Lessons from Chenesai: How to be authentic organic entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is not just an activity, it is a lifestyle committed to the development of the dream Click To Tweet

Being a successful female entrepreneur in Africa’s current economic and cultural context is an arduous journey. Calling organic entrepreneurship impossible

Despite being a marginalised group, women entrepreneurs in Africa have great potential to positively impact the economy of the continent. It is time, we as women discussed credible models for emerging entrepreneurs as well as winning solutions in womenprenuership.

Here are some key principles I have learnt along my path pushing the clothing brand Chenesai, it’s still a journey I continue walking in confidently despite the challenges which I emerge from more determined. I’m an avid believer of sharing skills of the trade with my fellow womenprenuers in the continent.

1. Define your vision.

Vision is born from action. Engage your ideas and define your vision. One must be able to fully conceptualise how their brand will operate and relate to consumers at its pinnacle. An entrepreneurial spirit becomes paramount to sustaining this vision and seeing it through to the climax.

Entrepreneurship is not just an activity, it is a lifestyle committed to the development of the dream. It is an attitude, a psychological and physiological engagement completely dedicated to achieving the ultimate goal. So, how does one afford the luxury of investing in that dream?

2. Be your own capital and collateral.

Believe in yourself enough to invest mind, body, and soul in your vision. Capital remains the main challenge that continues to dominate the dialogue on entrepreneurship in Africa. The solution to this is to start where you are and with what you have, then work your way upwards. Pessimists may be quick to dismiss this view citing that a few dollars cannot start up the multi-million empires they desire. However, to be an entrepreneur you need to always see the glass half full instead of half empty.

When I started Chenesai, I transformed my study into my factory. I did not even own a sewing machine, so I offered the space to a design student in exchange to use her machine for my designs. From the arrangement, I saved up to purchase my own machinery.

In the four years, I have been working on Chenesai, there hasn’t been a single day where I had extra capital to bankroll my projects. I’m continuously searching innovative ways to develop at each stage as I go along, that is my capital. Quid pro quo deals are an effective way to secure services and inputs you may require. Find what services you can offer in return for products and services you need from others.

Securing a loan may seem like a necessity for your business but what this essentially entails is that your activities and course are determined by your commitment to repaying the debt. Organic growth allows you to make mistakes, learn, improve and expand.

To be a successful organic entrepreneur you need to always see the glass half full Click To Tweet

3. Be solution driven

You don’t have enough time to dwell on challenges. Perfection is a myth so act! As Motswana female tech entrepreneur, Rapelang Rabana puts it, “the most powerful ideas come from solving your own problems.” It is important to never think of challenges, I live in solution mode.

I had to do most of the work by myself, in the beginning, I could not afford to employ a trained designer. Instead of giving up and holding the “challenged” placard as justification for failure, I thought innovatively, tapped into the unqualified resource pool and trained my first employee from scratch.

Because I personally trained her on all the essentials of my business, she thoroughly comprehends my vision and works well to complement my efforts. The idea is to consider your surroundings and continuously devise effective strategies to utilise resources and opportunities to power up your business.

4. Possess an autonomous mind

Entrepreneurship is a test on your mental state. Keep your mind clear. This should be established from the onset and maintained throughout the running of the business, it must become a lifestyle. For one to be able to make effective decisions, they should have as much control of the factors in play as possible.

Limit obligations and understand that it’s a long and lonely walk. Refrain from engaging in relationships, friendships, activities and commitments that will affect the course of your business negatively. Every activity you partake in must bring growth to your entrepreneurial spirit or feed into the vision in some way.

It is important to never think of challenges, I live in solution mode - Chenesai @Inspire2Aspire Click To Tweet

5. Honour your time

Put a price tag on your time, maximise every hour, minute and second of each day operating on 100% productivity. You are expected to wear different hats as you grow your enterprise, as such your time is gold. When I made the decision to venture into Chenesai, I left my job at one of Zimbabwe’s top law firms and settled on a much smaller one to afford me the time I need to invest in my dream.

I now work 3 days a week and the rest of my time is dedicated to my brand. If you need to keep an 8 to 5 job, then every minute outside of work must be accounted for. Create and own your flexibility outside of the office or workplace and make the time for the business.

6. Tackle the gender barriers

Finally, for now, the strategic deviation has got to be embedded in your DNA if you are looking to succeed. While we continue to work to address cultural structures that deprive us (women) of several opportunities, we do not have the luxury to wait for things to change.

We need to actively find ways to get around the issues we face as women entrepreneurs. Find inspiration from your multiple roles and where you can, merge them with your passion. For example, as a mother, I include my son in all my projects because I must play my part in raising him (do not forget the dads) and looking after him. I have developed a line of clothing, “King K” which is inspired and dedicated to him.

Solution driven thinking and time management will solve a lot of the issues we face as women. That along with the compact rules I have shared from my experience, I am confident that we can all prosper as womenprenuers in Africa!

7 effective strategies to start any organisation: Lessons from Julie Nixon

You have to prepare a plan to execute your business solutions. An idea will remain that until it's put into action Click To Tweet

Julie Nixon was educated in the United Kingdom before immigrating to South Africa in the late 1980’s. After undergoing extensive Retail Management courses with a leading retail chain, Julie utilised her broad experience in sales, merchandising and human resource courses to streamline the Gone Rural operations.

Julie arrived at Gone Rural in 2005 to take on the position of Workshop Manager and was promoted to General Manager in 2007 with new responsibilities including Sales, Human Resource courses, and Logistics. As head of sales, Julie oversaw a one hundred parent sales increase in three years which in turn quadrupled the women’s income during the same period. Julie due to her successes was given the position of Chair Person for the “Swazi Secrets” (a women’s empowerment company started by Her Majesty the Queen Mother) where she served a two-year term.

While chairing this organisation, Julie realised that though artisans in Swaziland are hardworking and talented, they do not make much income. This led her to start a fair-trade organisation called Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) which ensures that supply chains are fair while creating opportunities for fair wages at grass roots level. Julie is passionate, dedicated and committed to improving the lives of the people of Swaziland and has managed to secure a grant for a three-year capacity building project for handcrafters in Swaziland.

If you are planning on starting any organisation, here are 7 effective strategies you can learn from Julie Nixon.

1. Identify the need for the community and possible solutions

To start any type of organization, you will first have to discover the need and then provide solutions. The core purpose of any organization is to fill a need –be it goods or services, the organisation must provide some satisfaction.

This was the case of Julie who discovered that though artisans in Swaziland are highly skilled and talented with an abundance of natural raw materials, they had no way of getting their beautiful pieces to the market.

The artisans had capacity needs such as proper costing as many of them did not cost their labour into the product which meant it was actually costing the artisan to produce and sell a product. This led her to provide a solution by starting a system where all will benefit and as she has always been a big supporter of Fair Trade, she decided that would be the best way to make a difference.

Thus social enterprises like those in the Fair-Trade model ensure that their supply chains are fair, they create opportunities for fair wages at grass roots level and they are transparent and inclusive. This is a model she supported, which is why Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) came into being.

2. Prepare a plan or strategy to execute these solutions

After discovering the need and possible solutions, you then have to prepare a plan or strategy to execute these solutions as an idea will remain an idea until it is actually put into action.

Julie’s plan for SWIFT is to grow the local economy and create more socially responsible companies that operate under the principles of Fair-Trade. Thus, a network of businesses that work together as a united front to protect the weakest members of their society.

With this as the fundamentals, Julie set out to put her idea into action by;

Targeting a group

Every organization needs a focus group for it to function, as if you do not have people believing or patronizing what you intend to provide, then there really is nothing to give. The target group for SWIFT was local handcraft or food producers who have a marketable product and a will to create jobs through the application of Fair Trade standards.

Making a list of services to be provided or goods to sell

What do you intend to give this target group? Julie carefully crafted a capacity building, mentoring and coaching, training and development program to capacitate the highly skilled artisans of Swaziland. The training was supported by trade linkage opportunities and sales platforms such as the Bushfire Marketplace, to ensure members “earned while they learned”.

Marketing strategies

Making a list of how to communicate your plans to the target group. This can be through word of mouth, social media etc. depending on who your target group is.

3. Get a mentor, attend workshops and do some research

As you are working on getting your organization out there, you also have to work on yourself and that is by getting a mentor who has been in that trade or industry for a while, attending workshops/school and doing some research.

Julie attended workshops by Paul Meyers the Chairman of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) who called for the setup of country networks that offered an alternative to the classic capitalist model and became active in spreading the word about Fair-Trade.

As you're getting your organisation out there, you also have to work on yourself by getting a mentor Click To Tweet

4. Invest in the organization

If you have chosen the path of starting an organization, then you must already know that this organization will run on money and time. This means you should be prepared to invest with both your money and time.

SWIFT was started with zero finances but with decades of collective business knowledge. Their vision was pure, capacitate handcrafters at grass roots level, to promote Fair Trade as an ethical business practice and a will to grow their domestic economy.

In the very early years, SWIFT used membership contributions to hire a part-time country manager and the company Julie worked for Gone Rural, allowed her time to work setting up SWIFT.

5. Start small

Rome wasn’t built in a day so be prepared to start small unless you already have your funding and professionals who are willing to sacrifice their all for your dream. If not, you would have to start alone, with a partner or with a few employees and with time, you can increase your workers or even train interested beneficiaries to work with you.

SWIFT started with a Country Manager and an Office Manager, then trained 8 women on an intensive Train the Trainer program, the top 2 became the Business Development Managers. They also hired an Operations Manager and a Marketing Manager where they linked members to each other to learn from the best.

Best practices held four times a year where members with the best practices such as packaging, costing, production or reporting open their doors to other members for a specialized training day.

Be prepared to start small unless you already have your funding Click To Tweet

6. Brand your organization to attract investors, clients

Everything you do must brand your company well to attract the needed people. SWIFT’s logo speaks of inclusivity, it is a circle representing the infinity of life, the birds represent Swazi products flying across the globe, yellow is for their natural recourses, red represents their past and blue is for peace and prosperity for all.

Their mission, their vision, and their ethics have helped to create a strong brand that stands for ethical business practices, inclusivity and the upholding of the principles of Fair Trade, partners want to be part of this movement working towards a more just business environment. Their membership is vocal in their support of SWIFT as a network and encourages organizations to join.

7. Build networks wherever you go

There are people out there who are looking to support, recommend and assist your work. It is your duty to find them and you wouldn’t find them by staying in your home and not making contacts with anybody. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to connect with others who can help promote your organization. Also, learn to stay in touch with everyone you meet.

Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with others & learn to stay in touch Click To Tweet

Julie understood the essence of networking when she granted an invitation to join an exhibition in Botswana for President George Bush at the event where he launched his HIV/AIDS funding initiative. Through this, Julie met high-level personages including Andrew Card who was the Chief of Staff for President Bush. Julie says she still has Mr. Card’s business card in her wallet.