Winning Women: 5 tips for women in business

2013-05-23 12:03

City Press’ first Winning Women panel chats about money, gender, innovation, being self-employed and keeping the home fires burning. Gayle Edmunds made notes

This week, City Press and the Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme hosted the first Winning Women dialogue about the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs and how to overcome them successfully.

The speakers were two of our previous Winning Women, Travel With Flair’s Johanna Mukoki and Lady-T Protection Services’ Nothando Baloyi, as well as Hadithi Media’s Rehema Isa, who is also a business strategist.

Here are five pieces of advice for women in business:

1. The money issue

“I don’t drive fancy sports cars. I keep reinvesting the money in the business ... Money is a by-product of success,” says Mukoki.

Says Isa: “It’s not getting the finance, it’s managing it once you have it ... the money conversation happens too late.”

Mukoki says that as her background is in accounting the money side was easier to manage and because she and her partners began with a loan from family. They couldn’t take any salary until they’d paid it back. She adds that (ironically) the barriers to sourcing finance are gone now that she doesn’t need it any more. “(There are) more offers for tea with the bank manager these days, now that my business is successful.”

2. The gender issue

Says Isa: “It is not a man against a woman, it is one person’s ideas against another person’s ideas ... When they bring my femininity to bear then it’s a problem.”

She says that now and then she comes across someone who says “as a Zulu man I need to deal with a man”. She tells them to do just that, and lets the business go.

Says Baloyi: “It is important to stand your ground ... not only competitors undermine you, it happens with staff too ... your company’s code of conduct is a good guide. Don’t punish people with it, but make people stick to it.”

Part of Baloyi’s business is working in the very male-dominated landscape of mining. She says that facing down those who think they can intimidate you because you are a woman is an important lesson to learn.

Says Mukoki: “The more serious you sound, the more people will sit up and listen and your sex will fade away. People don’t see me as a woman, they respect the grey matter between my ears. Your attitude will always determine your altitude.”

3. On being self-employed

Says Isa: “The place of expectations is important ... my family asked ‘who are you going to work for?’... Starting a business is seen as a failure, someone should be paying your salary.

“Running a business is a very personal thing – it is the equity I have made with myself,” she says, thumping her chest.

Says Mukoki: “I am five years ahead of every other travel agent ... hard work is always part of the equation.”

She goes on to say that investing in people is the best way to build your business and that employers shouldn’t fear developing people.

“We aggressively train. If you invest in people and are genuine, they will stay. People, especially women, will work hard for you. They will kick off their shoes and call your business home.

“When I hire people there is a very specific culture and value system I am looking for. Skills I can buy, attitude is key ... ”

Says Baloyi: “Rely on your support system ... keep a clear mind, look after your spiritual health ... and your health. Without your health you can’t do anything.”

4. The innovation issue

Says Isa: “Engage with something people will be doing every day anyway ... Blood, sweat, long hours behind the sound byte – starting is not a promise, problems come in later ... there is no formula, especially if you are being innovative.

“Ask yourself: What is the heart and soul behind the business? What you consider the measure of success should be your guiding principle.”

Says Mukoki: “Just because the door is bigger, you shouldn’t be afraid to knock on it.” To which Isa adds that you should start conversations with those you hope will be your customers: ask them what they need.

5. The life/work balance issue

Says Mukoki: “Never compare yourself with the woman next door ... rather ask have I done enough and my best today? Write your own script ...

“People know me. I bring my kids, they are like my handbags.” She says that she travels a lot, but adds that when she’s home “I leave my suitcases at the door and be a wife”.

The same focus she has at work is what she has at home.

Says Baloyi: “My mother is my great support system and I participate in a lot of sports – I run. I play golf. I cycle.”

Isa: “With the multiplicity of roles we have to inhabit it’s a wonder more of us aren’t schizophrenic! Find a space and time to allow yourself to be vulnerable ... Be jealous of your time.”

Isa, though, is one of the more fortunate women out there, judging by the stories of unsupportive spouses that seemed to abound, saying her husband has her back “300%” and says “he believes in me. He believes that what I need to do is what I am meant to do.”

» South Africa is the 23rd country to come on board the Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs, which will have equipped 300 entrepreneurs with the skills and networks to leapfrog their businesses. The programme is recruiting for its final class until the end of May.

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