Meagan Rabe, Head of SME Lending and Strategic Alliances at Sasfin, has a wealth of experience working with small business owners who need to access finance to grow their businesses, but in her personal capacity she is also a business coach and mentor. One of her focus areas is female entrepreneurs.
“We’re seeing a growing number of women-owned businesses,” says Meagan. “A few years ago, 30% of businesses were women-owned. Now that number is closer to 40% and climbing. The reality is that in many ways female entrepreneurs face a different set of challenges, not only in terms of juggling their home life and what their companies need, but how they engage with staff and clients.
“I’ve worked with the most incredible and inspiring women, and I’ve learnt a lot during the course of my own career, and there are a few key attributes that I believe all successful female entrepreneurs share.”
Here are Meagan’s five top insights for female entrepreneurs who have just launched a business or are thinking about taking the leap into business ownership.
1. Life doesn’t always go according to plan
“My own career is testament to this fact, but I think it’s important for all entrepreneurs to keep in mind as well. The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating, but the businesses that were able to adapt to changing circumstances have weathered the storm. Women in general tend to be quite adaptable. Bring this superpower to your business.”
2. Don’t wait to be invited to the table
“Work on your confidence and know that you don’t need to be invited to the table – that seat is yours for the taking. Once you’re in it, know that you’re adding value. No one is doing you a favour – you have a wealth of insights and experiences that give you a unique voice, and because you don’t view the world in the same way as your male counterparts, you’re adding a valuable perspective that wouldn’t necessarily be included if you weren’t there, which in turn will open new opportunities. Hand in hand with the confidence to walk into any room is the courage to have difficult conversations with your employees and even your clients. Work on this – you have a voice, and it should be heard.”
3. Be authentic
“At the start of my banking career, I was pulled aside by a male colleague and told that I was clearly talented, but that I was also too bouncy. He believed that when I walked into a room and was too friendly, I was doing a discredit to myself because I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I thanked him for the input and went home to think deeply about what he’d said. The next day, I once again thanked him, but told him I’d continue to be bouncy. We can all only be who we are.
“I’m very grateful to have received that advice though – perhaps if he hadn’t said something I would have naturally toned myself down to conform with corporate life. Instead, I leaned in. I was made aware of it, and it heightened my decision to be – and remain – who I am.”
4. Stick with what you know
“This advice is applicable to all entrepreneurs – we see far too many business owners who jump from one idea or solution to the next. When you get distracted by other ‘opportunities’ you aren’t giving your current solution the focus and dedication it needs. Building a successful business takes time, patience and a degree of trial and error, so stick with it.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pivot or be adaptable – just don’t jump around too much. Figure out what your business needs instead of chasing the next opportunity. Often, that begins with your distribution channel – you can have the best product in the market, but if no one has seen or heard of it, you won’t grow your customer base. Often this is where we see entrepreneurs shifting to the next big idea, when what they should be doing is figuring out how to get their product to market.”
5. Get your financials in order
“The second you launch a business, the first thing you should be thinking about is how to navigate your financials. If you need to improve your financial literacy, take a course, research it and if you can, find a mentor. Even if you have a bookkeeper or accountant, you should have a strong handle on which metrics you are measuring and your numbers.
“Once you have a firm handle on that, you can access the right credit for your business’s needs and life-cycle. A business owner’s selection of credit should be relevant to the stage of their business – it should never be an additional bag of stones on your back while you’re climbing this mountain, which is what the wrong kind of debt can be.”