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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Kim Coppen-Watkins On Having And Maintaining Strategic Growth

The best opportunities don’t just land in your lap – you have to go out and make them happen. But while you’re building your business, don’t lose sight of your original vision.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Kim Coppen-Watkins
  • Company: Think Entertainment
  • Clients: Idols SA, Graeme Watkins Project
  • Launched: 2014
  • Visit: www.thinkentertainment.co.za

Do this

As you grow, take the time to step back and really look at your business. Are you doing what you set out to do? Have you pivoted where necessary, but maintained your goal and vision?

Kim Coppen-Watkins planned to be a performer, but sometimes the best opportunities come along when you aren’t planning for them. You can let them go by, or you can seize them and make them work for you anyway.

“After I graduated I took a job at a Cape-based agency. I wanted to continue working within my industry while I went to castings,” Kim explains.

Related: Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

But while she was still focusing on being in front of the camera or on stage, two things were happening. First, she was booking and managing gigs for her boyfriend, Graeme Watkins, and his two friends.

“Graeme was still studying. To make ends meet he was a performing waiter, and he made up a musical trio with two of his friends. My mom ran a theatre company, Think Theatre, that produced and booked Shakespearean theatre productions for matric students, so I just booked him gigs through her business.”

At the same time Kim was also realising that she hated castings. “They irritated me, but they were the way the industry works. I started questioning where my place was within this industry I loved.” It was becoming clear to her that what she actually loved was being behind the scenes — integral to the magic, but not necessarily in the limelight.

Few people know what they want before they start doing it

Careers change and develop, and so do businesses. Kim’s business would pivot many times in the future, but this was the start of her realisation that nothing is ever set in stone.

And then in 2009, Graeme auditioned for Idols SA — and made the top 16. The couple packed up their lives in Cape Town, got into Kim’s Toyota Tazz, and moved to Joburg. Graeme was that year’s runner up, and the couple realised they needed to leverage the exposure.

The move also triggered Kim’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I took to the road with Graeme, managing his sound and focusing on quality control during his performances. I quickly noticed the importance of a manager who could ensure that artists weren’t taken advantage of and who could stipulate what guidelines were part of the agreement and contract. We decided I would road manage his events going forward.

“At the time, I had a lot of people asking me to be their manager or if they could join my agency, but I wanted to work with Graeme; I knew that together we could do something incredible. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, and I’d seen my dad rise and fall in his various endeavors over the years. I knew the risks, but I also knew the rewards. And that was what I was focused on.

I’m an all or nothing person.

kim-coppen-watkins

“I wanted to maintain and own my own ideas. Make them flourish for me. And I was willing to take the risk to do it. I was young, stupid and ballsy, but I guess that’s what you have to be if you want to take this path.”

Launching the Graeme Watkins Project

Together, Graeme and Kim developed Graeme’s rock band, The Graeme Watkins Project, as well as a strategy to launch and grow the band’s foothold in the local music industry.

“We spent a year developing GWP, and I worked exclusively with Graeme. You have to build awareness, generate publicity and manage the tour. To do it right, it needed my full attention.”

As Kim’s business grew, she took on other artists and then realised that the music industry, like all industries, has highs and lows. “We hit a dip and decided we needed a new strategy. All artists need to remain current and fresh if they want to maintain momentum. During a dip on the music side, we secured a presenting job on television with Vodacom Millionaires. This has been running for six years, and has been the foundation for the presenting and MC side of the business.

“Alongside this strategy, we needed a multi-faceted plan for his career. When the rock band side of his brand was quiet because GWP was recording a new album, we decided to create a more collaborative endeavor with Swing City.” Swing City is a collaborative trio between Graeme, and fellow musicians Nathan Ro and Loyiso Bala.

“You can be involved in something creative but you still need to be tactical and strategic about growth.”

“That’s true of any business, and I realised it was why I loved management. As an agent your focus is on procuring work for your clients, but management is what drives me. Management is more strategic in that it combines various elements paramount to the success of your artist’s brand. It’s about taking risks; choosing when to release certain songs to generate spin off on radio and retail; and touring when the song has reached a certain point on radio.

“To get this right, you need to know where your markets live, what they do for fun, and how to engage with them. It’s creative, challenging, and very exciting. However, I believe artists should have both an agent and a manager, which is why I’ve hired specific people in my company to handle the agency side, so that I can focus on management strategy. We work closely together though, and strive for the same goals.”

Make choices as you grow

In all businesses, choices have to be made as you grow, and this was Kim’s first strategic decision for her own business. From there, she was able to implement the lessons she had learnt to build other collaborations, corporate acts and development projects, including The Buzz, a teen band for the youth market.

And then everything changed again. In 2014 Kim was approached by Idols SA to take over the management of the top ten just as she found out she was pregnant. “I took it, and decided not to let them know that there was another life changing event going on.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Taking on ten artists who have no brand and often a very confused idea of the industry is very challenging. We are there to provide guidance and a starting platform for the rest of their career, which I believe is a big responsibility.

Related: Shark Tank’s Dawn Nathan-Jones: How Leaders Who Focus On Growth Will Build Successful Companies

“You have to know who you are and what you want.”

“Up until that point I’d had a lot of side projects and different roles. I needed to decide what I wanted to be, and what I wanted the business to look like. I didn’t want to dilute myself, and at that point I was spread far too thin.

“I was running the business solo, had five core artists that I was manager and agent to, and then the Idols contract came along and I absorbed an additional ten artists. I was at a point where expanding my staff base was the only viable solution.

“The next decision was whether we would be a small, exclusive solution for artists and clients, or if we wanted to be a big agency that has 100 faces on the wall. I believe my personal management style lends itself to small and exclusive.

“I’m forever grateful for the timing that put this all into perspective for me. I had been building up my clients’ careers, as well as my own name within the industry. The Idols contract was a windfall, but trying to juggle so much while being pregnant made me take a step back and critically analyse what I wanted my business to be.

“Up until that point, I would have said I wanted to build an empire. My brand was strong enough to set me on that path. But that’s not who I wanted us to be.

“It took a growth surge to make me realise what direction I wanted to take my business in, and where we needed to focus our energies. I’m a creative; I’m OCD and a control freak. I want a personal touch with my artists; plus, I understand the reality TV business, and it’s unique.

“Reality TV musicians have a psyche that needs a personal touch, because the hard work really starts when they’re voted out, and they need to earn a place in the industry. You need to be able to leverage that brief period of stardom without losing hope because you’ve gone from zero to hero and back to zero. And that’s my niche.

“One of the greatest elements of the Idols account has been working under the guidance of the international management team. They have taught me so much over the last two years, and the insight into traction in international territories has given me a new direction to explore within my business.

“They’ve been an excellent guiding force in understanding the psyche of artists coming out of the reality show mould, which has assisted me greatly in trying to restructure my artists’ mind sets to continue with their passion,” says Kim.

“It’s not always easy to find that balance between reward and growth.”

“Often we’re so busy looking at the next goal post, and the next level of growth, that we forget to really think about what we want our businesses to be.

“We do this to fulfil a need and build a long-lasting brand and legacy. We should take the time to think about what we want that to look like, and how it should be operating.”

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

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.

Nicole Crampton

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Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order

  1. Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
  2. Charlotte Aubin
  3. Rapelang Rabana
  4. Lynn Baker
  5. Dylan Kohlstädt
  6. Noli Mini
  7. Stacey Brewer
  8. Nonkuthalo Thithi
  9. Daniella Shapiro
  10. Xoliswa Daku
  11. Lorren Barham
  12. Allegro Dinkwanyane
  13. Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  14. Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
  15. Michelle Royston
  16. Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  17. Magda Wierzycka
  18. Jennifer Da Mata
  19. Thuli Magubane
  20. Tracy Kruger
  21. Monalisa Zwambila
  22. Keri Stroebel
  23. Claire Reid
  24. Ramona Kasavan
  25. Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
  26. Donna Rachelson
  27. Mahadi Granier
  28. Liesl Esau
  29. Prudence Spratt
  30. Joyce Mnguni
  31. Janine Starkey
  32. Shamila Ramjawan
  33. Busi Skenjana
  34. Benji Coetzee
  35. Jerusha Govender
  36. Lauren Edwards
  37. Ouma Tema
  38. Annabel Biggar-David
  39. Jennifer Glodik
  40. Ntsoaki Phali
  41. Tara-Lee de Wit
  42. Kim Coppen-Watkins
  43. Mogau Seshoene
  44. Andy Golding
  45. Lien Potgieter
  46. Ezlyn Barends
  47. Rabia Ghoor
  48. Katy Valentine
  49. Leah Molatseli
  50. Lynette Ntuli 

“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.

The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How Portia Mngomezulu Is Conquering The Highly Competitive Beauty Industry

A great product range backed by an ambitious vision and a determination to get the basics right is helping Portia Mngomezulu to conquer the highly competitive beauty industry.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Estee Lauder. Elizabeth Arden. L’Oréal. What is so special about these brands? Why aren’t Africans competing in this market? That’s the question that got cosmetics entrepreneur Portia Mngomezulu thinking.

A qualified systems engineer, and a curious entrepreneur by nature, Portia was always selling something that she had concocted.

In 2010, after she had a child, her mother-in-law suggested using marula oil to help with stretch marks. Portia went to her hometown of Phalaborwa, where she had grown up playing under marula trees, and procured the oil from local women. She saw the difference within a few weeks, and that was the seed that germinated into Portia M, a black-owned skin care manufacturing company that caters, in her words, ‘for every skin under the African sun’.

Keeping the retail dream alive

Portia started small. With a two-plate stove and a couple of pots, she manufactured her first batches of product; her ‘secret oil’, which she sold for R100 per bottle at church, and to friends who were pregnant. People kept buying. But she was adamant that she did not want to grow a network marketing business.

“From the start I was determined to compete at retail level,” she says. “I saw my product on the shelf next to the big international brands. Great and successful entrepreneurs have achieved their purpose and goal by setting a strong and clear vision, and by pursuing it with passion.”

Convinced that she was onto a sure thing, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and asked for help to have her products and formulas tested. Getting the legal paperwork right was a key step in the growth of the business, and one that would pay off later.

Personal care products are subjected to many different tests before being placed on the market for sale. Testing usually includes evaluations for product stability, purity, safety and the effectiveness of preservatives, which protect the product from deterioration. It’s a costly exercise. In 2012, SEDA arranged for the tests to be conducted by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) at Medunsa (now Sefako Makgato Health Sciences University). The process took around six months, during which she continued to sell, without taking a cent from the business.

Persistence, and the willingness to overcome a wide range of obstacles, usually determines the fate of a company. In Portia’s case, believing that she had the power to achieve whatever she wanted meant that mental barriers such as fear were never an issue.

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

After getting Makro to agree to stock Portia M at six of its stores, it took another two years to convince the buyers for Shoprite and Checkers to do the same.

“They eventually agreed to just 20 stores, as they wanted a test run. But I resolved not to take it personally. Instead, I used this time to perfect the range. It’s far easier to rectify mistakes when you have a small footprint. Now, our products are in more than 530 Shoprite and Checkers stores.”

She also took the opportunity to show her products to Absa at a trade show. The bank’s representatives were impressed, but said that it was too risky to finance a cosmetics business. Instead, they suggested she take part in a 14-city women in business roadshow they were running. She did, selling more than 30 000 skincare products.

“The last session was in Cape Town, and that was where I met Suzanne Ackerman, daughter of Pick n Pay boss Raymond Ackerman and transformation director of the group. She was impressed by the fact that I had tested the products and had barcodes in place. She encouraged me to approach the company’s buyers. They gave me the opportunity to sell in 20 Pick n Pay stores. It was a life-changing moment and I remember crying when I saw the brand on the shelves.”

The value of social proof

portia-m-cosmetics

Her next challenge was marketing. With no budget available, she had to get the products moving off the shelves. Already accustomed to promoting Portia M to her friends on Facebook, she took her social media presence to the next level, having photos taken of the product range and encouraging people to try it out.

“Miraculously, customers started taking before and after images and telling their stories,” she recalls. The value of ‘social proof’ provided by these testimonials has been immeasurable, and is one of our key selling points — real people, real results. Today we have more than 200 000 followers on Facebook, over 12 000 on Instagram, and over 3 000 on Twitter. At Pick n Pay alone, our sales are worth more than R1 million a month.”

Portia M products are now sold in more than 1 200 stores nationwide. To export the range into other African countries, she has leveraged the operations of Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Clicks to enter Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland.

“Because the paperwork required to export to African countries can be onerous, it made sense to partner with established retailers, convince them to distribute my products for me, and expand the business in this way.”

Words of advice

  • When a brand is new and unknown: “To grow a brand from scratch, you need to build strong relationships with retailers and sustain excellence in delivery. When they place an order, make sure it gets there on time.”
  • When you are competing against multinationals: “Respect the industry, but understand that your competitors also had to start somewhere. Vision and self-belief are key. We are just as capable as global companies of producing top quality products.”
  • When you are trying to get shelf-space: “Shelf space is critical, and you earn it through sales. Our sales are based on testimonials, proving that effective marketing does not have to cost a fortune.”
  • When you need to keep your cash flowing: “Negotiate payment terms with retailers. I have seven-day, 14-day, 30-day and 45-day payment agreements with different retailers, ensuring that my cash flow is always positive.”

In 2015, Portia was named the overall winner of the Tshwane Exporters Awards, thanks to the fact that she registered as an exporter with South African Revenue Services. Representatives from The Innovation Hub invited her to pitch the business, and she was given a small office as well as a 40m2 factory. Today that space has grown to 500m2.

“Moving from home to a factory space was another defining moment,” she says. “I had a team of biochemistry students coming to work for me, using my stove and my pots. It was very embarrassing. They laughed at me at first, but they also believed in me. Together, we formalised the business and one of those students is now the factory supervisor.”

In 2017, she was named a National Gazelle by the Department of Small Business Development and SEDA. She won a grant of R1 million, enabling her to buy additional manufacturing equipment and a truck.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

What lies ahead?

Portia has an audacious five-year goal — to penetrate the African market and to compete comfortably with Africa’s favourite skincare brands. Part of that plan is to get retailers like Dis-Chem and Woolworths on board.

“When I visit other countries on the continent, they want to know how successful the brand is at home,” she says. “To win customers, we differentiated Portia M by providing a tried and tested product, and also by using a uniquely African ingredient that is well-known on this continent. More than anything, I believed in the product before I expected anyone else to, and that has made all the difference.”


KEY INSIGHTS

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Start with a vision                 

Portia was determined to see her products on retail shelves alongside international giants. She knew this vision was the most important starting point in achieving her goals.

Start small to achieve big                 

Get into the market so that you can tweak and perfect your product while it’s still small. This is much easier to do while you still only have a few customers on board, and it will give you the foundations for a much larger business.

Access Government Programmes    

There are a number of programmes and funds supporting local manufacturers, from access to international markets, to assistance with compliance and even funding. Do your research and tap into them.

Related: Alphabet Soup Founder Nikki Lewin Discusses How They Compete With The Big Boys

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Erna Basson Of Erabella Hair Extensions On Acting The Part And Finding The Gap

Erna Basson says that building your own empire is one of the toughest things you can do, but also one of the most rewarding. She unpacks the lessons she has learnt that have helped her launch and grow three businesses into sustainable brands.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Erna Basson
  • Company: Erabella Hair Extensions
  • Est: 2017
  • Visit: www.erabellahairextensions.com
  • Career highlights:
    • Named South Africa’s top entrepreneur under 30 for 2017
    • Global female entrepreneur of the year 2017
    • Top 100 most influential young South Africans 2017
    • Interviewing Grant Cardone — 2018
    • Opening speaker at the Mega Success event 2017 in Los Angeles.

Originally from Bloemfontein, Erna Basson has always been highly competitive. She completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, while holding down several part-time jobs. She was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in her second year at UFS (University of the Free State). Her class was struggling with business law, so she read the text book and produced an annotated summary that she then sold to desperate students.

Today, she heads up Erna Basson Ltd, a business coaching and speaking venture; Woman Entrepreneur, a global platform empowering and educating female entrepreneurs from around the world on how they can start and scale their businesses; and Erabella Beauty Global, a premium hair extensions brand available in South Africa and globally.

On acting the part

“I was a cheerleader for the Cheetahs while I studied, and I also worked as a hostess at Cubaña,” she says. “I got the opportunity to do tons of promotions for liquor brands and that experience taught me how important it is to always be on point and professional, as the event sponsors could pitch up at any time to check on what was happening.”

Related: How To Start A Salon And Spa Business

After moving to Port Elizabeth with her now husband, Nellis Basson (who is also an entrepreneur), she started working for Gestetner and was out on a sales call at Distell when she heard the regional manager complaining about bad service from an events company. “I said to him, ‘if I can have a company up and running within 30 days, will you make use of my services?’ and he said ‘yes’. I walked into the company as an employee and walked out of the company with a new life and opportunity, and this has taught me a valuable lesson that I still follow every day. Take advantage of every opportunity, even if it scares you. You need to be out of your comfort zone to grow.”

That was one of the first principles she learnt, and which she speaks about to her global audiences.

“The bigger the problem you are solving for people, the more valuable you are to them, and the more money you will make.”

People are always searching for solutions. They will always look for better, faster and smarter ways to accomplish tasks. Erna knew that to grab her customer’s attention, she had to start by solving their problems. “If you can take a person from point A to point B, by identifying their crucial problem and then offering to solve it, you will be able to create a real business that matters.”

Another important thing happened that day. She went back to her boss and immediately told him what had transpired. “Honesty, loyalty and integrity have always been the three key pillars of my business, starting from then, and it paid off — Gestetner became a client soon after.”

She started the promotions business with no staff and she didn’t know anyone in Port Elizabeth. “I called up a friend of one of my husband’s friends and asked her to give me ten phone numbers, and then I asked each one of those women to give me another ten. I sold my Citi Golf so that I could have a small start-up fund, and then the business just took off. We got clients like SAB, MTN, Sony, Mango, Maybelline and L’Oréal. I was earning R450 000 for ten days’ work at the age of 23.”

She soon had seven permanent employees, and more than 500 promoters working on campaigns across the country. “Within a couple of years, I had created systems and processes, which enabled the company to reach its goals and function independently without having me in the business, making it a perfect opportunity to sell and move on to the next challenge.”

Finding the gap in the market

It was just before Erna got married that she came up with an idea for another venture — while she was looking for venues, dresses and décor ideas. “I kept on wishing there was one place where I could find everything related to weddings, and then I thought why don’t I create one?” That was how website and magazine Majestic Weddings was born, an online directory and monthly magazine. After growing it into a successful wedding planning tool, she sold that company in April 2017, through an international business broker, and used the profits to launch her hair extension company Erabella.

Transitioning from services to products

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Erna had never run a product-based business before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? Problem is, product businesses are extremely hard to build and get traction for. They require upfront capital and investment, as well as a whole lot of excitement. Erna certainly had the latter, believing that every woman has the right to have gorgeous thick hair.

But there were some challenges:

  • The output of a service-based company is intangible, but a product-based business sells goods that customers can see and touch.
  • A services company does not have to keep goods in stock or maintain an inventory. The service is created or sold as and when the customer
  • needs it.
  • Service-based companies do not have to put up capital — they provide a service and the customer pays for it.
  • In the service industry, you have maximum control — when it comes to a product based company, you sometimes don’t have control over certain things (like a late courier, or late imports, or increase of exchange rate) but it serves as a great opportunity to apply more systems and processes to lower the risk.

“I had to buy stock for the first time. Different lengths of hair extensions, and different colours. Suddenly, I had invested more than R1 million, just like that. What’s more, in South Africa, there is a 20% import duty, which immediately raises the price of your product, making it more difficult to compete globally.”

Related: Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

There was another problem too. Erna had decided that Erabella would be an online business, but it didn’t grow as fast as she wanted it to and she quickly had to change the business model. “That’s when I realised that you cannot take business personally. The minute you invest emotionally, you will make mistakes. When something is not working, you need to take immediate action and make the necessary changes. Nearly every successful company since the beginning of time has had to change strategy and direction to survive and grow.”

Reverse engineering

She also learnt about the importance of starting with the end in mind.

“If you want to make $1 million, write that figure down and reverse engineer. If my hair extensions are priced at $250, I will need to sell 4 000 sets per year, which means 11 sets a day. Instead of being dumbstruck by that big figure, I’ve now got something manageable to work with. It’s that old story about how to eat an elephant.”

Two can be better than one

Another key lesson Erna learnt was that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. “When I started Erabella, I had one staff member in Johannesburg, and lots of competition. I had to do everything, from accounts, social media, business development and so on, but now we have an entire team in each department. The business grew too slowly and I realised that doing it alone was not going to work. I found a business partner in Cape Town, Karel Vermeulen — a very successful businessman who owns a personal care brand — and I knew we would be a great fit. I knew I could trust him with Erabella SA because he was invested, and I moved on to growing Erabella New Zealand and Australia.”

As a result of the partnership, the business is soaring. Today, Erabella hair extensions are available in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Dubai, with Canada next on the list.

That personal investment principle is one that Erna has applied in her coaching business. People do not appreciate what comes free, she says. “If I coach you at no cost, chances are you will say the programme did not work. But if I charge $6 000 a day, I can guarantee that you will do the work required to make it a success, because you have skin in the game. You will value and appreciate the process.”

Related: The Glamorous and Sleek GHD Offices


Erna’s key principles

  1. In the words of Grant Cardone, author of The 10X Rule, follow up, follow up and follow up: ‘90% of business lies in the follow up’. “I always do, and believe that you should follow up so much that they tell you to go away, and then follow up again two weeks later. I chased a client in Cape Town for two years. When their promotions vendor let them down, I was top of mind and I got the deal.”
  2. Never focus on the 10% that’s negative; focus on the 90% that’s positive: “We all need to have bad days in order to appreciate the good ones. When a client says no, see it as a new opportunity (take the negative from the word no, and turn it into a positive new opportunity) to recreate your strategy.”
  3. When people say no, ask them why not: “If I don’t close a deal, I ask, ‘What is the reason we did not do business today? Objections are only complaints — find a solution, and you will win all the time.”
  4. Don’t ask how: “Focus on the what and the who. What do I need to do to achieve my objective and who do I need to speak to? The ‘how’ will take care of itself.”
  5. You are 100% responsible for your business: “Don’t blame the economy, the government or your staff. If you are not successful, it’s your fault.”

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