Thembelihle Khumalo is a branding guru with 20 years experience in the media industry. She specialises in translating the stories of individuals and corporates into compelling brands, through her consulting firm Brandbuilder. She is also the founder of Labour of Love, an organisation contributing to the financial empowerment of African women artisans.
What are you current career goals?
My main career goal is to build my businesses in order to provide multiple streams of income in the short and long term. These businesses are strategically independent so that the problems in one sector don’t have a ripple effect on the other businesses.
Would you say multiple sources of income are necessity for the average young woman?
For an ambitious entrepreneur you need multiple streams of income because you need to be able to cushion yourself against financial peaks and troughs. Established and experienced wealth builders tend to employ this strategy.
What are 5 insights you think every young woman should know early on in their career?
- Get rid of any psychological and emotional issues you have with money.
- Start investing immediately, invest in both long-term and short term goals.
- Leverage your assets, if you are talented at something, find a way to make it work for you.
- Understand how to get along with people, and that anybody can add value to you and vice versa.
- Learn how to make smart decisions quickly, by deciding on your set of values and vision for your life, then narrow down your options based on this.
How did you create “Labour of Love”?
My grandmother was a talented seamstress who passed these skills down. Initially I made a few things to sell in high school, and then went on to create a short-lived start-up with my sister.
Labour of Love only became fully operational in 2015. The advent of online shopping and social media created new opportunities, and tremendously heightened the global appetite for all things African. Subsequently changing the ball game for entrepreneurs and marketers.
Hence my current business model of creating opportunities for African women artisans. To use their homemaking and craft skills to increase their financial well-being, build their individual self-esteem, provide for their families and develop their communities.
Tell us about Brandbuilder
I’ve worked in media and advertising for more than twenty years, but left full time employment to pursue a passion project. I realised that I was leaning on the skills that I have expertise in – brand building and storytelling. I then spent a few months figuring out exactly what my value proposition would be, where my competitive advantage lay, in essence, developing my own brand.
How does one get to a place of consistency in business?
Timing is one of the factors that largely influence the success of a business. This encompasses the market you intend to service and timing in your own life. You have more resources to input into your business when you are single with no children; responsibility has a way of diminishing your willingness to take risks. There are also political and economic factors that affect your timing and at the end you have to listen to your gut.
What are the top three places on your travel list?
Definitely Morocco, Zanzibar and Nigeria.
What tops the list of African countries you’ve been to and why?
Definitely Rwanda! It’s well-led, that’s an important factor for me. The seriousness about achieving the vision they have for their country is seen in the mechanisms and systems they have in place to enable that. A close second is South Africa, the land of my ancestors and for its very cosmopolitan pulse.
Would more women leaders make a difference to the African economy?
Better, braver leaders would make a difference. If women are better and braver, then yes, more women in leadership. If women are not already competent, then we make them competent and compete on a level playing field. Competence and character should be the only things that decide those best suited for leadership.
Tips for a woman trying to enter a male-dominated industry?
I’d give her Lloyd P. Frankel’s book “Nice girls don’t get the corner office” and tell her to focus on doing the job properly because we can get distracted by the whole gender conversation. If you don’t get an opportunity, don’t assume it’s because you’re a woman. Ask yourself what you could have done better, where were the opportunities for improvement.
What’s your take on leveraging your femininity in a business setting?
It’s capital – employ it! It’s no different from your intellectual capital; if you have morals and ethics that can create boundaries for you, you shouldn’t have a problem.
What governs your style, what you choose to wear, how you choose to wear your hair?
I’d like for anyone who sees an image of me to see a proud African. I never want to look like I feel apologetic for being African.
Seasons in your life tend to govern this and they can be different. Some require healing, nurturing and mending bits that have been chaffed and bruised. Then there are other seasons, where you are chasing something so big that you might even forget to brush your hair, and that’s okay too, for a season.
What are the biggest relationship lessons you’ve learnt?
- Listen to hear, as opposed to listening to answer.
- Understand yourself and the lenses through which you understand what people say. Invest in knowing yourself.
- Embrace pain and understand that life is going to be difficult, you’ll have painful experiences and that shouldn’t be the end of the world, learn from it.
If you were to have dinner with anyone, who would it be, where and why?
I would love to have time stand still and spend a few hours with Malcom Gladwell on a beach with the drinks flowing and take time to understand his mind. He is a real thought leader, when I read his books I always wonder, “How would you apply this to Africa?”
Who would you like to have as your BFF?
Definitely Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because she writes so well and her imagination is interesting, yet she has a real home-girl vibe like she could be the girl next door!
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