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Women Leaders In Business: 5 Lessons Learnt

Communication, corporate culture and leading by example are important factors in effective management.

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For an executive in a fast-growing digital firm, the rules of successful leadership are slightly different from those in more traditional organisations. Digital innovators must be agile and creative – they cannot afford to stifle entrepreneurial flair within their teams.

As a woman heading up such an organisation, where time to market is crucial, innovation is our differentiator, and delivery must be ensured across the sometimes-challenging markets across Africa. I have learnt that leadership style has to be firm, balanced and empowering rather than restrictive.

Five leadership approaches proving invaluable to me to encourage innovation and efficient delivery are:

1Creating a culture of mutual respect and trust

This is more important than confining people to policies and procedures. I have found that the more I model respectful and responsible behaviour, the less I need to micro manage the team.

Related: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Change the SA Business Landscape

People who feel appreciated and understood will always do more than what is expected of them. Staff who understand that the high standards you set apply to you as much as they do to everyone else, tend to take the same approach to their own teams and to their work.

2Build the right team from the start

During the early days of our business, we grew faster than we could staff up and I quickly learnt that taking extra time at the interviewing stage to ensure a good cultural fit is vital.

It is important to use recruiters who understand you, your business and the importance you place on company culture, to ensure that any candidates you consider can do the job and will also be the kind of people who infuse life into your business and not sound the death knell for it.

3Don’t lose sight of the little things

It’s tempting to focus all your efforts on navigating the large company decisions that directly impact the bottom line or determine future value, but I have learnt that keeping a keen eye on the detail is equally important.

This is particularly true for a new business that is growing quickly. Rapid growth creates its own issues, as structure and process don’t have time to be implemented and the funnel of work grows faster than the systems required to support it.

Taking the time to stay involved in the granular level detail of the business’s operations means that the correct foundation will be built for staff to flourish and for the business to deliver.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

4There are no shortcuts

There are simply no shortcuts to success. Although I don’t expect my staff to work crazy hours or be available over weekends I do expect them to take pride in their work and be accountable for what they deliver. Nobody should have the mindset that something falls outside of their job description.

Success takes sacrifice, and anything worth doing is worth doing well and it is important to me that those around share the same point of view.   

5Communicate carefully

Communication is critical for successful leadership, and digital communications should not be overlooked. In an environment where almost all communication is digital, it is crucial to answer all emails timeously; and when you do, you need to watch your tone and guard against improper interpretation of your words.

Too often, people simply never respond to emails given their own workload, forgetting that their feedback may be hindering progress on another side of the business. I believe it’s crucial to carve out time every day to answer emails and provide feedback. Timeous responses mirror respect between team members and help create a culture of collaboration and accountability to others.

Leigh Watson is the Executive Head: Project Management Office, Discover Digital. Leigh started her career in Advertising in Johannesburg after completing her Humanities Degree in 1999 with a specialisation in Organisational Psychology. With a keen interest in efficient, fast paced organisational processes and production deadline management, she moved to London to direct a large team in the Corporate Publishing Industry, working at a Conde Nast WPP owned Company, with a focus on high volume FMCG Accounts producing monthly and quarterly magazines.

Support for Women Entrepreneurs

11 Quotes On Hard Work, Risk-Taking And Getting Started From Beauty Billionaire Estee Lauder

The cosmetics tycoon provides lessons on the importance of passion and perseverance.

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Like most entrepreneurs, passion was at the core of cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder. From a young age, Lauder was obsessed with beauty, and it wasn’t before long that she turned her dreams into reality. With the help of her chemist uncle, Lauder developed creams and other products that she would sell to local beauty stores in her hometown of Queens, N.Y. In 1946, Lauder officially launched her now world-renowned beauty company Estee Lauder with her husband Joseph Lauder. The business skyrocketed to success.

In 1998, Lauder was the only woman to land on Time’s top 20 business geniuses of the 20th century. In 2004, the year Lauder died, the beauty entrepreneur was named Time’s person of the year. Estee Lauder has become one of the biggest brands in beauty, with a worth of more than $50 billion. The company employs more than 46,000 people worldwide.

To learn more from Lauder and the cosmetics empire she built, here are 11 inspirational quotes on hard work, perseverance and getting started.

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Funding For Women Entrepreneurs – A Collective Effort

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Jenny Retief

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It is well recognised that women are powerful drivers of economic growth in South Africa, and are vital to the country reaching its full economic potential. Yet women account for only 18% percent of business owners in South Africa, according to the second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), released earlier this year.

The reasons are many, including lack of financial literacy, but one of the biggest constraints facing women entrepreneurs is access to finance. As most women entrepreneurs are concentrated in the informal sector, the majority of them access financing through micro-lending institutions, which offer only limited support. When they are ready to grow into SMMEs, they again face difficulties in obtaining loans from commercial banks.

According to the ‘Inaugural South African SMME Access to Finance Report’, published last year by the online access to finance portal Finfind, the SMME sector provides a “compelling, largely untapped market opportunity for innovative funders”, estimating the SMME credit gap at between R86bn and R346bn.

Finfind’s research showed that many SMMEs that are eligible for funding are still unable to secure it due to their lack of finance readiness, i.e., they are unable to produce the financial documentation required by funders to assess bankability and affordability, in order to approve their funding applications. These documents include up-to-date management accounts, latest financial statements, budgets, forecasts and tax clearance certificates, among others.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was reiterated at the recent African Youth Networks Summit in Tswhane, where the head of Old Mutual Foundation Millicent Maroga stressed, “the key issue is a distinct lack of support in getting the business ready for funding”.

Enter initiatives like the Riversands Incubation Hub, a campus north of Sandton that houses over 150 established and start-up small businesses in subsidised premises, with access to business support services. One of its key values to its SMMEs is bridging the gap between them and the many players in the funding space, in particular through its annual FundEX event, a platform giving guidance and helping to match entrepreneurs with funders.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is funding available. FundEX provides practical guidance on what funding is available and what it takes to access this capital. It also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to interact with a variety of funders, including banks, government funders and alternative funding platforms,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

The theme this year is ‘Secrets of Scale’, unpacking what it takes to build a ‘fundable’ business. This is highly pertinent, as much of the complexity in the SMME funding environment is seated in the size of the business, and what stage of growth it is at.

Finfind’s research found that although SMMEs and start-ups may qualify for venture capital funding, funding opportunities for less scalable SMMEs are less promising. “This opens the door for new, innovative funding models to serve this section of the SMME market. Start-ups and micro-businesses represent a significant potential market for innovative funders who are able to develop new lending models tailored to address this growing market,” said the report.

As women proliferate in this space, they need to equip themselves with as much as information as possible about the funding opportunities out there, says Retief.

“The DTI, for example, offers funding programmes, and aggregators such as FinFind and others can help entrepreneurs navigate the more than 400 different funding solutions available in SA. Entrepreneurs can also boost their business by regular engagement with a mentor. Many incubation programmes offer this type of support,” she says.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

There are also many initiatives to bring resources closer to entrepreneurs. For example, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) offers Technology Stations in diversified sectors, ranging from agro-processing, chemicals, clothing and textiles to tooling. These provide entrepreneurs access to university-level technical levels and specialised equipment at affordable pricing levels.

This speaks to upskilling, a key offering of incubation hubs and critical for women entrepreneurs needing to become finance literate. “At Riversands, we have a team of coaches and mentors who guide entrepreneurs in specific areas such as finance or strategy. Relevant educational material is regularly presented in formal as well as informal ways and reinforced with practical coaching to help entrepreneurs put theory into practice in their own businesses.  This is flanked with professional bookkeeping services provided on a subsidised basis. This allows business owners to build the financial records and systems their businesses need to qualify for understanding,” says Retief.

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Riversands FundEX takes place on August 16. For more information visit: http://www.fundex.co.za

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13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

These 13 black businesswomen are rapidly rising stars. You can learn from their journey and their entrepreneurial advice.

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Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.

Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.

These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. 

  1. Boitumelo Ntsoane
  2. Phuti Mahanyele 
  3. DJ Zinhle 
  4. Polo Leteka Radebe
  5. Michelle Okafor
  6. Sonia Booth
  7. Basetsana Kumalo
  8. Sibongile Sambo
  9. Molemo Kgomo
  10. Nkhensani Nkosi
  11. Bonang Matheba
  12. Matsi Modise
  13. Khanyi Dhlomo
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