Making a success of one’s business enterprise was the focus of Day Two of the inaugural Economic Activation Workshop of The Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) last week Wednesday.
Launched in October 2021, SWEEP is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme inspired by widespread concern over the under-representation of women in entrepreneurship. In the context of gender-based violence, it is an empowerment programme that seeks to reduce women’s financial dependence on males by providing a safety net of transferable and practical skills and opportunities, backed by a foundation of academic stewardship.
Ms Lelethu Shabangu (below), Founder and owner of Yoyisa Clothing, is an entrepreneur raised in the rural Eastern Cape by a single mother. Explaining her presentation title, In this world, bubble over, she said it symbolised a bottle of champagne which, when shaken and poured, bubbles over the edge of the glass. “It does so much more than what you expect of it.”
She described this as a metaphor for women entrepreneurs. “You have so much to contribute and give to this world, that comes with your strengths and talents. Know that you are a beautiful individual, uniquely and perfectly designed.”
She said as aspiring entrepreneurs, most of the women attending the workshop already knew their strengths. Strengths, she explained, are “character traits, skills and what you’re good at doing – things you do naturally without even realising it…. You have been told repeatedly about these things by family, friends, and colleagues.
“People will say to you, you are such a good listener. Or you are brilliant at paying attention to detail.” She said the onus was on the budding entrepreneur to go into the world knowing that they have something to offer. Ms Shabangu listed some things to consider when starting out.
- Know who you are. She referred to The Lion King, where Simba runs after his father, the king, who reminds him that he, Simba, is his son and destined to take over the title. Miss Shabangu said: “You have everything you need inside you so all you have to know is that you are strong and can walk this journey with confidence.” She stated that life happens. “So many things affect us, and make us move away from our strengths.” She said negative thoughts often derailed people from the path they are on. When in this space, she said, strength lies dormant, and people fail to see those strengths accurately.
- Lean in on your strengths. She uses this phrase often, saying that when there is confusion, it is necessary to take some time, to step back and reacquaint yourself with your attributes. “Ask yourself, What am I good at? What do I have to contribute? What do I bring that is unique and specific to only me? Lean into your strengths,” she said.
- Place yourself into positions where you will practise these strengths. Ms Shabangu says her number one piece of advice is to practise – a lot – if you want to be efficient. She said: “Women often see the negatives. You have to be patient and kind to yourself, try and push past the negativity and keep practising.”
- Do not compare yourself to others, because by so doing, “you are likely to come up short and lacking, not because you are not good enough but because you are a unique person with a unique combination. It is not possible to be someone else.” Ms Shabangu believes that no one else can do what you can, the way you do it.“Even if you know someone who has made major strides ahead of you, remember, that person probably had a head-start. They are travelling their own journey and so should you. Every one of you must have had different lived experiences… So, honour your lived experience”
- Seek knowledge. She insists that this does not preclude mentorship and learning from others. “Sharing knowledge is to be encouraged. Back yourself up as you hold onto your strengths. You cannot walk alone in life, but you also cannot be someone else.
- It is not going to be easy – stick with it. She said when we begin the journey of finding out who we are it might seem like an easy process. It is not. Starting my business was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I had to unlearn things; to fight to see where I stood.” That’s why it was important to know from the get-go that the process will not be easy, but that you will have to stick to it, nonetheless.
- Surround yourself with encouraging people. “In hard times, give yourself the chance to bounce back.
- Journal your thoughts. Write down – again – what you’re good at and remember it!
- Stop asking for permission to walk into spaces. “Walk into the world knowing you have something to offer — Lest the world tell you to dial it down a tad,” she said in closing.
Workshop hostess and engagement facilitator, Linda Lindani, asked how one could go about discovering one’s strengths. Ms Shabangu: “Ask yourself ‘what do I do, what am I good at?’ Those are your strengths. Run with them.”
How to conduct business interactions
Next on the online platform was Ms Louise Steyl, an employee of Young Presidents Organisation and a certified Gallup Strengths Coach, who addressed the gathering on Showing up in business: Meetings, interactions, business.
Ms Steyl (above) was asked this question: “How do we show up when fear can freeze us? What are the practical things that we can do to make ourselves present?” Her response was: “Be well prepared. Your interaction starts long before the actual interaction, long before you finally engage with the person/people you are meeting.
Know what you want to get out of the interaction. Consider what the other person might need – relationships run two ways; it is important that you do not go into a meeting with only your own agenda.”
She said if you were clear about the outcome you want, you would be mindful of how your position yourself. “You must be willing to compromise. Never think that you’re done with learning. Also, be open, and know that it is OK if you do not know everything.”
Ms Steyl, who says she has a passion for learning and for giving back, breaks down showing up into two distinct categories:
- Being your authentic self.
- Being in charge of your business.
She began her career 20 years ago in corporate South Africa. “I was taught that you should put your head down and work hard. It’s a bit like being on a floating boat, rudderless and going where you might not necessarily want to go. I didn’t feel like I was playing to my strengths; I didn’t feel alive in my work life, I didn’t feel like I was flourishing.” She is now a coach and says that the coaching world can often focus on weakness fixing.
“I say why not focus on what you do well – this will exponentially move you forward.”
By way of example, she uses two tennis players, one with natural talent and the other without. “It is obvious that the player with talent will succeed more easily and the other will have to work much harder while not necessarily reaching the talented player’s level.”
Ms Steyl urged the participants to focus on their natural talents. “Ask yourself: where do I feel engaged? Where do I feel energised? Some people feel good in groups, some don’t. Know your strengths.” She said that if you are happy in what you do, it spills over into your life and you don’t dread Monday mornings.
She added that communication was key – making your needs heard as well as making the right connections. “You only learn by doing. Yes there are many fears about failing, but if you start small you can navigate your path. You might not know where you end up, but you must continue.
“Be mindful of how you feel. If everyday is a drain, make changes quickly. But remember that not every day has to be perfect. Life is short. Make your job work for you; make work a happy place. And make sure you do not float without knowing where you are going.”
The role that Accounting plays in business
Mr Marc Johnson (below), Founder and CEO of It’s a Breeze (PTY) Ltd, addressed the student women on the topic: Building your confidence to have Better Financial Conversations. He started by cautioning the workshop participants that entrepreneurship is a road full of potholes and risks. “It offers no safety net like corporates.”
He said because entrepreneurs are usually alone on this road, they need to have some knowledge of everything they need, to run successful businesses.
Citing Accounting as one example of knowledge critical for running a successful business, he said this was one knowledge area that inspired confidence in an entrepreneur. He said: “Confidence will lead you to have better conversations with your team, your suppliers or other business associates. That, in turn, will lead you to make good decisions that will lead to running a better business.”
Johnson said the story of accounting is a story that people must visualise like a coin, with one side representing what I have and the other where that came from. He then went on to break down what I have (assets) and where that came from (liabilities, equity) into further elements for a more rounded understanding of basic accounting.
By the end of his session, the student women had had their Accounting 101 – with some of them expressing their appreciation for how Johnson was able to break this subject into simple, understandable language to non-accountants.
Balancing business with academics
Ms Elona Hlatswayo (left), Legacy Strategist at Bizpreneur, offered tips on Balancing one’s your business and academics (generating work-life balance). She began her presentation by saying that women have a lot to do in their daily lives. “Include academics and entrepreneurship into the mix and you add more layers to juggle, to find balance in an already busy life.”
She introduced what she calls the wheel of life, a chart divided into the following segments:
- Social life
- Friends and family
- Personal growth
She asked: “If that was the front wheel of the bicycle you’re riding, how smooth would the ride be?” Ms Hlatswayo was quick to stress that not every triangle of the circle needed to be a 10 and that the rating would shift at different times and stages of the week or year. But she did say that often, the chart had to be adapted to bring balance or concentrate on a pressing issue.
“For you to excel, you sometimes have to stop something. For example, some students will pause their social life to study for exams.” Regarding finances, she reminded delegates that the wheel was not static and that if they were not managing their spending, they needed to go to someone for advice. “You could also balance the wheel of life by putting measures in place to ensure you cut your cloth to suit your shirt and make adjustments that keep financial adjustments within your control.”
Speaking specifically about academics, she outlined necessary resources:
- Health and physical well-being: “You need to manage your competing priorities. Looking after your health is a priority. Sometimes, putting your health in danger has negative consequences. An example is a student who studies for an exam and forfeits sleep, then falls asleep in the exam room.” Ms Hlatswayo said that in her case, she needs a lot of sleep, exercise and a good diet to carry all the other things on her wheel. She said paying attention to physical and mental health helps clear the mind; brain fog often led to missed opportunities.
- Friends and Family: “You need to put time into these relationships as they are your support system.”
- Romance: “Paying attention to your relationship is crucial.”
- Personal growth: “You don’t develop resilience automatically. How much time you spend on something shows how much of a priority it is. Therefore, your actions have to match what you say.” She said it was necessary to identify the platform that is best for you to consume information that grows you. “Is it reading books or podcasts or video? Prioritise time to grow yourself. What are you listening to when you’re at the gym; when you’re out running? Your mind is a garden, and you are planting seeds, so you need to be in charge of your input.”
Ms Hlatswayo described the wheel of life as a snapshot of what things are like now, and what they should look like. “Don’t punish yourself; this is not a test. The wheel must reflect your values as it shows how you spend your time.
“Take small steps, do one action to improve the one area that is throwing your wheel out of balance. Above all, be kind to yourself.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa