What’s really needed to fast-track the development of women – SAfm Interview

‘Uplifting women in the workforce could have a far reaching impact.’

I recently spoke to SAfm’s Stephen Kirker about what’s needed to fast track women in both entrepreneurship and the corporate sector.

You can listen to the full interview here:

Innovation needed to fast track SA women entrepreneurs

This article was originally published in the Business Report.

Women play a substantial role in growing the economy and the lagging participation of women in South Africa’s economy is manifesting in less innovation, fewer exports and fewer jobs being created.

Many Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programmes in South Africa favour the development of women and youth and in 2016 we need fast track approaches for women entrepreneurs given the unconscious bias that exists against them.

This bias manifests in the stats. Under 40% of South Africa’s businesses are women-owned. The multi-country GEM survey has shown conclusively that firms owned by women tend to be smaller in both turnover and number of employees than those owned by men. And men in South Africa are up to 1.6 times more likely than women to be involved in early stage entrepreneurial ventures.

Some of the solutions are obvious: more education, more networking and more support and representation on various programmes.

Government has made some effort to include women in the various charters such as a 33% target for black women in the financial sector charter, expanding opportunities for the historically disadvantaged including women in the mining sector charter and the ICT Sector Charter states that black women should form between 40 – 50% of the beneficiaries of all elements of the scorecard.

There are also a couple of women economic empowerment programmes such at the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network, The Isivande Women’s Fund and the B’avumile Skills Development Initiative. Government has these few initiatives but are they visible and impactful enough?

To fast-track women’s development efforts, a more critical look and edgier approaches are needed to give women a distinct advantage. Some practical and innovative solutions have been effectively implemented overseas and would be worth exploring in South Africa.

In India for example, income tax rules provide a higher tax exemption limit for women, which leaves more money in their hands. There are also banks which have special incentives for women entrepreneurs such as a five percent reduction in the interest rate, no processing fee, easy payment options and no penalty for repayment. Hello FNB, Standard Bank, Absa and Nedbank – is there anything specific you can do for women in South Africa? It would be a serious differentiator for you.

In Bangladesh, India’s neighbour, the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) made 30 recommendations to improve the policy environment for women entrepreneurs. The central bank issued an instruction to commercial banks to increase lending to women-owned businesses, including collateral-free loans, at a reduced interest rate. Imagine the results of an initiative like this if the South African Reserve Bank were to do something similar? It would help to create thousands of new jobs. In Bangladesh, loans for women entrepreneurs increased from 19 percent in 2007 to over 50 percent today.

Additionally, more than 65 percent of Bangladeshi banks have dedicated desks for women borrowers, with specifically trained staff who cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs.

The US has ‘setaside’ programmes for women and minority owned small businesses. An equivalent programme would require tweaking of our broad based economic empowerment initiatives. In the US, work contracts are set aside for diversity suppliers with the goals of boosting diversity and business ownership. Essentially these programmes put women-owned businesses in a stronger position to bid for work for major corporates and government. Women-owned businesses apply to have their businesses certified if at least 51 percent of the business is owned by at least one woman.

While researching my recently released book, Play to win: What women can learn from men in business, I spoke to many women about their experiences in corporate South Africa. In my role as CEO of Seed Academy, which offers fast-track, practical training and mentoring to startups and early phase entrepreneurs, I engage with many female entrepreneurs. It is clear that strong role models are especially powerful. I would therefore encourage successful women to mentor and support other women where they can. Successful women entrepreneurs are both an example of what is possible and a source of funding for other women.

Uplifiting women in the workforce and in their own businesses could have far-reaching impact. In South Africa, women are generally supporting entire families and research has shown that they are more likely to make a social contribution than men. It is a monumental tragedy to keep women on the outskirts of the economy.

Fake it till you are it

This weekend I was reminded of Allon Raiz’s brilliant summary of his term ‘Competency Crisis’ – something many entrepreneurs are familiar with: the doubt you sometimes face when you’re on the verge of growth – and his corresponding prescription to ‘act as if’. If you’ve read my book, Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business, you may recognise this from Lesson #9: Fake it till you are it.

If you are an entrepreneur, I highly recommend Allon’s book. It’s full of wise advice and lessons from case studies, and short enough to finish quickly.

But Allon’s advice isn’t only relevant to entrepreneurs. Most of us have been in situations where we question ourselves and our ability to succeed. Whether this is in response to a significant challenge, promotion or a stretch assignment, we can experience a lapse in confidence.

Here is an excerpt from Allon’s book What to do when you want to give up: Help for entrepreneurs in tough times:

At the risk of sounding sexist, I have always believed that women’s ability to apply make-up gives them a strange advantage over men, in that they are able to use the make-up to portray their features in the best possible way.

They can quite literally put their ‘game face’ on. Make-up enhances what already exists. Start-up entrepreneurs need to apply ‘make-up’ to their businesses. This is the basis of ‘act as if’. History is filled with entrepreneurs who have pretended to be what they not yet are. The entrepreneur’s quality of being able to visualise future scenarios – and to begin acting in a way that is commensurate with these future scenarios – is one of the secrets of success. It is epitomised by entrepreneurs who speak of ‘we’ when actually they have a one-man business (and ‘I’ would have been more accurate).

Kathy Delaney-Smith was the coach of the Harvard women’s basketball team. This description, from a blog by Adam Brotman, so aptly describes the power of the ‘act as if’ philosophy that I have taken the liberty of quoting it here in full:

This is an amazing story of a woman who didn’t have experience coaching basketball, but acted as if she could, and went on to lead her team to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA basketball tournament history. She then went on to harness her own ‘act as if’ philosophy while taking cancer head on. I’ll never think about anything else other than this coach and her amazing story when thinking about the power of acting as if. In a New York Times article from 2009, Melissa Johnson writes about Delaney-Smith’s philosophy:

‘Any decent athlete, salesman or Starbucks barista can put on a good game face.
But her philosophy, “act as if”, goes much deeper than mere swagger or theatrics. It’s a method – a learned skill for convincing your mind that you already are what you want to become. The body follows where the mind leads.‘ [Emphasis mine – DR]

There are those who disagree with this view. They see ‘acting as if’ as deception or, even worse, lying. I am not advocating either of these. The unfortunate reality is that it is a gamble to start a business and it is a gamble for others to support a start-up business. At some point,m a leap of faith is required.

You need to present your business as having reached a level of success that you know it has the potential to reach. There is no doubt in my mind that when you act as if you are successful, you are more likely to be treated as a successful person. It is a virtuous cycle that breeds success. A word of caution: it all falls apart if you don’t have the substance to back it up. Do not say things that you do not mean and do not promise what you cannot deliver.

Lesson #9: Fake it till you are it from my book Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business covers just this crisis in confidence, and at the end of the chapter I give 4 strategies for beating the ‘fake’ feeling. In summary, they are:

  1. Reframe your fear.
  2. Set reasonable expectations.
  3. Make failure your classroom.
  4. Remember that ‘faking it’ is a skill.

The first step to being successful is convincing yourself that you are successful.

You can get your own copy of my book right here.

Image ‘bride with a mirror’ by mahmoud99725 from flickr

Donna Rachelson’s new book featured on Expresso

My interview with Expresso morning show aired this past Tuesday. I shared the inspiration behind my new book ‘Play to Win: what women can learn from men in business’ and got the opportunity to showcase my incredible team …

Watch: Donna Rachelson’s new book featured on Expresso:

Donna Rachelson’s book Play to Win reviewed in City Press

Donna Rachelson’s book Play to Win was reviewed in City Press on 30 August 2015:

“After the embarrassment of Bic’s now-infamous Women’s Day advert (Look like a girl … Think like a man), I was mildly sceptical when the book Play to Win – What Women Can Learn from Men in Business landed on my desk for review.

However, the book, written by Donna Rachelson, was a refreshing read and focused on women’s strengths in the workplace, along with advice on male behaviour and attitudes that could be adopted.

One of the things I really enjoyed was the feedback and positive advice from women who have succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling – such as Nomsa Chabeli-Mazibuko, MultiChoice’s group head of marketing; Monica Singer, chief executive of Strate; and Koo Govender, chief executive of the VWV group.

The book carries practical advice on issues from time management to self-promotion, and a handy tips section summarizes the lessons from each chapter.”

You can buy Play to Win here.

Donna appeared on eNCA’s Moneyline

Relaunch your career

You’ve been out of the workplace for a while, you may feel a bit nervous about restarting your career.

Make sure you market your top skills and highlight the value you can add by brushing up your personal brand. Whether you’ve been on a sabbatical, taken time out to have children or been on a break while you’ve been travelling, getting back into the workplace can be challenging. Make sure you get your personal brand in top shape to attract the attention of recruiters. Here are a few pointers to help you get started:

Research where you want to be. Find out the requirements of the position and do whatever you need to do to make sure you fit the bill, then use your network and contacts to target the job you want.

Talk to an honest friend. You need honest feedback on your personal brand. Ask a straight-talking friend to talk you through how others perceive you, the areas where you’re doing well and the areas where you could use improvement.

Focus on key relationships. Keep in touch with people in your industry. Think about the top people you want to know about your skills, talents and passion, and find ways to market your personal brand to them. Identify the core aspects you want them to understand about you and make sure you communicate those in every interaction.

Make sure you look the part. The fact is that we are judged by the image we project. Statistics show that people who look good are seen as more professional than those who don’t make an effort. Before you get to the stage of doing job interviews, invest in looking your best, even if it means calling on a professional image consultant.

Package your strengths effectively. Even if you don’t have a huge amount of experience in the area in which you’re planning to work, you can be clever about showcasing the skills you do have that you will make use of in the new position.

Get up to date with your industry. Read up on the latest trends and developments and be ready to talk about them. This shows prospective employers that you’ve done your homework and understand the environment.

Focus on your best projects and strengths. Make sure you show the value you can add to an organisation by highlighting your previous projects and their tangible benefits. If you have taken on a big project during your break, talk about that too, even if it was outside of your field of work. For example, if you successfully set up the PTA at your child’s school from scratch, it demonstrates people skills, initiative and management ability.

Be honest about the gaps in your work history. Don’t ignore the break you’ve taken. Rather offer an explanation supporting the reason for the break, which will help employers to understand your background. Highlight anything positive that you have undertaken during the break period, such as completing a computer course or volunteering.
Use the power of recommendations. Rustle up your testimonials and letters of recommendation. If you don’t have any, ask previous colleagues to write up short testimonials. Let other people market you in their own words.

Why Marketing Metrics Matter

Whether you are an entrepreneur or marketing manager, if you’re spending any money or time on marketing or advertising, you’ll want to measure if you are getting a real return on your investment.

Marketing metrics help the marketer:

  • Tweak marketing campaigns
  • Decide where to put more focus on (in terms of time and/or money)
  • Decide what’s not working and what to drop

As a marketer, what are some of the metrics you should be focusing on?

1. Conversion

It’s all good and well getting leads into your sales funnel through advertising, content marketing, pay per click and email campaigns, amongst others. But where the rubber meets the road is in the simple question, “How many leads did we convert for our business?”

Conversion metrics are an excellent way to see if the time and money spent on your chosen marketing activities are paying off. The conversion metric will give you and idea of what to what to tweak, what to keep and what to drop.

2. Customer Acquisition Cost

A critical question to ask is “how much does it cost to acquire a customer?” There’s no point in acquiring a customer when the cost is more than the lifetime value of that customer. You want to keep your customers on the books so that they keep coming back and spending money with you.

3. Retention

Many companies spend so much time, effort and money to acquire new customers that they forget about the gold that is already sitting in their database – existing customers. Marketers should be asking themselves how long the customer stays with the company and how much he spends. There’s no point in spending huge amounts of money to acquire new clients when your existing clients are flooding out the back door because of poor customer relationship management strategies. A lot of focus should be given to retaining the customer (especially for entrepreneurs) because it is cheaper and more profitable to service an existing customer than acquiring a new one.

4. Lifetime Value

This is one of the most underrated marketing metrics but one of the most important. Working out the lifetime value of a customer is important for one reason. You’ll want to serve him better and throw more resources at him.

As entrepreneurs it makes sense to go to where the money is. So, if one customer spends R10 000 with your company, and another spends R100 000 with your company. Guess where the attention goes? Naturally, to the one that spends R100 000. Take your top 20 customers and figure out how long, they on average stay with your company, and how much they spend. For example, if your top customer spends R1-million with you per year and stays with your company for on average 10 years, this is a different dynamic, isn’t it. Because, suddenly a R10-million customer is a lot more appealing than a R1-million customer. So, don’t look at a customer’s once-off spend, but look at the lifetime value and psychologically it just wants you to serve him better.

What other marketing metrics do you think would apply to your business as an entrepreneur? We’d love to hear your ideas. Pop us a comment in the comment section below.

How To Inspire Others To Invest In You

In business, the old adage often still rings true: it’s not what you know; it’s who you know, I am sure that we have heard that in just about every entrepreneur story we have heard. When you’re looking to find people to back you, whether it’s a sponsor for your MBA or funding for your new business venture, relationships matter, this is the basis I believe of all entrepreneurship courses. Your personal brand is what will get people to buy into you before they buy into your idea. How then, do you become “backable” and what is my advice as an entrepreneur?

1.    Back yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself or your idea, you’re not going to be able to convince anyone else. Self-confidence takes time to develop, but start with thinking about what makes you special – what is it that sets you apart from someone else with the same experience and qualifications? This is the foundational step in building a successful personal brand that others will want to invest in. Identify what makes you unique and differentiates you from your competitors.  Develop your unique selling proposition (USP).

2.    Spend time developing your personal brand as well as your cause, business or idea. Before you spend time on your business case or proposition for a potential backer, make sure that you’ve developed a strong personal brand. That’s the first sell – the pitch is actually the second one.

3.    Identify why your goal is meaningful. People are more likely to back you if your objective is not purely self-centered, but serves a higher purpose or cause. You’re also more likely to persevere if you believe that your goal will benefit others too, whether your goal is studying further to be able to provide better for your family, or developing a business that doesn’t just make money, but also makes a difference.

4.    Work on your powers of persuasion. I don’t mean studying up on sales tips (although that may well help you). I mean that others will invest in you if you are compelling – if you have clarity about your goals, what you can deliver and where you can add value. When given the opportunity to share about your plans and hopes, you should be able to make a simple, convincing case because you know exactly what you want to communicate, rather than waffling and missing the key points.

5.    Prove your trustworthiness. People choose to back individuals that they trust, and trust is earned through consistency and continual excellence in delivery. Nobody will invest in someone who has a track record of letting people down and failing to deliver on promises. If you want others to back you, make sure you have a history of being a good investment.

How to achieve consistent personal branding

Of the three Cs of personal branding (clarity, consistency and constancy), consistency could well be the most powerful . . .

Take yourself out of yourself for a minute. Pretend you’re not you. Let’s say you’re someone else – an objective third party – and you’re conducting an evaluation of your personal brand across all the varied platforms and channels upon and through which you operate.

  1. When you meet people for the first time, what do you talk about?
  2. If you drove a van, what would be written on its side?
  3. Are people ever surprised when they meet the ‘real’ human you?
  4. Is your phone voice different to your normal voice?
  5. What’s your email ‘voice’ like? Different? Similar? Identical?
  6. Do all of your social media accounts ‘sound’ and look different?

If you’ve answered “Yes” or “I don’t know” several times, it’s time to talk about personal brand consistency, and how to sustainably achieve it.

Why is this important? It’s important because if your personal brand defines who you are, what you do professionally, your personal life, and the message you project online, it stands to reason that all of these elements should match up. Right? After all, people like to know what to expect from you, it gives them comfort and puts them at ease.

Step 1: Image

This is the easiest one. To help people identify and remember your personal brand and promise, be sure that you have a consistent photo, logo and colour scheme across all your social media accounts, marketing material and promotional content. This will help people associate visual icons or images with your brand.

And, if you’re going to have a corporate identity, get an expert to guide you on what will make you stand out in your industry in terms of colours, styles, icons, etc.

Step 2: Behaviour

Match what you say (in writing and verbally) with how you act in real life. Each in-person interaction, whether professional or personal, is similar to a job interview. You’re being evaluated, whether you’re aware of it or not. So ensure that you’re ‘living’ your brand in terms of speech, body language, conduct and conversation.

For example, if you’re able to be outspoken online and yet you speak in a soft, timid voice when you’re in front of a small audience, you may need to re-think your presentation skills, so they match the strength and power of your e-insights.

Step 3: Corporate
Every time you attend a meeting, conference, seminar, talk, networking event or workplace function, be mindful of what others are experiencing about you – especially in the context of what you want others to experience about you.

Are you the person who always asks questions? Do you have value to add? Are you sincere and friendly? Or do you prefer to remain silent and absorb what’s going on? Are you more of a learner than a teacher? Are you more reserved?

Step 4: Digital

To build your personal brand you need to promote it by being (or appearing to be) everywhere. Have a social media presence, create your own website and/or blog and ‘show up’ in places where your expertise might be needed or appreciated.

And once you start, don’t stop! This is a big part of consistency. The moment you start engaging via social media, you cannot allow your brand to go quiet. You also can’t afford to pick and choose. Beware of only being responsive sometimes (when business is quiet, for example) or favouring some channels over others.

Step 5: Local

When putting yourself out there, don’t limit yourself to the online world, target your community as well. Check out small businesses, organisations, societies and groups that may be in need of the services you’re offering or the knowledge you’ve built.

You’ve heard of the big fish in the small pond? He’s so much more effective than the teensy-weensy guppy in that expansive blue ocean.

Side note: Interestingly enough, this one also works in reverse: You can extend your local or personal involvements into the online space, for better exposure.

Step 6: Authenticity

Your personal brand should be authentic. This is only possible if it genuinely represents the value you can deliver to those you are serving. Remember: This doesn’t mean self-promotion. It’s not hard sell and it’s not pushiness. In fact, self-promotion has nothing to do with personal branding, which is deliberate but subtle.

In essence, this means that you shouldn’t bother to fake a personal brand. Or to mimic someone else’s. It simply won’t last. And your audience can sniff it out.

Bottom line?
Does all this consistency sounds like a lot of pressure? Like a huge responsibility? Well, it is. But only the first few times you think about it. With time, being the same ‘You’ becomes a natural part of who you are, wherever you are.

Have fun

© Donna Rachelson. All Rights Reserved.