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5 Top Lessons From Vimala Ariyan On Building A High-Growth Start-Up

Starting a business takes guts, focus and determination — and a lot of hard work. But get the basics right, and you can create something that makes a real difference in society.

Nadine Todd

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Vimala Ariyan

Vital Stats

  • Player: Vimala Ariyan
  • Company: Southern African Institute of Learning (SAIL)
  • Est: 2005
  • Visit: sail-edu.net

It took Vimala Ariyan 12 years to build the solid foundations her business needed to become a high-growth organisation. Launching a business with the fundamentals in place lays the ground work for future growth.

Here are Vimala’s five top lessons in high-growth start-ups.

1Know your product, market and industry

There’s a time-tested rule when successfully launching a start-up: Do what you know. For many people, this means not only studying a particular discipline, but working within the industry before choosing the entrepreneurial path.

Vimala Ariyan spent 13 years as a school teacher before branching out into adult education. “I realised I no longer wanted to teach syllabuses and methodologies that kept changing, and which I had no control over,” she says.

With so many South African adults lacking formal qualifications, Vimala knew that she could make a real impact in adult training. She entered the world of adult education when she joined the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). SAQA, together with the three Quality Councils (QCs), advances the objectives of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Qualifications and unit standards are registered with SAQA on the NQF in ascending order from levels one to ten. The aim of the NQF is to upskill people by providing learning opportunities to previously disadvantaged South Africans who were denied formal education and training.

“Unit standards are the building blocks to a full qualification. When a learner meets all the unit standard outcomes, they achieve competency and are awarded credits for that unit standard on the NQF. A learner can gradually work towards a sector-specific full qualification by achieving clusters of unit standards.

“The system allows you to do your training in stages, and because all results are logged on the NQF, lifelong learning is promoted. One can continuously build skills and knowledge throughout one’s life.”

Be strategic about expansions

The Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) accredit training and quality assure the delivery of training providers, making them the operational arm to SAQA’s strategic one.

Through her new role at SAQA where she co-ordinated SETAs, Vimala was exposed to how courses were developed, accredited, and delivered. After she left SAQA, she worked as a consultant at a SETA and this experience gave her the operational insights she hadn’t previously had. It became clear to her that there was a big gap in the market.

“Training providers who operate at grassroots level faced many difficulties and challenges rolling out training according to SAQA and SETA prescripts. I was one of the fortunate few who had worked strategically and operationally, so I understood the disconnect.

“I also know that where there’s a challenge, there’s invariably an opportunity — if you can find a solution. I saw this as the ideal chance to accredit my own training institute, create my own courses and make a real difference to employed and unemployed adult learners.

“I had experience in how qualifications were designed, the accreditation process and facilitation of learning. I knew I was equipped to provide an excellent service — for which I knew there was a need.”

2Have the commitment to see your vision through

southern-african-institute-of-learning

Vimala isn’t afraid of hard work.  For many years, she had no life outside the business. But that hard work paid off in the long run. Vimala built foundations that have formed the bedrock of sustainable growth — and it all started in her dining room, with a laptop and a small Lexmark printer.

“I have the greatest respect for that printer,” she laughs. “It printed so much course material; I don’t know how it kept up.”

Vimala developed much of her course material. “I knew that this was an area where I could differentiate myself, but it would take a lot of hard work. Courses were my products and I needed to build my product offerings.

“In the initial stages of the business, I designed and developed all of my programmes as it was too expensive to outsource. As the business grew, I contracted material developers who were subject matter experts, to quality assure and write new material.

Have fewer, but larger customers

“At the outset, I targeted municipalities as they have a broad spectrum of needs. I realised that a single provider who could cover most — if not all — of those needs would have a clear differentiator.”

Today, SAIL offers over 50 qualifications, and 500 short courses, all accredited with SETAs across sectors and industries. 17 of the qualifications and over 300 short courses are aimed at local government.

It was a full year before Vimala was able to employ an administrative assistant. She worked as a Training and Development consultant to pay the bills and bring cash into the business while she developed courses, got these accredited and grew SAIL’s product offerings.

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

3Focus on securing excellent referrals

Referrals are everything. This is true for established businesses, but it’s essential for start-ups. When you don’t have a track record, how do you convince clients to test your services? You need work to get work.

“Fortunately I had a strong education and training background, but I still needed to break into the industry,” says Vimala. “I was knocking on doors and getting nowhere. The business desperately needed a client to start up — so I set out to find clients… even if they didn’t pay me.

“I offered training to three big organisations at no cost to them. I got to pilot my programmes and, much to my satisfaction, now had a few organisations as my references.”

High quality work is sort after by more than just your clients

Vimala’s big break came when the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) agreed to a free training programme. “Not only did the DBSA ask me to set up their training academy based on the work I’d done for them, but they referred two big clients to me. I was in business.”

To date, SAIL has trained people extensively in the public sector. “This has become our niche. Our referrals in this sector are excellent. We’re known for overcoming obstacles, being dependable and going the extra mile. Training doesn’t stop after you leave the classroom; there are admin processes to follow. We ensure that the follow-through happens.”

4Find smart ways to market your product

Different products and services require different marketing strategies. In the case of training, Vimala has discovered that experiencing how SAIL approaches education is the strongest marketing tool they possess.

“We partner with local organisations, municipalities and government initiatives to offer free workshops to target audiences. For example, at a women’s day event we hosted, we gave 150 delegates vouchers for a workshop on entrepreneurship to experience a sample of our national certificate in New Venture Creation.

“We’re ticking two boxes: We’re giving back, because there’s value in even a small sample of the course, and if we get delegates signing up for the full programme, that’s a good ROI for us. We’re passionate about training, and always give a few free seats in most of our training sessions to unemployed individuals who cannot afford training.”

Develop strong relationships to expand your reach

Vimala and her team have many innovative ways to generate business beyond this marketing tool. “Due to a high standard of delivery, we’ve developed good relationships with various organisations across the country.”

“SAIL has earned a strong reputation among the nine SETAs within which it operates. We know which areas they are focusing on, where they have identified skills shortages, and where the focus in future training will be. This allows us to prepare and pitch programmes to meet identified skills shortages.”

SAIL runs public courses and has a yearly calendar set up for enrolment. The SAIL e-Learning Department was recently launched. Learners can attempt accredited learning at their own pace and convenience. SAIL has also added a strong social media campaign to its marketing strategy, focusing on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to generate inbound leads.

Related: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Change the SA Business Landscape

5Increase your revenue streams

As a start-up, your most important strategy is your go-to-market plan. For Vimala, this was developing as many accredited courses as possible to increase SAIL’s product offerings.

As a business grows, however, it is necessary to diversify its revenue streams. “We’re now focusing on the corporate sector, and increasing our presence there,” says Vimala.

“We will always target our niche, the public sector, but the bureaucracy of government organisations means we are often only paid 90 days after invoice. We’ve had to manage our cash flow carefully to make this work.

“Diversifying into the corporate sector helps our cash flow and opens new opportunities. It’s a different sales model, and we need to spend time showing the value of our solution. Corporate clients have different needs and expectations, and we’ve adjusted our model accordingly.

“The strategy is working well for us. We’re also aware that e-Learning is the future, and it allows us to reach new audiences and learners — even growing beyond our borders, which is a big focus for 2017.”

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt

Vimala’s biggest lesson came when a US organisation expressed an interest in acquiring SAIL. “It was only during the due diligence that I realised what we had: A wealth of qualifications, a huge learner database, and an excellent pool of facilitators on our books. There’s great value in all of those areas.”

But the due diligence also exposed gaps in the business. Most notably, working ‘in the business’ was preventing SAIL from achieving its potential as a high-growth organisation.

“I’d been so busy working in my business that I failed to work on it. The years spent developing the Institute gave us a clear differentiator, but it was now time to take a step back and work strategically on the business itself.

“That’s how you shift from start-up to a sustainable growth organisation. In the past two years, SAIL’s business strategy has been to reach our goals faster.”

Vimala and her marketing team network extensively to grow their client base. She is a member of the Women Presidents Organisation and a certified WeConnect supplier (an international organisation that links female suppliers to corporates).

“SAIL is constantly upgraded and upskilled with the latest innovations and technologies within the training environment. We now have a business consultant on a full-time retainer to help scale the business.

“We’ve put systems and processes in place, implemented a proper marketing strategy, and hired the necessary staff to build a robust business. We currently have 20 full-time employees and aim to increase this to 35 by 2020. Over the last two years we’ve grown by 25%, thanks to a strong focus on sales and marketing. Strong foundations and a new focus have geared us for the future.”

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How A Serious Car Accident Led Founder Relebohile Moeng To Starting Afri-Berry

The idea of controlling her own destiny and leaving a lasting legacy for her children became a compelling force that gave her boldness and determination to enter an industry she knew nothing about. A year later, Afri-Berry was born. This is her story.

Diana Albertyn

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relebohile-moeng

Vital Stats

  • Player: Relebohile Moeng
  • Position: Founder And Director
  • Company: Afri-Berry
  • Established: 2011
  • Visit: Afri-berry.co.za

Shortly after a car accident left Relebohile with over 150 stitches on her face, her search for affordable solutions to cure her scars led to the launch of her first business.

“I had experienced the amazing healing power of the organic cold pressed argan oil on my face and understood the growth of the middle class and increased spending power across many socio-economic groups in our country. Based on this, I had a strong conviction that not only should organic products be available in speciality stores or organic markets but also in our regular retail stores where we do our day-to-day shopping,” she explains.

“We wanted Afri-Berry to have a share in the R4,3 billion of annual sales that were being made in this market.”

Following her retrenchment in 2010, she and her husband Fabian decided the time was right to do some research into organic skin and hair products. This led to the launch of Afri-Berry in 2011.

What were some of the key challenges that you faced before and during the process of launching Afri-Berry?

As a new player in the beauty sector, developing our business idea in a way that was attractive to retail was our first major challenge. And because the beauty industry has such high barriers to entry, our second major challenge was gaining market share amidst international cosmetic brands.

When you start a business, you must keep overheads down, so initially we built 80% of our team around intern graduates fresh from school, with no work experience. We underestimated the value of hiring experienced employees. This was the most trying time for the business because you may have great employees but if they’re not a team, they will yield nothing but stagnation.

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

How did you overcome these challenges to build your business to what it is today?

afri-berry

The key to our success was the advantage we enjoy in our home market. Mzansi is a great place to do business in because we understand the lingo and the culture. This enables us to compete with aggressive and well-endowed foreign competitors.

We often fine-tune our products and services to the unique needs of our customers. We’ve had to resist the temptation of reaching out to all customers or imitating the multinationals. We believe that we’ll continue to do better by focusing on consumers who appreciate the local touch more than global brands.

When it comes to hiring we’ve learnt that HR can either make or break a business. We’ve learnt to not only hire for skill and experience, but also for culture. We continuously raise the leadership lid on each of our employees and create a conducive atmosphere for them to blossom.

What do you know now that you didn’t know when Afri-Berry was starting out?

Start now — you don’t need funding. Watch out for when you want to do something big but say you can’t until you raise money to fund the idea. It usually means you’re more in love with the idea of being big than with actually doing something useful.

For an idea to grow, it has to be something useful — and being useful doesn’t need funding. If you want to be useful, you can always start right now with just 1% of what you have in your vision. It’ll be a humble prototype of your big vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest because you actually started, when others waited for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.

Why do you believe Afri-Berry has reached the level of success it has achieved?

  • We have built a strong team and that has cultivated a culture of positive results and innovation in the business.
  • As a small business we have leveraged our impact by supporting community events and this has allowed us to be a powerful force within our community and gain market share.
  • We have tried our best to be accessible by partnering with some of the major organic stores as well as supermarkets and retail stores. We will soon be listing with Massmart and Clicks stores so that we are there for more of our aspiring customers when needed.
  • We make use of hair and beauty bloggers as well as beauty editors of popular magazines to try our products and endorse them in the public domain. This has given the brand great traction.
  • We continue to share our brand story with South Africans through local magazines and radio platforms offered to us. This has made it easy for them to buy into the brand.
  • We nurture and invest in positive relationships with our stakeholders.

Related: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

What’s your top advice for other start-ups embarking on their entrepreneurial journey, hoping to achieve your level of success?

Build a business around a problem that you know needs to be solved and that you are passionate about fixing or making better. There will be many long nights and stressful situations ahead but having the passion to fix the problem will get you through every time.

If you have an idea for a start-up, go ahead and start it. The more research you do upfront as to how much work is involved and how much you need to learn could easily put you off. I had no idea when I first started and I’m glad I didn’t! It’s much easier to tackle new tasks once you’ve already got things going.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How This Copywriter Made Money Fast Online With Fiverr

Lauren Gouws’, Copywriter and founder of LKM Creative, experience in the gig economy has taught her some hard but golden lessons. She offers her advice for local looking to get going in the gig environment.

Nadine Todd

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lauren-gouws

Vital Stats

  • Entrepreneur: Lauren Gouws
  • Designation: Copywriter and founder of LKM Creative
  • Visit: www.lkmcreative.net

Despite her best efforts, Lauren Gouws (neé Meikle) was a terrible employee. The commute from Pretoria to Joburg every day was depressing, she didn’t like the fact that whether her workload was high or low she earned the same salary, and she was realising that the inflexibility of an eight to five job didn’t suit her.

So, she did what many budding entrepreneurs have done. One evening, she got home and Googled ‘How to make money online’ — and discovered the world of the gig economy. “I couldn’t quit my job because I had bills to pay and needed an income, but I also knew I wanted to be my own boss,” says Lauren.

“You need to be careful, there are a lot of traps, scams and get-rich-quick schemes online. I just wanted to have control over my earning potential. I came across an article that listed ten gig economy websites. Basically, if you have a skill that you can offer digitally, you can sign up to these websites and offer that service — it’s MacDonald’s for services, you place your order and get it within a day or two.”

Lauren is a copywriter, but gig economy sites cater for web developers, consultants, coders, designers, writers and more. “Fiverr is the website I’ve found success on. Within a few hours work started coming in.”

Lauren began her Fiverr journey in September 2015 while she was still working full time. “I couldn’t quit immediately, it was too big a risk, so I spent my evenings on my Fiverr orders and worked during the day. For three months I was sleeping two to three hours a night. I needed to match my salary before I could quit — that was the deal I made with myself.”

Within three months Lauren had doubled her salary. Three months after that, she had quit her job, and was focused full-time on her Fiverr clients. She was 25 years old. Today, her income is ten times what it was three years ago, she works from home, to her own schedule and has a level of flexibility that was impossible while she was a full-time employee.

“I work hard, from 7am to 7pm, but that’s my choice. I love that the more I put in, the more I get out. All I need is a laptop, so I can go anywhere and carry on doing what I do. Fiverr also has an out-of-office function, so I could choose to only work two or three weeks a month, if that’s what I wanted. The flexibility and freedom of the gig economy has changed my life.”

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

According to Lauren’s ‘world domination percentage’ on Fiverr, she has written copy and scripts for 57% of the countries in the world — mostly the US and India, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. “I’ve been exposed to so many projects, countries and industries. It’s been an incredible experience.”

The rand dollar exchange doesn’t hurt either. For a writer based in South Africa but earning US dollars, Lauren’s income is far beyond anything she could have achieved as an employee. It has also changed other aspects of Lauren’s life. The time she spent in traffic is now dedicated to income-producing hours, building her business and brand. The increased income meant Lauren could buy a house and travel the world with her husband, visiting new destinations every year, while still saving for her future.

Maximising opportunities in the gig economy

“When you sign up to a gig website, you create your profile and gigs. For example, my profile says, ‘Hi, I’m Lauren, I’m a copywriter — if you need a script you can place your order’. My gig is $5 per 25 words, and clients can order as many of the gig as they need.”

Of course, Lauren has raised the price of her gig since she started. “I looked at what other people charged to determine my price point at the beginning, and I also started at less than I would have liked to get noticed. As my gig got more popular and I literally couldn’t manage the workload, I increased my prices. I did this slowly and steadily. First it was $5 for 150 words, then as my jobs got unmanageable, I made it $5 for 100 words, then $5 for 50 words, and now it’s $5 for 25 words.

“The customers who really love you will stay with you and pay more and sometimes I give discounts if it’s a massive order. The trick is to have confidence in your quality. Clients who tell me I’m too expensive leave, but most come back, choosing quality over price.”

According to Lauren, there’s an overall understanding that gigs that are more expensive are higher quality. “The people who do a lot of gigs for a very cheap rate either aren’t experienced enough or they don’t know how the gig economy works and they want as much work as possible — but they’re rushing jobs and not giving them enough time and attention.

“By comparison, if you’re charging more you will put more effort into it — you have less orders, but they are more expensive. You can focus more energy on each task throughout the day and people trust that — they don’t really trust cheap gigs.”

Lauren’s turnaround time is five days, although an additional fee ensures express delivery. Lauren has built up the confidence to have tough conversations with clients, particularly around price, but she does caution that in the gig economy, the customer is king. “You cannot mess with your public reviews,” she says. “They can’t be removed. If you’re rude or too stern with a client and you receive a one-star review, it’s there forever, so no matter how difficult a buyer is, you have to treat them like gold.”

Sites like Fiverr work on reputation — good reviews, delivering quality content on time and being active on the site improve your search results, which in turn boost your business.

“When you start out, it’s essential to get your reviews going. It’s more important to do as much work as possible to build your reputation than what you charge. You can start increasing your prices once you’ve built your reputation.”

Another key to success is that the secret lies in product differentiation. “I joined Fiverr at a good time when it was still being discovered by many people and companies. While it’s a little more challenging to master now, it’s certainly not impossible. You just have to think out-the-box. Think of something you can offer that is in high-demand, and set yourself apart. Why should people choose you instead of the person in the gig next to yours in search results? Flaunt your credentials: Passion. Skills. Tenacity. You can also add a gig ‘video,’ not just a picture, which can shoot you further up search results for more visibility and trust. Share your gigs everywhere online. Ultimately, success is in your hands.”

Related: How To Start A Side Hustle Without Quitting Your Day Job

Gig Economy websites to get you started

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Woman Of Stature Share 5 Lessons In Finding Your Purpose, Pursuing Passions And Leading A Full And Successful Life

Woman of Stature is an organisation that plans to give South Africa its next generation of high-impact entrepreneurs, ministers and even a president. Here’s how the ideals of success mindset and living your purpose are shaping a new breed of empowered women.

Nadine Todd

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charlotte-woman-of-stature

Vital Stats

  • Players: Charlotte du Plessis (founder of Woman of Stature and MD), Lynn Hill (WOS director and Inspirational Speaker, Trainer and Life Coach) and Sue Moodley (WOS director and founder of Pluminco Trade).
  • Business: Woman of Stature
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit: www.womanofstature.co.za

When Charlotte du Plessis founded Woman of Stature (originally named Woman of Substance), it was because she wanted to create a network of women who could support each other and share skills as well as life and business lessons.

What started as a side-project soon consumed more and more time, until eventually she made the decision to sell her eventing business and focus on Woman of Stature full-time. Passion, purpose and business combined to not only give Charlotte a clear goal, but one that she could share with others, and that would hopefully live on as a brand well beyond her own name as the founder and current MD.

In 2018, she asked Lynn Hill and Sue Moodley to join her as directors. As an entrepreneur herself, Sue’s focus is the growth of the brand and platform, while Lynn’s background in training and her experience as a speaker will shape the training programmes that Woman of Stature offers its members and the public.

Charlotte, Sue and Lynn share their lessons in finding your purpose, pursuing passions and ultimately leading full and successful lives.

1. You are in control of your own destiny

Sue Moodley started her business 21 years ago with just R4 000. Her father had been retrenched, and they decided to launch a business of their own. He was a salesman, she a born entrepreneur, even at the age of 19. Today Pluminco Trade has supplied plumbing and building products to some of the biggest construction projects in the country, including OR Tambo International Airport and Emperor’s Palace Hotel.

“The key is to just do it,” says Sue. “I believe that there’s no excuse for remaining poverty-stricken, struggling as a single mom or relying on a man. There are so many ways to make money, so many things to sell. You just need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and make the change.

“It won’t always be easy. Our business still hasn’t completely recovered from the 2008 recession. I’ve lost millions, but I’ve kept going. I’ve dropped my GPs on certain things so that my product turnover is better, I’ve slowed some projects down, committing to four years instead of two years, but through it all I haven’t given up. We are in control of our own destiny. It’s important to remember that.”

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

2. Start by showing up

It was Sue’s desire to share the lessons she’d learnt, build up her personal brand and learn from others in different situations that led her to Woman of Stature. “We’re a multi-racial organisation that accepts members from 17 years up,” she says. “It’s incredible what you can learn from people when you’re in an environment where you’ll find someone who shares your background and culture as well as people who come from completely different walks of life. You just need to be open to taking it all in.”

This was exactly what Charlotte had in mind when she first founded Woman of Stature. She wanted to be able to network with like-minded women who shared her values, but also to create an environment where women could learn from each other and share their stories and experiences.

“We believe in self-actualisation,” says Charlotte. “I attended an event a few years ago and the theme was ‘Africans come uninvited’, and it really struck a chord with me. That’s what we stand for. Anyone can join us. Come and take a seat at the table — but what you do with that seat is up to you. Over the years we’ve seen that the truly successful people in life seize opportunities and run with them. They don’t wait for things to happen — they make them happen.”

3. Everyone has a purpose — you just need to live it

sue-moodley

Much of what Woman of Stature stands for is upliftment. Sue talks about who you see when you look in the mirror each day, because if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to, but there is also a strong sense that no-one is locked into their current fate.

“We always tell our members to look beyond themselves,” says Charlotte. “Step one is networking. Once you start hearing stories that are similar to your own, you realise you’re not alone. From there, you can begin to share, learn and build yourself up, whether it’s a self-confidence issue, building a personal brand or finding your purpose. We all have a purpose, and once you start living that purpose you find success.”

Finding and living your purpose is one of Lynn Hill’s passions, not only for herself, but others, and has played a key role in the coaching, consulting and training she does for corporates and entrepreneurs.

“We often talk about finding our purpose, but that’s not correct,” she says. “You are your purpose; you can’t separate yourself from your talents and gifts. What we need to do is recognise our purpose, and to do that, you need to know who you are. What makes you tick? What are your gifts, talents and passions? What gives you joy?

“Usually, these are the questions that lead us to our inherent gifts and talents. When we learn to express these, we find our purpose. The real secret to purpose is that it’s innately unselfish. When we use our talents to uplift humanity — in whatever form that takes, from solving big problems to acts of kindness and compassion — purpose is achieved.”

For Lynn, people who fail to find their purpose haven’t come to terms with who they really are. “We get caught up in being competitive and comparative,” she says. “We compare ourselves to others’. We want what someone else has, and end up trying to copy a gift or talent, instead of being authentic to ourselves. Never underestimate your uniqueness. You are your most perfect at just being yourself. We don’t focus on that enough.”

At its core, this is what Woman of Stature offers its members. Charlotte believes that you can’t separate business from life, and if you want to run a successful company, you need to first lead a successful life. “It’s about you as an individual,” she says. “You need to develop everything inside you in the best possible way so that you can live a purpose-driven life.”

Interestingly, it’s clear from Charlotte, Sue and Lynn’s journeys that your purpose and passions evolve, and that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

Charlotte left the corporate world to launch her first business at the age of 50. Her experiences as an entrepreneur as well as losing her mother to breast cancer led her to forming a charity and then Woman of Stature. The realisation that this was where her true purpose lay meant she then sold her business to focus full-time on empowering women. Lynn’s current focus is to share her message with as many people as possible, which she’s doing through her writing and speaking and Sue wants to share her experiences with other women to give them hope and inspiration.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

4. Embrace a success mindset

Ultimately, organisations like Woman of Stature are designed to promote a success mindset, through networking, training and motivating or inspiring others.

“I believe a success mindset is a mindset of excellence,” says Lynn. “It’s a mindset where you don’t simply aspire towards excellent standards, but where you begin to normalise standards of excellence to a point where you embody them. It’s the belief that mediocrity is a sin.

“Once you embrace a success mindset, you move beyond a goal and acquisition focus and recognise that the means is as significant as the end. As a result, quality relationship-building happens as part of pursuing those goals.

“When we are able to move beyond the traditional idea of success, we also focus on significance: The fact that our success does not just impact our own lives, but the lives of others. That’s when we begin to make meaningful contributions to those around us and even whole communities.”

5. Success is a team effort

lynn-hill

The reason why Charlotte took the step to invite Lynn and Sue into her business is because they were already exceptional women in her life. “We became friends through networking first,” she says. “There’s a lot to be said for first forming a friendship. You need to do business with people you trust, like and have shared values with. It’s one of the reasons why networking and joining associations is so important. It allows you to build relationships and trust.”

Like Charlotte, Sue had lost her mother to breast cancer, and the two felt an instant kinship, particularly as Woman of Stature supports the same charity that Sue supports, Breast Health Foundation. Once the relationship was built, it was natural for Sue to take an interest in the organisation, and even become an angel investor based on her experience with the brand and its impact.

“It’s difficult to build something from the ground up,” says Charlotte. “No one can do it alone. You need to be able to rely on family, friends and associates to build something that lasts. You also need to be able to exchange knowledge. We all have dreams, but if you’re really going to build a sustainable brand and business, you need the business acumen to back it up. We tend to focus on the great idea, and what we love and are passionate about, but need the business side too. The associations and networks that I’ve built up aren’t only about emotional support — it’s about that knowledge exchange. It’s about mentoring each other and sharing advice and lessons.”

“You need to give to receive,” agrees Sue. “We all learn from each other. It’s a two-way street though. Networking isn’t about what you can take — it’s about mutual growth.”

Much of what Woman of Stature does is built on this concept, including its Impact Circle training programme. “Impact Circle is a self-development and entrepreneurial development training programme, and all the trainers are members,” says Lynn. “We’ve drawn from our own network, both to support our members who are in this field and to give everyone more access to each other.”

Through this vision, Charlotte, Sue and Lynn are planning to make a real difference in South Africa’s business, social and political landscape. “We’re fostering future ministers and presidents,” says Sue. “Shakira Chumara, whose goal is to be Minister of Health, says that her shift happened at Woman of Stature. We opened her eyes to a vision larger than herself. That’s the ethos of everything we stand for.”

“Our goal is to empower women to do the incredible things they were born to do,” says Charlotte. “And that takes a vision bigger than my own, and a brand that’s much more than just me. It takes like-minded people banding together to achieve great things.”

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

Be the change

Woman of Stature (WOS) is an organisation that was founded by Charlotte du Plessis in 2013. In 2017 she stepped away from her business to focus full-time on growing WOS’s membership and community impact. Lynn Hill and Sue Moodley joined WOS as directors in 2018.

Originally created as a platform for women from all walks of life that was committed to empowering women to live their purpose and reach their full potential, WOS has grown from a networking association and a member’s directory into an organisation that includes training and a speaker’s bureau.

Current training programmes include 5 Pillars of Empowerment, a corporate-sponsored, accredited Enterprise Development training programme, and Impact Circle, a self-development and entrepreneurial development training programme. There is also a Speakers Academy, designed to train women who want to become professional speakers and entrepreneurs and executives who want to build their confidence in front of an audience, and the Woman of Impact Speakers Bureau, a professional bureau representing woman speakers.

WOS also hosts an annual awards programme, celebrating women across various industries and sectors.

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