on top. 

The biggest question for me was “how can we be a part of the solution?”

So in 2019, we began planning in earnest, The business leaders breakfast meeting, a platform where we bring the best minds (leaders) in business to share insights and experiences as well as to equip business owners with knowledge that will prepare them for the massive opportunities in these industries.

The mandate for us was simply to create a market space that encourages inclusive growth especially in a challenging operating environment like Nigeria.

We positioned our platform as a catalyst (incubator) to help entrepreneurs have access to market, access to untapped opportunities, access to financial services, to even just dream big, know that their dreams are possible and position their brands for global leverage.

For us, It is our utmost desire to see SME’s go from struggling businesses to growing businesses, from no systems to systems of optimal productivity, from business underdogs to business leaders, from zero productivity to optimal productivity and finally, businesses that contribute strongly to the local and national economy.

We wanted to bridge the huge divide between business leaders and business freshers. To build an ecosystem of support, collaborations, and access to opportunities within and outside Africa.

We had Mai Atafo, Valentine Ozigbo, Joycee Awosika and Adaora Mbelu headlining our first event

What key lessons do you wish more fashion business owners knew based on what was learned at the event?

  1. Tie your fashion business to a bigger vision
  2. Be an endless learner
  3. Seek continuous improvement
  4. Focus on excellence and excellent service delivery
  5. Understanding your business model and reviewing it consistently is key..I can’t even stress this enough
  6. Stay on top of industry changes, be aware of global trends that impacts your business locally and adapt accordingly
  7. Network more
  8. Don’t be afraid to express your creativity because you assume the market won’t respond
  9. Don’t be afraid of collaboration and scale
  10. Keep your promise to your tribe, never compromise

The value pyramid is divided into three: the bottom 30% (no go area) the middle 70% (the average, normal space where most people play) and the top 10% (where the leaders play).

What’s your advice to a struggling fashion business

You don’t need more visibility or brand awareness storms (with loud music and an open truck) to build a profitable and sustainable business, what you need is people who can’t stop raving about what you do…

I call it “raveonance” rave+resonance.

You can’t achieve this without self-awareness (understanding why), client awareness (understanding the who) and market awareness (understanding the what and how).

The best place to start is to understand whom you do what you do best for, why you do it, know yourself and these people like the back of your palm and —then start creating something those people love.

Boss Lady Series: How to Keep Track of Goals and Stay Fit with Ethel Cofie

Do you have a routine or a way to approach your day? Setting the tone for your day has a massive impact on how much you accomplish.

This month I will be showcasing the routines of several boss ladies who work on the continent. Learn how they balance working hard with staying on top of their physical and mental health.

By sharing our experiences, learning from others and deciding what works for us as individuals, we all can have a good life.

 Ethel Cofie has always admired people who had multiple jobs.  She has multiple interests and is involves in several companies.

Her work fits within three main buckets: women in leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology. In addition to having personal consulting work, running a technology company focused on digital strategy and transformation, she also runs an organization that empowers women around the world in the tech space.

How does she stay on top of her work and make her health a priority?

Ethel, constantly tweaking her approach to her professional and personal life, let me in on her secret to staying motivated.

To stay healthy and avoid binge eating, @ethelcofie travels with her own snacks and even hits the gym during work trips. Click To Tweet

Know what motivates you

Like many entrepreneurs, Ethel describes herself as ‘uber-competitive,’ but at the same time, no one tells her what to do.

She is always trying to be more effective, efficient and productive.

If you enjoy keeping track of your professional and personal goals like Ethel, you should consider using software like excel to keep track.

Ethel uses a spreadsheet to make sure she is on track with her goals and scores herself. Monthly she gives herself a score and daily she creates a to-do list that has up to 3 priorities.

All her workouts are tracked in Apple Health so she can maximize the 30 minutes she dedicates to running each day.

Visualize your success

Success means different things to everyone but being clear on what you want will make it easier for you to attract it.

Ethel takes this one step further by spending a few minutes each day before she starts work to visualize things that she will be able to do when she achieves her goals.

Recently, Ethel has been spending time imagining how much fun it would be to take her immediate and some of her extended family on holiday. This keeps her motivated and focused.

Make your health a priority

The first thing that Ethel does in the morning is put on her running clothes.  Once she has them on, she is ready to go.  She swears she is not a morning person, but that she has just adjusted.

She is just as dedicated when she is traveling.  The first thing Ethel does when she gets to a hotel is asking where the gym is.

She tries to keep her workout routine similar to what she does at home.  She spends about 30 minutes running on the treadmill and about 20 minutes doing weights.

Learn from others

Find people to look up to online and offline.  Ethel gives credit to productivity books for ‘curing’ her of wanting to do everything.

She recommends starting with reading Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown or Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke.

Online she tends to focus on accounts that are effective in spreading knowledge and provoking conversations like Dr. Ola Brown (Orekunrin) and Victor Asemota.

Concerning working out, Ethel is inspired by Michele Obama’s arms.

Find someone that you look up to or inspires you to keep you on track with your goals - @ethelcofie Click To Tweet

Make the most of your trips

Ethel packs last minute for trips but plans out almost everything else including snacks. She tries to get in touch with people who will be at the conference she is attending.

About a week before the event, she will get in touch with other speakers and schedule meetings.  If she is speaking, she starts practicing about a week before as well. To keep herself from binge eating, Ethel travels with her own snacks.  If she is not able to get the cereal or energy bars she likes, she brings along milo.  Eating these snacks keeps her from eating unhealthily and drinking coffee.

By keeping track of her progress and planning ahead, Ethel is able to make the most of her time.  Even if you don’t like using elaborate excel sheets or tracking software, just knowing where you started can keep you moving forward.

How do you plan to push yourself? Do you do anything to hold yourself accountable? Read our Good Good Living Part 3 series w/ Maya Horgan Famodu

 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

Volunteering: Diversify your professional experience and drive social impact

Let's admit - w/everyday #adulting struggles, it can be difficult to consistently volunteer Click To Tweet

Community service and a spirit of volunteerism hold a place in the hearts of many millennials. We relentlessly seek ways to care for the marginalized. College provided a perfect platform for us to exercise this passion as opportunities to plug into communities and give back were ready-made; all we really needed to do was sign up and show up.

Life after university has, however, proved to be a different story as we have to seek out volunteer opportunities on our own. Let’s admit: with jam-packed schedules and the everyday adulting struggles, it can be quite difficult to find an organization to volunteer with on a consistent basis.


Enter skill-based volunteering

This is where skill-based volunteering —typically known as pro bono work— comes in. Skill-based service enables you to match your skills and interests with the needs of a non-profit. Many non-profits are often lacking the staff capacity, so they need help in areas like marketing, financial management, strategic planning, and technology. Organizations are in need of professionals to partner with them in solving complex, pressing issues —and that’s where you provide value.

While filling an essential need, volunteering gives you an invaluable opportunity to sharpen your skills and diversify your background in areas that interest you. Technology opens greater access to organizations and projects that are all over the globe.

Through skill-based volunteering, the digitally savvy woman can tap into a deeper pool of opportunities that are not readily available in her current network. You’ll build a portfolio for that side hustle you’ve been meaning to kick start and amp up the experience section of your CV. All from the comfort of your living room with a warm cup of coffee (or tea) in hand.

zendaya dusting off shoulder

Skill-based volunteering grants you an invaluable opportunity to sharpen your skills Click To Tweet

I started my skill-based volunteering journey to explore an interest in consulting non-profit organizations. I wanted to facilitate an experience that would mirror the expert-client relationship found in working with organizations to help further their mission.

After looking through LinkedIn postings and several volunteer websites, I came across Catchafire —a website that connects professionals with nonprofits. Within three months, I worked with three organization on projects that involved marketing and communications strategy. The most rewarding part being that these organizations supported issues that I cared about!

If you’re ready to launch your skill-based volunteering journey, here are 3 quick ways to get started:

  1. Sit down and draw a list of the competencies you’d like to build. A great way to do this is to review career opportunities that interest you and see what a competitive candidate background looks like. This can help you determine the kinds of projects to take on.
  2. Think of causes that you’re most passionate about. If you enjoy working with troubled teens, for example, you can focus your search on organizations that serve that demographic. This will not only allow you to engage a community you care for but also aid in addressing the issues facing it.
  3. Once you’ve narrowed your list of competencies and causes, it’s time to reach out to nonprofits. Leverage volunteer matchmaking platforms like Catchafire and Taproot, or utilize your LinkedIn profile. Catchafire connects volunteer professionals with nonprofits through 1-hour consulting phone calls and/or fully-fledged projects. My favorite aspect of Catchafire is the personal dashboard it generates with project details, experience testimonials, and your monetized impact —all great metrics to share on your CV or portfolio. Taproot has pro-bono opportunities ranging from one-on-one consultations to team-based, long-term projects. On LinkedIn you can specify in the volunteer section that you’re searching for pro-bono projects, thus making it easier for nonprofits to find you.

As you start working with nonprofit organizations, it’s important to treat these projects with the same regard and excellence as you would any other engagement. Discuss project specifics and map out a project timeline with benchmarks, deliverables and KPIs. A carefully organized experience enables you to share your skills in a meaningful way and also ensures that the nonprofits get quality service.

Organized skill-based volunteering enables you to share your skills in a meaningful way Click To Tweet

What are you waiting for?

The bottom line is that skill-based volunteering is a great way to build and develop your professional background as you provide value and drive social impact in marginalized communities.

While you diversify your CV, you’re also building a network of professionals active in the causes you’re most passionate about. Therein opening up opportunities for future ventures to implement sustainable community development programs.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start volunteering! To help guide you through the volunteering process, SLA has created a cheat sheet. Grab it by here —sign up and slay up!

Yoli Mqoboli: I wanted to start a business that is meaningful to me and to other businesses

Yoli Mqoboli

I fell in love with Business Management during my undergrad studies - Yoli Mqoboli Click To Tweet

Yoli Mqoboli is a certified global Remuneration Specialist with extensive experience in reviewing and developing total remuneration policies, packages, and frameworks for both public and private sector organizations.

Her career started off at the South African Reward Association (SARA) as an intern —gaining exposure in all aspects of total rewards such as basic remuneration, benefits, and total reward elements. She has worked for blue chip companies focusing on expatriate reward management and Africa reward. 

After her last stint in corporate, she started Sunguti Business Solutions, a 100% black woman owned human capital solutions consultancy specializing in tailored remuneration, reward and benefits solutions and talent acquisition solutions.

Yoli then approached her former Director and pitched the idea of coming back to the organization as an independent consultant, as such giving her the independence and time to start-up and nurture Sunguti.

What was the spark that led you to start Sunguti Business Solutions?

Sunguti Business Solutions, before the name ever came into existence, was always a dream of mine. I fell in love with Business Management during my undergrad studies. As such, I decided for my postgrad studies to specialize in Business Management. I had in mind a Business Solutions consultancy focusing on each of the various business functions.

My business model would be that of a sub-contracting arrangement as I don’t have experience in all of the business functions. This was also aimed to collaborate with other professionals and hopefully, garner more business participation. I wanted to start a business that is meaningful to me and to other businesses.

What services do you offer your clients? Are they only limited to South Africa? If yes, what are your goals to grow Sunguti to rest of Africa and the world?

Currently, our capacity is in Human Resource solutions, which include Remuneration and Benefits consulting and Recruitment. We focus on permanent placements, response handling, and headhunting services.

Our service offering is in South Africa and we plan on expanding it to Swaziland first, and then the rest of Southern Africa. Our short-term plan is to penetrate the southern Africa region, due to the geographic reach and ease of doing business.

As a 100% black women owned Human Capital solutions consultancy company, do you find it is easier for black women to start their own consulting firms, especially in your industry? If not, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Starting a business is hard for anyone, and as a black woman within the Reward fraternity is twice as hard. This industry has and still is owned by elite white-owned professional service providers. Women face hurdles such as access to funding, lack of access to other types of business due to non-exposure as these fields have been traditionally deemed to be male gender specific. Also the lack of a support network and lack of advisors or mentors in these areas of business.

For Yoli Mqoboli, starting a business within the Reward fraternity was twice as hard Click To Tweet

Reward management, which is a specialist function within HR, is currently a scarce skill with fewer black professionals. Yes, there has been an influx of black talent –however, the skill is not mature enough.

The major challenge for us as black-owned consultancies is getting taken seriously by companies and peer competitors. You’re deemed an unknown and your credibility shaky because your brand is not yet established. Corporate South Africa prefers to reserve remuneration consulting projects for the big professional services. There is little confidence in smaller consultants who ironically have consulted for the same corporates under these big professional service providers.

How can the challenge of small black-owned consultancies being overlooked be overcome and ensure that they make a mark in the consulting world?

There is no perfect answer, however, in light of the new developments in BEE procurement regulations –bigger professional services providers who aren’t fully representative in black ownership and participation will be urged to partner up with smaller black consultancies. Some have already done that therefore the rest will probably follow suit.

Yoli Mqoboli: The major challenge of black-owned consultancies is being taken seriously Click To Tweet

In the meantime, it’s us smaller black consultancies who have to create the opportunities, approach potential partners and keep abreast of developments in the market. However, the same needs to be done by bigger competitors.

What advice would you give to women looking to venture into the remuneration management and talent acquisition space?

You need to have a flair for people, numbers and the evolution of human capital solutions.  You need to love what you do, and you will never have to work a day in your life!

Secondly, you need to network and keep abreast of the developments within the area of reward management, both locally and globally.

What are your goals for Sunguti in 2017? How will you ensure you meet the goals?

My goals for Sunguti in 2017 is to focus more on business development initiatives; this includes joint ventures and collaborative partnerships with some of the bigger corporations, and expand the service offerings to Swaziland.

We also aim to register with the relevant SETA in the introduction of accredited training and development services. Lastly, we aim to strive for standards of quality and commitment to our current clients.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

5 steps to developing business systems that work for start-ups

shehive lagos she leads africa business systems

@jeanette_nk summarises the lessons she learned building business systems for her start-up Click To Tweet

So, you finally have a concept and business plan finalised. You’re ready to begin operating but don’t know where to start? This is usually where consulting firms sweep in and offer help for a fee.

Although outsourcing usually benefits most small start-ups, it’s also true that not every small business has enough money to exploit such services. If you ‘don’t know anything about business’, but don’t have the money to consult those that do, then you’d better whip out your notebook and concentrate.

When I started my business I had no idea how complicated running a PR company was so I dived in, head first. Luckily for me, I snapped out of my illusion quick enough to save the company from myself. I took a step back and educated myself on the business systems that exist within a typical PR company.

Below, I’ve summarised the lessons I learned in 5 very doable steps that can be applied to businesses in various industries.

1. Identify all existing/potential divisions

Business systems are a strategic response to a chain of events that occur within different divisions. Let me make it simpler, using a chocolate cake for instance. Business systems would, in this case, be the oven for the cake and the different divisions involved would be the ingredients needed to make this cake.

I know, I’m salivating too! Okay, let’s focus. These systems include payment policies, contractual agreements, marketing management, customer care etc. For example, if I got a call to handle a campaign for a company, between that call, the conclusion of the campaign and payment being transferred to me, I need to ask myself what divisions would be involved. There would administration for the signing of the contract and releasing of press releases and accounts to record the payment for example.

When you develop your business systems, you need to consider how it will help make those divisions function well together, taking into account all other factors involved like employees within those divisions. You might want to pick up a business book or two to learn more about general business management if you are not too sure about the operational divisions.

Play office, just like you played house when you were a cute little kid Click To Tweet

2. Play office

Yes, play office. Just like you played house when you were a cute little kid before life put the world on your shoulders and no, I’m not mad to suggest this! Putting yourself in a real-life scenario will help you identify what works and what doesn’t work, it helps bring you down to earth.

When I started out, I pitched for a partnership with a very big musician. I was excited for a little while because I could taste the big-time in my mouth. However, once I sat down with my notebook and laptop, I realised that I had no idea where I was going to start and what I was going to do.

I sent out a few mock press releases to see how easy it would be to get word out there and after weeks of waiting, not one publication got back to me. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I sent the “I’m going to start small” email to that client. Yet, I understood that I needed to go through other processes before I got the handle of things. I realised things were a lot more complicated than I thought.

In theory, your vision always seems a lot easier, that’s why it’s important to try and see how well it would work out physically.

Believe me when I say, I literally played office. I set up a nice corner for myself in my tiny typical student room and every morning when I had nothing to do, I would go in, pretend to consult a client, hold staff meetings and so on. This helped me see how things would be if I were sitting across from an actual client.

3. Shadow other existing businesses

Enquire with a similar business and take notes on how they respond to you.


I promise you it’s not as shady as you might think. This step will allow you to, if you haven’t yet, come up with a niche/speciality for your own business. Once they respond to you, or if they don’t at all, you can spot what you can incorporate in your business systems to better serve potential clients. Think of it as industry research, because it pretty much is just that.

For a month or two, I analytically and critically followed one particular PR firm. It was during that time that I started spotting trends on their Twitter timeline. I started learning about things like status meetings and press release drafting sessions, things I had never thought about.

The whole shadowing journey guided me in the right direction, I began seeing exactly how you handle your clients as a publicist and how you navigate the different divisions around such an account or campaign.

Shadowing existing businesses in your niche is not as shady as you'd think Click To Tweet

4. Develop an operating system

This step isn’t as easy as you’d think, but it is completely manageable if you give it enough push. When developing your systems, think long-term, you want these systems to become a tradition and lifestyle for your business.

Although it is referred to as one big system, the truth is, a business system is made up of many small systems that are tailored according to the different interrelated divisions you identified in step 1.


No think about it, it’s really not as confusing. Let’s take a step back to the cake example, these small systems would be how you prepare your ingredients before you mix them in. Before you mix cake batter, you would have had to mix the liquids and dry ingredients separately. You also can’t mix the icing and add it to the batter before it’s been baked into a cake. All of those small, yet differentiated processes are what makes a business system.

How to develop systems that become a tradition and lifestyle for your business Click To Tweet

Taking into account all the information you gathered from the previous 3 steps, start developing your systems. Remember, sometimes it helps to keep things easy and simple. Before you decide your system is complete, make sure it answers the following questions:

  1. How will your client/customer find you? For e.g. do they have to make a booking?
  2. What needs to be done internally to ready the product/service?
  3. How will you deliver your service/product?
  4. How do you document the progress of the delivery?
  5. What events take place after the fact and how do you document these?

5. Evaluate your system

Test the practicality of your business system. If you must, play office again and see if it runs smoothly. If it does, then you’re okay and if it doesn’t, start the process over again with a different approach.

And remember, even though some practically walk into greatness from the word go, don’t rush past being small. Everyone and everything has to start somewhere.