A light bulb just came on and you’re already smiling at the money you’d be making from the business idea…
You just slammed a pitch and you’re already practicing the speech you’ll be giving other young people on how you made it…
You’ve launched your website and have snagged a client or two, business is looking promising…
Your business is expanding, income is rolling in, your reputation is soaring, you’re making impact…
You are now a known brand…
Pause. Hold up. Wait a minute.
Have you given any thought to safety on the job?
Chances are you haven’t thought about the safety of both yourself and your employees. Yet, whatever stage you are on your entrepreneurship journey, it is important to consider the health and safety of everyone involved in your operation and invest in it. A safety management system (SMS) is a proactive and systematic process of safety. It involves developing a safety culture that ensures your organisation/business remains safe from loss of any kind. There are numerous benefits to incorporating a SMS in your startup.
It reduces business costs and increases efficiency. With a SMS in place, you won’t have to worry about spending limited resources addressing the fallout of accidents and other incidents such injury, loss of goods, damage to business property, even death.
Banks and investors are more likely to invest in a business that is set up on a right foundation. No one wants to lose hard-earned money to accidents that could have been averted.
In business, word of mouth travels faster than any advertising. Employees do not want to leave a job worse than when they got into it, broken bones, injuries or ill-health.
A safety system boosts their morale and lets them know that their employer is interested in their overall well-being. This morale of staff is inadvertently manifest in improved client relations and that is a plus to a business.
Big companies in construction, aviation and oil and gas seek credible businesses with a safety culture to work with. This singular investment in a safety culture could set you apart from other business owners
The profession of journalism has evolved over time, greatly propelled by social media platforms. From print to digital, the various mediums in which information is now presented to the world can be a little overwhelming for a novice who wants to make their mark within the industry.
At She Hive NYC 2016 Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief of ESSENCE Magazine, shared with us some of the important guidelines needed to build a career in journalism.
Here are some of the gems of information Vanessa shared.
Keep it short
In the age of technology many people have a very short attention span. You have to be masterful at telling a great story within a short time frame. Create content that shows your target audience that you understand them.
Be as direct in your message as you can possibly be. Keeping your content simple and authentic allows your target audience to connect with it.
Be very comfortable with adapting to constant change. See what type of content your target audience is engaged around and give them that. Take the time to learn what the “new thing” is and what will set you apart from everyone else.
You may go into work spaces where others who have been in the industry much longer than yourself may not understand how to use the newest technological platform that others are using to connect with core audiences.
By keeping on top of these various platforms, and showing them how it’s done, you can make yourself more of an asset to your team.
Know Your Audience
Use data metrics to measure your engagement, but do not solely rely on it. Let your connection to your audience guide you in making intuitive decisions. Use data as a guide but also ask your audience what they would like to see.
Engage on Social Media
If you are looking for a job as a social media manager but your personal social media page has only 25 followers, employers are not likely to take you very seriously.
If you are not engaged on your own personal social media platforms, how can someone trust that you will be engaging on theirs? When branding your business you can’t hide in the background. You must have a presence, know what you stand for and what you don’t.
You must humanize your brand; people want to know who you are and they want to connect with the pieces of you that resonate with them. You have to tell a story; people want to know how what you do changes the lives of the people that you serve. Telling the story of how you built your business for example, this allows others to be inspired by your journey.
Working in the international development field is the best of many worlds. You have the opportunity to do good and well in life; travel around the world, live on stipends, get tuition reimbursement and student loan forgiveness. There are many incentives to working at places like Save the Children, the World Bank, or your country’s national development agency. This can be a very competitive sector to break into but with a plan of attack and a strategic mind, it’s definitely within your reach.
I’ve traveled throughout sub-Saharan Africa due to work, and trust me it’s been a long time coming. I’ve had to work throughout high school, college, and graduate school; I attended expensive private universities and the US Department of Education owns my first born. I didn’t have any hook-ups from parents who knew important people and I didn’t have any high profile professors vouching for me. I’ve had to consistently plan and re-plan every career move every step of the way.
Still, it’s possible to get that dream job, and this is what I think can help:
Never work for free
Seriously, this is a never ending cycle that you don’t want to get into. If you are a freshman or sophomore in college, fine maybe. You are only two years removed from high school and may not have a skillset to take to an employer. But, interning for free well into your 20s is absolutely unnecessary. You have to sell yourself and you can’t sell yourself cheap. By the time you graduate you have a skillset and should be able to express that in a convincing manner. Your language skills, your research abilities, your study abroad stint are all assets worth something!
If you think its okay to work for free just for the experience, you are beginning your career backwards. When you end up applying for a job and you need to tell them how much you were last paid, the fact that you worked for free at the UN will overshadow any work that you did there. It devalues your contribution to the organization you worked for, if you made a big enough impact they would have found a way to pay you. Just say no.
Begin learning a language
It’s so important, particularly if you are interested in working in sub-Saharan Africa. French is a vital tool that will propel your resume to the top of the pile even if you may not have that 3-5 year professional experience. Entering a language institute may even be more valuable than graduate school. Believe me, having a language is a shoe in for many international development agencies.
Find an actual niche/focus
It’s not good enough to say you want to work in international development, or in Africa. What do you want to change? Public health? Food security? Economic empowerment of women and girls? Reproductive health? There are dozens, if not hundreds of niches within international development, it is important you find yours. Graduate school allows you to learn the different sectors within international development and helps you figure out the hot topics, the institutions working on the ground and where in the world the issue is most pressing.
For example, I work in population and health, specifically in reproductive rights and access to contraception for young women. Pretty specific. When you’ve found your niche, do your research, write about it, read about it, tweet about it, enter dialogue online, attend events and listen to webinars. This will get you on the radar and start building you a mini portfolio before you even apply for the job.
Apply for work/travel grants
To work in international development you must have overseas, on the ground experience. So, you have graduated school, you have a basic understanding of a second language, you have found your niche! This isn’t enough to land your first position. You need real on the ground experience, whether in Southeast Asia, Africa or the Middle East. You need to get your butt over there for at least six months. You’ve got to get creative, start a go fund me campaign, work for a year at some desk job to save up and move overseas.
If you are like me and don’t have the money to move overseas for a year. Apply for travel grants ASAP. One of the best is the Christianson Grant, it awards young people under 30 with up to $10,000. All you need to do is find a place to work (and get accepted by the selection committee of course). One of my close friends was awarded the grant and spent a year working at an education NGO in Kigali, Rwanda. The $8,000 she received was enough to pay her housing, her monthly expenses, and her flights there and back. Other grants like Princeton in Africa place you at NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa, along with paying for flights and housing.
Take a (very temporary) pay cut
So you’ve been denied all the travel grants, and don’t have the money for an overseas stint. Don’t worry, there are other options to getting that overseas experience. Get on idealist.org, UNjobs.org, and devex.org, then study the jobs/paid internships available in developing countries. You’ll find many small local NGOs looking for program managers, site coordinators, capacity building managers, and so on. These jobs pay close to nothing but they will pay for your flight, a small monthly stipend, and housing. These are golden opportunities to getting that experience while still being compensated.
For example, I found a job in rural Tanzania in 2013. It was working with women (check), it was based in Africa (check), and it paid $600 per month. Um not check! I was taken aback by the low salary, but knew I had to consider it for on the ground experience. The position also offered me housing, flights, and a “Program Manager” title (check). In the end, my time in rural Tanzania is how I ultimately got my international development career started.
I am a strong believer that you have got to be strategic in planning out your career. It’s not enough to have interest, you must have something to back it up. This list worked for me, and I hope it works for you too.
The She Hive made its way to NYC and it held no punches! Guest speaker Asmau Ahmad, CEO and founder of Plum Perfect, showed us that building a business in tech requires strategy, confidence and persistence. Trained as a chemical engineer, Asmau understands the importance of being both precise and thorough. Asmau’s Plum Perfect is a mobile technology that allows the user to submit a photo selfie, it then analyzes the content of that photo to recommend makeup products that work for your complexion.
During She Hive NYC 2016, Asmau shared with us how she navigated her path within the tech industry.
Here are some lessons we can take away from Asmau’s journey.
Your ability to stay alive as a startup is directly correlated to your ability to pivot quickly. This means that you need to learn what is moving very quickly and move directions. Do not get too emotionally invested in something that clearly isn’t working.
If you have been working on something that needs to be revamped, just make the necessary changes. You can either grow fast or die slowly, the choice is yours. If your startup does not have the funds to market itself, partner with bigger brands and let them do the marketing.
Data is king
Use data tracking tools that allow you to see how your users interact with your technology, Google Analytics and Mixpanel are some resources Asmau suggested. Listen to your users, read all of their reviews and make adjustments accordingly.
Your most enthusiastic customers and your most angry customers will be the ones who give the most feedback. Feed off the energy of your most enthusiastic customers and give them what they want.
Asmau said that she focused on mostly women-led investors to help push Plum Perfect forward. It’s important that you find investors that fall in line with your business interests. Choose one revenue model that you want to focus on, state what you want clearly and simply.
Investors need to know that you are well informed about the product you’re pitching. Know your numbers when presenting, what has been your ROI thus far? How much do you need to carry out your next endeavor? Get investors who not only give money but also invest time into your project.
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You do not always want to be the one with the best ideas in the room.
There are some instances where an investor will not take you seriously unless you have an MBA degree, it is validating for them. Asmau’s takeaway is that business school is not mandatory for running a successful business. If you have a viable business model and can think logically you can run a business.
As entrepreneurs already know, finding clients can be a long, frustrating and expensive process. When you have little or no brand recognition, you have to work so much harder to get noticed in the market. I recently read in Entrepreneur Magazine, that “it is so important to prioritize future-minded strategy over short term opportunism”, and I completely agree with this.
So what does this mean for a young woman who wants to set her business apart? To me it means that this is the time to look for new business opportunities which typically haven’t been as welcome or open to women. While we may be more familiar with industries like beauty and fashion which are easier to start from home, developing a future-minded strategy requires us to look at opportunities beyond ourselves such as construction and heavy industries. It is with such opportunities that we must understand that the only limitations we now have, are those we hold on as truth in our own minds.
Being in the industrial sphere does not even always mean that you would have to get dirt under your fingernails; the takeover of technology in almost every business sector has opened up so many doors that the line to what is possible, and impossible has become almost invisible. Many entrepreneurs and CEO’s know that competing head-to-head with other entities can become daunting and cutthroat, more so when markets are slow and quite flat. All leaders in any business would agree that if there’s an easier alternative to get out of the head-to-head competing, and instead find a clear opportunity that has not yet been tapped; they would opt for that direction. In a world with hundreds of thousands of different products & services, innovation has become central to the survival of any new of mature business.
Creating new markets for your entity requires just that, INNOVATION’.
‘Most companies focus on matching and beating their rivals, and as a result their strategies tend to converge along the same basic dimensions of competition. Such companies share an implicit set of beliefs about “how we compete in our industry or in our strategic group.” They share a conventional wisdom about who their customers are and what they value, and about the scope of products and services their industry should be offering. The more that companies share this conventional wisdom about how they compete, the greater the competitive convergence. As rivals try to outdo one another, they end up competing solely on the basis of incremental improvements in cost or quality or both.’
So, the first thing to understand about creating new markets is that it requires a different pattern of strategic thinking. Instead of looking within the accepted boundaries that define how we compete, entrepreneurs should look systematically across them. By doing so, you can find unoccupied territory that represents a real breakthrough in value.
Let’s have a look at UBER, a company that, instead of buying a fleet of cabs and competing head-to-head with other cab companies, decided to do something completely different. The founders of UBER could have innovated and stopped at how they could get hybrid cars as part of their strategy or maybe even offer more comfortable vehicles with WIFI connection and well-trained drivers. Instead, the founders looked at how to make the process easier for customers and developed a tech friendly solution that provides lower costs through accurate monitoring of the distance travelled and drivers trained to a standard level of service.
By looking at the problem and the industry from another angle, they have created an entire market for themselves and disrupted an entrenched industry that had little innovation over the past 50 years. I doubt any of the UBER founders had ever driven a cab for a living or dreamt of being a cab driver. However they were able to capitalize on this opportunity because those who had been in that industry were very comfortable with the same old way that they had been operating for years. They couldn’t see the way technology could disrupt the industry and they missed the opportunity.
When thinking about creating a new market the popular question “What are my competitors doing?” should immediately be followed by the question “What should my competitors be doing?” Or more bluntly, how can I bring those who could be my head-to-head competitors to my mercy?
If you already have a product line, maybe look into a second generation product to help the financial standpoint of the company by creating a new market altogether. Finding secondary marketing can be as easy as adjusting packaging. Look at Coca-Cola or Kellogg’s, these companies have an array of products which aren’t worlds apart where taste or ingredients are concerned. Exhibit A would be the much loved amongst women market, the Special K cereal. Special K promises health benefits & sells fitness indirectly to us and what woman doesn’t want to be fit or at least healthy? Then have a look at Coco Pops, same company, different branding, a bit more sugar and even a cartoon character to attract the kids market.
All these have proven to me that as an entrepreneur, your perspective seldom matters above that of the market. You may as the entrepreneur see things ‘Ok as they are’, but one thing you should always bare in mind is that you’re not selling these to yourself, so get into the mind of the market. Think the unthinkable.
Now here’s the challenge: Go back to your businesses. Identify your ‘old ways of doing things’ and see how you could catapult yourself to being an industry leader by offering an entirely new way of doing business. Don’t lose sight of your original product or service but explore ways that you could make a similar product that’s targeted at a whole new market.
A new market demographic could be a simple as age group, gender or even race. Start innovating. Research how you could infuse technology into your new or existing business. Technology is on the rise, you may just be a tech pioneer in the industry you’re in; simply by understanding the challenges faced by your sector counterparts.
Remember that in order to adjust your perspective, you must see through the eyes of the consumer. Seek to address a problem and people will pay you for solving their problems.
A few decades ago the notion of the Triple Bottom Line became commonplace. The phrase introduced the concept that businesses, particularly global brands, have a responsibility to ensure that their business and their business practices not only render to them (internal) economy prosperity, but that their business practices safeguards the environment, and delivers social responsibility (external). The Three E’s – economy, ecology and equity.
More recently, the notion of sustainability and climate change has become a global dictate for ensuring and assessing the actions of corporations – again as a measure of ensuring that corporations take responsibility in and for their global business practices. This ensure that in operating their businesses, they are not in any way depleting the environment and livelihoods, nor negatively impacting the lives of future generations.
As usual, naysayers thought it was all hogwash – a liberal, goody-goody notion that some had latched onto to make their businesses look good. A notion that was good for shareholder value and drenched in profit-making with little thought for ecology and equity.
But I beg to differ.
You see, the future is not only a place we are going, it is also a place we are creating – and as such there can be a trade off between the present and tomorrow, depending on how we live, and ultimately how we lead and how we do business.
What am I driving at?
I am very much interested in the idea of transformational business leadership as opposed to transactional business leadership. My premise is that business leadership should be transformational and purposeful, and not merely transactional. Your business leadership should have a positive and resounding transformational impact on your internal (staff) and external (clients, shareholders, and partners) stakeholders, to the extent that the leadership positively impacts society at large. Not my responsibility, I hear you say. Well, let’s look at the business landscape and how this notion is being played out in the business sector – and particularly by two women in business.
PwC released its 19th Annual CEO Global Survey at the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos. Shannon Schuyler, President of PwC Foundation and Chief Corporate Responsibility and Purpose Officer, in an article in the Huffington Post, wrote that the 19th CEO Survey had revealed that while CEOs and companies may define purpose differently, for many ‘purpose is why their business exists’. More importantly, the CEOs noted that they recognise that companies have a wider responsibility to provide value to all stakeholders: ‘business profits and societal prosperity are inseparable: purpose is what aligns and unites them.’
Ms Shannon words were music to my ears. Essentially, global business leaders accept that business is not merely a secular, transactional act, but an intellectual and purposeful act to respond profoundly to societal needs. And that is why you need transformational leaders, leaders with unusual, far sighted ways of thinking and doing, to lead businesses – and ultimately – to shape societies.
Jen Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness – a company she co-founded to inspire science-based happiness, passion and purpose at home, work and in everyday life. For Delivering Happiness, companies can successfully use happiness as a business model to increase productivity and profitability, proving that companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform others by 400%.
Here’s the premise
My premise is that the higher sense of purpose, the ‘why’ of your business, is the strategic and leadership responsibility of the business leader to know, own, cascade and secure buy-in into by internal and external stakeholders. People generally are always pursuing happiness. They want to be part of something big and bigger than themselves – and what a better place to know and find that than the place where they spend two-thirds of their day, i.e. work?
For me, it will take transformational leadership to build the business of your dreams. It will take transformational leadership to have a sustainable business. And it will take transformational leadership to have a truly loyal, dynamic and productive set of internal stakeholders – as well as a set of external stakeholders that render you and your business profit.
The transformational business leader is concerned about all their stakeholders – the enterprise itself, the clients, their staff, their business partners – and they go out of their way to identify the needs of each one, after which they seek to arrive at a place of business operations that delivers joint value to all stakeholders.
Ms. Schuyler delivered superbly on an enthralling Twitter chat on 18th February about using purpose to drive business. She demonstrated explicitly that in businesses, purpose leads to more innovation, focus, human intensity and quality – and that each of these drive profit.
Business therefore is not only a commercial transaction for financial gain but also a potentially transformational endeavour for financial and societal good. Business is purposeful, and there is business in purpose.
To all intents and purposes, many economies on the continent have seen a slowdown. Businesses are being tested for resilience, they are being pushed to the edge, and the strength and acumen of their value chains are being tested.But come what may, businesses must go on.They may not thrive as they when the economy was buoyant, but they must continue in earnest.
As I think about these times, two things come to mind.
The need to build a strong brand to have a sustainable and viable business in and out of a slowdown.
The need to continually prepare and plan to scale your business around the core business activity at the earliest possible opportunity.
Building a brand. Building a business
What is the difference between a brand and a business? A business is an enterprise that creates an opportunity to trade and generate revenue.A brand is made up of intrinsic values, quality and characteristics that endear clients and aspirational clients to the business.
I always say when starting a business, it is crucial to focus on building the brand first, so that you can have a viable, sustainable business in the medium to long term.And building a brand is not child’s play. A business brand is almost always made up of the personal and business values of the CEO.
Especially for a small business, it is almost impossible to separate the personal brand of the CEO from the business brand.These become indistinguishable given that the CEO is the face of the business, and most likely the primary client-facing representative of the business.
For the business owner and CEO, this brings home the need to reflect on, define and articulate your personal and business values right from the outset.This delivers you your business brand.Understand and define what you are trying to achieve with your business and what values are aligned with that personal and business aspirations.
Then, commit to live those values – through how you operate your business, how you choose and interact with clients, the quality of your services and products, how you recruit and engage with staff, how you present yourself to the world – presentation skills, public speaking skills, networking, and personal style.When we focus on these from the outset, we endear clients, and essentially revenues, to our business, create brand loyalty, and, come what may, in and out of recession, we enjoy a level of brand loyalty.
Scaling your business
Most business start with one core idea, concept, initiative, but there is always an opportunity to scale and expand that business.Think of a fashion brand that starts initially producing clothes, then start to produce and sell accessories, then later on goes into interiors, and maybe even then a lifestyle venture such as a restaurant.
What enables such a business to do that successfully is the power of their brand.When a brand is strong, it has a following, and clients will seek out that brand for every aspect of their daily needs.
It’s an intentional decision.Many global corporations and their CEOs at one point decided to develop their personal and business values (=brand) to keep their clients and customers hooked. In the event of an economic slowdown or economic upturn, their business, through their brand strength, remains a viable and sustainable enterprise.
You can do it!
The price of business and entrepreneurship is uncertainty, and the prize is a vision fulfilled, success even in the midst of uncertainty.
Someone recently shared with me a precise lesson in living. They said, if we knew the times and seasons, if we knew exactly what would happen to us or our business next month, next year or in 3 year, we would not need faith, we would not need to be resilient.
It is often the uncertainty in business and the ambition and determination to curb that very uncertainty that fuels the drive to success.
Risk taking buoyed by a strong brand can bring some comforting business stability.
When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
This 10-step-process for high level decision-making was presented by Professor Simon Gifford of the IE School of Business. Gifford is a lecturer, entrepreneur, and experienced consultant.
Gifford spoke to the women of SheHive Accra 2016 about using this 10-step-process to make better business decisions, just like the senior executives he coaches.
1. Recognize that there is a decision to be made
Often times, we are presented with a decision but do not realize it. Acknowledging that a decision must be made is a crucial step in running a successful business. Then ask, is this an operational or strategic decision?
An operational decision is one that is made often and about the day-to-day of your business. Strategic decisions are one off, long term decisions that can change the course of your business. If the decision is operational, this level of decision-making processing is not necessary. But if it strategic, then follow along.
2. Frame the problem
Sometimes, the real question is at higher or lower level than the immediate concern you are faced with. But knowing this requires introspection. We may believe that the problem is one thing when it is actually another.
What are you trying to achieve by making the decision? For example, are you aiming at being more profitable, increasing your market share (they are both related but may not the same), or increasing exposure?
Which of these objectives are related and may overlap? The questions and decisions they pose are different. Be sure to identify your objectives.
4. Understand your context
In other words, situational appraisal: understand what’s happening in the market now.
Where does your industry stand? Where is the global market going? What do think will happen to your industry or market in the future?
5. Evaluate the situation
Though similar to step 4, this scenario analysis is at a firm or business level. Take the business out of its current context and understand the situation you face in a future context.
What market or external forces affect your decision? What issues in your work capacity, resources, or operations affect the decisions that you will make?
6. Generate some options
What possible decisions you can make? Most times, companies look at it from binary perspective – we either do or don’t do something.
Create a list of responses or options to the issue you’re facing, breaking them down to a small, manageable list. Role play the options through the scenarios you outlined in steps 4 and 5.
7. Option evaluation
Take all your options and evaluate them against the objectives. You may have set more than one objectives. So weigh your objectives.
How does each decision fair against each objective? Which options holds the highest tally for the objectives you care about?
8. Make a decision
Choose the option that fares best against your option, then perform a risk analysis. Do this narration: you implement that option and things go horribly wrong – what could have been wrong? Can you stand the outcome of the worst case scenario?
Make recommendations and negotiate with your key stakeholders. Then decide and commit. (In this step, you should discuss how you will break ties as well).
9. Implement your decision
At this stage get the people involved in the implementation of the option into the decision making process.
Considerations about these stakeholders should have been made in step 1 but at this point, bring them in to discuss the decision, how it was made, and considerations of best and worst case scenario.
10. Evaluate your decision
There should be continuity between the evaluation and implementation steps so that changes can be made.
Profession Gifford concluded by stressing the important of due diligence and process in high level decision making. While this 10-step-process can be easily laid out, enrolling this process in real time takes a lot of effort and resources.
But, the rewards to making well thought out decisions is tremendous on the business, organizational, and personal level.
At the beginning of 2014, Kegaugetswe Florence Mukwevho and her two business partners started a food company. The startup, which launched in April of that year, was on a mission to create youth employment by operating a low cost, scalable mobile kitchen for a local growing chicken brand.
The business was doing well in its first few months; sales were high, showing that there was a market for the product and service they offered. Startups in their early stages need funding for growth and expansion and this was the case for the food company.
Kega came across the 2014 She Leads Africa Entrepreneur Showcase and thought that it provided a great opportunity for the company to get much-needed funds. With the support of her co-founders, she applied and was selected as one of the top 10 finalists. Although she didn’t win the competition, she received great feedback from the judges and mentors and support from the SLA team.
Upon her return home however, Kega noticed that the dynamics in the company had shifted. In partnerships, group dynamics can bring synergy or divide at the expense of the business.
The latter was the case for the food startup. Ultimately, the three entrepreneurs decided to go their separate ways. Although it has been a difficult journey, Kega shares firsthand what she learned from the failure of her first startup.
1. Have a partnership agreement
Our business relationship was going so well in the first few months that we delayed creating a partnership agreement. For me, it was unspoken. Our official agreement came much later as a reaction to issues rather than as a proactive step in the initial phase. It is important that one does not assume that common sense is common to everyone. We are all human beings with different backgrounds therefore we do not think the same way.
“We could have avoided some disagreements by clearly putting down expectations regarding our roles and responsibilities, how to run the business, funding and equity earlier on.”
Make sure you seek assistance from mentors and other entrepreneurs to get an idea of some of the real issues that may arise in your business.
2. Be 100% involved in your company
When we started the business, we were full-time students with the exception of one partner who was studying part-time. As such, he was the operational partner and was on site all the time. Starting a business is no easy task and it is well known that the failure rate for new startups is very high within the first 18 months.
It is during this infant stage that a business needs the most tender, love, and care. I was juggling being a full-time student and a business partner. As a result, I did not give the business the undivided focus and attention it needed during this critical stage. Not only did this hurt the business but it also placed a greater burden on my partners.
“We did not realize from the get-go the kind of hands on involvement and input we needed in order to thrive.”
I wish I knew then the importance of being more involved in the daily running of the business.
3. Things are not always as they seem
Business is about testing assumptions. While we might have had a very convincing story on paper including a probable financial model, things don’t always turn out the way we envision them. According to our business plan, we were set for success. In drafting any budget, there is a principle that you “overstate your costs and liabilities and you understate your revenue and assets”.
This is particularly important for a startup. We did not prepare for the worst case scenario and found ourselves running into serious cash flow problems. It may seem like everything will go well, but things do fall apart. You must be prepared for the possibility of failure.
When it comes to financial modelling, you should rather exaggerate your costs and other expenditures by using the worst case scenario, just to be safe. Also, financially, physically and emotionally, prepare yourself to not be profitable for the first few months.
4. Don’t underestimate your competition
We chose to locate our business in a township. We assumed that because we were selling grilled chicken, it would be better to sell it near a large hospital because people would want a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
We had underestimated our competition. Although there wasn’t a flame grilled chicken option in that area at the time, we had competition from people selling cakes and other fatty foods.
The market wasn’t open to having healthier alternatives. Our competitors had already realized this.
5. Invest in a stellar marketing strategy<
Around October of last year, our sales were increasing organically because it was the festive season. But even then, we knew there were certain challenges. In the beginning, business was good because we had a new product that people wanted to try out.
But in the long term, it was not. People tasted our chicken and liked it but in that township, eating chicken was more of a status thing. We were trying to create a lifestyle but most people could only buy our chicken at the end of the week or month when they had been paid.
We made a lot of assumptions but I think that is what business is about – testing assumptions. We tested our assumptions and some of them didn’t turn out as we hoped. We tried to have more marketing to increase sales to the level that we wanted.
However, we did not allocate a sufficient budget for this and as such we could not do everything that we wanted to do. There is a lot more we could have done with a lot more time and money; we should have thought to invest in a marketing strategy much earlier on.
6. Keep employee morale high
The loyalty of employees is very important as they are the operational drivers of the business. Having a relationship with the people who work for you makes a world of difference. This is even more important when you are struggling and having cash flow problems.
Initially, we paid our employees competitively – above minimum wage. Then we started having pay issues. When things were not going well sales-wise, we weren’t able to pay them as well as we previously did. Our staff was constantly updated on the progress of the business and when we were having tough times.
Whilst some of them endured the struggle and remained a part of the story right until the end, we lost some key employees earlier on. Staff retention is unfortunately a real struggle for any business.
While employees have to be paid well regardless of what is happening in the business, it is important that you incentivise them in other non-financial ways, as well as communicate with them regularly and honestly. This way they will have your back during the darker days.
7. Share the spotlight
Participating in the SLA Pitch Competition came with a fair amount of media attention. It was mainly focused on me as the only woman on the founders’ team. This brought some tension. I have been thinking a lot about this.
If you had a partner who wasn’t as involved in the general running of the business but saw an opportunity to promote the business, took it and ended up in the spotlight it, it would affect you.You would think, “But I am the one doing all the work”. It’s a natural reaction. This would negatively impact your working relationship.
Overall, I don’t regret getting involved in the startup at all. I feel like I bought a valuable experience with my investment in the company. I have so many projects that I want to venture into after I complete my CTA Honors in Accounting and Finance postgraduate studies. I am moving forward wiser and with a better perspective on what it takes to run a successful business.