Entrepreneurship is now one of the leading forms of self-employment among today’s youth. There are numerous guides on the A-Zs of starting your own business to maintaining profits to hiring employees, and so on in the form of books, magazine and newspaper articles, blogs, websites, etc. In recent years, there has been a surge of self-employed female entrepreneurs who are working hard to leave their mark in the business world. While the likelihood of these female entrepreneurs referring to such guides is highly probable, in this article, we shall explore some of the essential tips from well-known successful female figures who hold high positions in the world of entrepreneurship, media, and philanthropy, on what budding female entrepreneurs need to know.
- Network with the right people
Kathryn Minshew, the co-founder of The Muse, an online career advice platform, had this to say about the importance of networking with the right people.
“For almost the first year of The Muse’s life, I would do five to eight networking events a week. And I don’t necessary think that’s the right path for everyone, but I realized that as an entrepreneur, one of my strengths was finding the right people who could help us”.
Networking with the right people allows room for growth in opportunities, partnerships, raising your business profile, making lasting connections, sharing knowledge, and building relationships.
- Aim for success that will be meaningful and beneficial
During a speech at Stanford University’s Commencement Ceremony, Oprah Winfrey said, “So, how do I define success? Let me tell you, money’s pretty nice. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that it’s not about money, ’cause money is very nice. I like money. It’s good for buying things”. This honest statement from the first African-American female billionaire and media executive echoes the thoughts and sentiments of budding entrepreneurs around the globe, regardless of whether they admit it or not.
However, she further added, “having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you. That’s when you’re really rich”.
In this speech, Winfrey stresses the importance of making business and life decisions in line with your core values, instead of focusing on the profits it could bring later, as dismissing those core values will only bring disastrous results in the end.
- Develop and Maintain a “can-do” Attitude
Shahnaz Husain, the founder of The Shahnaz Husain Group which pioneered the international market for Ayurvedic beauty care said this during an interview with The Hindu:
“When I entered the international market in 1980, during the Festival of India, I was given a counter in the Selfridges store. With international cosmetic empires pumping billions of dollars into the cosmetic industry, there I stood alone and sold India’s 3000 BC civilization in a jar. It was not easy, but we sold out our consignment in three days!”
For Husain, a change in attitude, where rejecting the acceptance of failure, is required to succeed. She believes that the “can-do” attitude often comes more naturally to male company founders than their female counterparts, and explains that women are sometimes less likely to succeed than men in entrepreneurship because “what women really lack in the ultimate analysis is not the desire to do something, but the resilience to keep up that grit and determination”.
This “can-do” attitude helped Husain overcome financial constraints and rejections which did not deter her from achieving her cherished goal – to introduce Ayurvedic products, treatment, and beauty cosmetics to the world – with success.
- Prioritize on your physical and mental health
In a TEDWomen conference on December 2010, Arianna Huffington emphasized on a simple yet useful habit that can bring personal and entrepreneurial success – a good night’s sleep. Upon reflecting on her own past experiences on the consequences of sleep deprivation, in which the most extreme case caused Huffington to receive five stitches on her right eye and breaking her cheekbone after fainting from exhaustion and hitting her head hard on her desk, she said, “as we are facing all the multiple crises in our world at the moment, what is good for us on a personal level, what’s going to bring more joy, gratitude, effectiveness in our lives and be the best for our own careers, is also what is best for the world. So, I urge you to shut your eyes, and discover the great ideas that lie inside us; to shut your engines and discover the power of sleep”.
Additionally, Huffington highlighted the growing concerns on the excessive use of electronic gadgets for work that is leaving its ugly mark on mental health stress and burnout among those in the workforce. Her solution to solving this issue is being in control “of our relationship with technology”. To do this, she advises that we must 1) disconnect ourselves from devices that are used for work-related activities at night and keep them out of sight; 2) control notification settings to those who are important to you; and 3) ignore or remove phone applications that cause unnecessary distractions that can strain our mental health.
- Learn from past failures and mistakes
Before she became well-known and successful, Oprah Winfrey was a primetime news co-anchor for a TV station. When the show failed due to low rankings and viewership, she was demoted to a journalist writer. However, being a slow writer and a very sympathetic and caring person, she was unable to perform the callous type of reporting required for the job. Instead of giving up, she utilized her passion for television and hosting and began to present human-interest stories instead of the news. This was the beginning of her successful career.
To sum up, here are Winfrey’s words on learning from past mistakes and failures: “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire”.
- Obstacles, Trials, and Tribulations are all part of the journey
In 1981, Datin Nancy Chan and her husband, Dato Lawrence Liew had dreams of investing in a fast food business but were unable to secure a loan. The bank staff flipped through the couple’s business proposal and refused to approve a loan as they believed the plan was not feasible. Additionally, they were unable to secure a shop lot when the owners refused to lease their premises to the couple and the food suppliers who were hesitant about their business idea only delivered the supplies if the couple were able to pay cash-on-delivery.
Thirty-eight years later, after investing RM120, 000 of their life-savings and money from friends and family and facing every harsh obstacle from setting up the business to the people they encountered, Marrybrown has over 130 outlets in Malaysia and over 350 outlets worldwide.
Upon reflecting the hardships the couple experienced, Dato Liew recalls the harsh things said to them, “I can still remember their words until today, ‘You can open a shop today and close tomorrow’”. Today, not only have the couple proven the sceptics wrong, but they have foreign investors from across Asia and Africa seeking their approval to open franchises.
- Seek advice from other female entrepreneurs
AlexAnndra Ontra, co-founder and president of Shufflrr, a US-based software company, encourages women to “participate in those groups and create your network of other women entrepreneurs … Whether it’s referring a new client, an investor, or just someone to vent about the challenges of running a business, no one can empathize with your situation better than another female entrepreneur”.
While business mentors and sponsors are usually male, it is also equally important to seek out women with talent and experience in successful entrepreneurship. This can help lead to an increased growth in leadership among women and helping them advance in their careers. One of the ways of doing so is through joining women-focused professional groups where you can engage with others and expand your network.
- Remember to give back to society
Every business or company has a corporate social responsibility which involves working with local communities, being socially responsible, establishing relationships between the company and the community, and taking care of the environment. There are many ways of giving back to the society, such as organizing activities for community neighbourhoods, donating money to charities, offering skill classes at a minimal or free cost, etc. Dato Ruby Khong, the founder of Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), established KSK to end hunger in Malaysia, prevent food wastage, and help those in need. Similarly, The Picha Project, is a cooking enterprise by three female graduates of UCSI University that helps Syrian, Afghan, Myanmar, and Rohingya refugees to prepare meals from their respective cultures to Malaysians.
Investing in the community helps a business grow as it helps promote your business, bring awareness to the community about your products and services, and increase potential networks, especially among other women.
- Understand and be realistic about your goals
Goals are established to remind the business what the purpose of the business is and what are the necessary actions needed to achieve them. Goals state the expected or desired achievement of the business, such as growth, profitability, and efficiency.
The former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, advices women to set sensible goals. She said, “I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself”, and in explaining PepsiCo’s “Performance with Purpose” goal and philosophy, Nooyi said, “It’s transforming the way we do business so we can deliver strong long-term financial returns in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the world around us, while galvanizing our entire company to embrace a deeper sense of meaning in our work”. Goals, therefore, should be written in accordance to the commitment and discipline it requires to achieve the desired results.
- Be mindful of and incorporate ethical business practices
In 1993, the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, took on the biggest challenge of her career by taking on the Shell company. Roddick, who was famously known for her dedication to fair trade, environmental conservation, going against animal-testing, and campaigning for ethical business practices, met a delegation of Ogoni tribespeople from Nigeria at a United Nations Human Rights Conference. They were seeking justice and reparations from Shell for destroying their lands through oil exploration. With the help of other NGOs, The Body Shop took fought for their cause, and four years later, Shell changed their business processes and ensured that the company adhered to human rights and sustainable development.
The above example is just one of the many examples of the damages a company (no matter how big or small) can face when negligence to the local community, environment, and ethical business practices is committed.
Despite the tough challenges women face in starting and growing their entrepreneurship, there is still plenty of room for their potential in succeeding. In addition to the successful women mentioned in this article, budding female entrepreneurs of today are growing steadily, investing in their ideas and working hard to gain recognition for the products and services that they sell, and their contribution to society. By networking with the right people, aiming for meaningful success, having a “can-do” attitude, prioritising their health, learning from past mistakes and failures, accepting obstacles, seeking advice from other businesswomen, contributing to society, understanding their goals, and practising ethical business practices, women entrepreneurs can take control of their own fate and at succeeding in their entrepreneurship.