A few months ago, I invited wahine Maori business owners to participate in a survey I had developed to understand what their key drivers were. Their answers won’t surprise you but they did confirm what is generally known.
Wahine Maori start businesses for the freedom to live the way they want to. They want work that can fit around their personal lives and not the other way. Wahine with pepi and young tamariki want to be at home to care for their tamariki and still be able to earn an income. Some wahine had had enough of the office politics, the barriers to advancement in the workplace and workplace bullying, citing better alignment of their personal values with their work and prefering to reap the benefits directly from their hard work. Making money was a goal but alongside having the flexibility for whanau and doing something they love.
I don’t know about you but I love knowing about the “behind-the-scenes” of successful businesses and especially how they got started. I read a lot of books and articles on successful business people. There’s a saying that goes something like this – “learning from your own mistakes is smart but learning from the mistakes of others is wise”. One of the many takeaways I get from my reading is life is essentially about the choices you make. There’s no such thing as good luck. Hard work, tenacity and learning from failure is what ultimately determines how successful you become. Read that last sentence again.
So here are the 7 business lessons……
1.Don’t be afraid of failure.
One of the reasons so many people don’t become entrepreners is fear of failure. They’re afraid of making mistakes or losing money. And let’s be honest it can be tough when you’ve got creditors banging on your door. Some people use fear to drive them to success. However failure can give you one of life’s most important lessons. If you do experience failure, try not to blame others, you’ll never learn and you give your power away. You will be ok. While it’s hard to see it at the time, mistakes are priceless. Study them, learn and profit from them. If you haven’t failed a lot you probably won’t win a lot.
2.Block out negativity.
Most people who aren’t entrepreneurs don’t get the burning desire to do something different. In their minds they’re thinking – why would you give up a steady paycheck for a life of uncertainty? This can make it a bit lonely.
While friends and whanau can be supportive, they don’t always get it. It’s not easy to explain what you do, especially if they’ve seen some of your previous ideas fail in the past.
There are naysayers everywhere and it’s usually based on:
- Ignorance – people who don’t understand business may think it’s impossible to become an entrepreneur
- Jealousy – some people don’t like others to succeed
- Fear – if you do succeed, the naysayers will have to examine their own life choices. They may not like what they find.
- Apathy – some people don’t understand that they can change their own lives.
People like this can have a negative effect on you. If you want to take a positive approach to your business, you can’t afford to be surrounded by such people. So treat negativity as ‘noise’ and surround yourself with people who will lift you higher.
3.Your story is your biggest sales pitch.
My story is I founded iWahine NZ because growing up, positive images of wahine Maori role models just weren’t there. Wahine Maori voices, faces and stories were either invisible or portrayed negatively in the public arena.
I wanted to change this situation and advance the status of wahine. To support and uplift wahine because when you do, you are also supporting and uplifting whanau and communities. I see business as a pathway for self-empowerment for wahine as it provides her with more choice and she role models an alternative to employment. How I help is by offering business advice and coaching.
So remember your customers and clients are real people with real lives - and real concerns. Try to turn your own experiences to your advantage. Think about what you’ve been through in life. Think about your story. A good narrative is a great way to make sure your company is noticed and remembered. We all love good stories. So what’s your story?
It can be really easy to get distracted especially at the start of your business. You can spend a lot of time reading and watching videos, looking around on the internet or talking to other business owners and not as much time implementing. Don’t do this. I know it can be really confusing and paralyzing, knowing where to start or what to do. When people ask me for advice I say to them – “the best thing you can do is just start and refine as you go”. I can certainly provide guidance and advice but don’t let perfectionism get in the way. GET STARTED. Get a good business adviser or coach (yes this is a plug for me) and once you make that decision – take ownership of it and give it a chance to work.
5.Know your numbers.
In her book, ‘In the Arena’, Diane Foreman gave three tips, the first of which is - Know your numbers. At the end of the day business is about making money. Even if you are there to serve others, you will not be there for long nor will you be able to increase your reach if there are no sales. How can you know what prices to charge if you don’t know what it costs to produce the products or provide the service, what the overheads are, staffing costs, what margins to apply, number of annual sales, number of transactions per month, cash flow etc. Yes it’s important to get a good accountant but do not give everything away to the accountant. Let him or her do the bulk of the work but make sure you have oversight and a good understanding of your business financials.
6.Get the best people you can afford and invest in their development.
The second tip Diane Foreman gave is – get the best staff you can afford and invest in their development. Richard Branson agrees. His philosophy is, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. Happy staff = happy customers.
At the start it may only be you. So make sure you invest in your own development. If your business grows to a stage where extra help is needed then get the best you can afford and train them up well. If you can’t afford the ongoing costs of employees then identify where you need support or expertise and contract it in. Your support network does not have to be employees. You can contract expertise for a specific piece of work or time. The good thing about experts is you don’t have to pay for their development.
7.Get comfortable with marketing and selling.
Know the difference between marketing and selling. Marketing is all about the customer. It takes a long-term perspective and involves building a relationship often by educating the potential customer or client about their needs or problems and how your service or product will address their needs or solve their problems. Selling is about the product or service. It’s a short-term focus and ends at the end of a transaction.
So, what are your thoughts about the 7 business lessons? Do you agree or disagree?
Awhimai Reynolds is a Business Adviser and Coach with the Trusted Adviser Network (TAN) passionate about women in business and leadership. She can be contacted at www.iWahine.nz or on FB https://www.facebook.com/iWahineNZ/ and LinkedIn https://nz.linkedin.com/in/awhimaireynolds