Whether it’s out of necessity or just because women’s time has come, women entrepreneurs are driving a change in the face of small business in SA and across the continent.
This is according to dynamic South African women who now run their own successful businesses and will be speaking Small Business Expo and #BuyaBusiness Expo in Johannesburg this month, where the Standard Bank Women in Business Workshop will be staged.
Times are changing, and while men may still dominate traditional boardrooms, women are launching more and more successful new businesses, they say.
While the 2014 SME Survey by World Wide Worx found that just 8% of South African SMEs are female-owned businesses, a recent Seed Academy Real State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa 2017 survey said the gap between male and female entrepreneurs was starting to narrow as women represented 47% of entrepreneurs surveyed. With informal businesses thought to account for a large number of the SMEs owned by women, the actual number of women-owned businesses in South Africa is difficult to determine. But leading women entrepreneurs believe the number of women launching their own businesses is rising fast.
Shirley Anthony, speaker, author and Marketing Consultant at Marketing Breakthroughs, has owned her own business for 23 years. Among her many achievements, she has carried out over 100 projects in 25 different sectors, designing a marketing formula soon to be launched online and releasing her practical marketing guide for entrepreneurs as a free download at www.marbreak.com.
She believes the ‘glass ceiling’ that held women back in the past is disappearing. “Within major corporates, gender mainstreaming is starting to take place but the upper echelon is still male dominated; so we find that women who are serious about business tend to start their own,” she says. For many women, family responsibilities are a major consideration, so the flexibility offered by owning a business is also a compelling reason for them to take the plunge, says Anthony.
Kathryn Main, CEO of Main Multimedia and Money Savvy Kids, believes women entrepreneurship is a hot topic across Africa: “Women are starting to take the reins in entrepreneurship. It’s a movement that is gaining momentum, possibly because we’re often forced to start our own businesses.” Main, who launched her first business in 2010, did so for the flexibility it gave her to spend time with her children. “I may get up at four in the morning and work over weekends, but I make my own hours and I enjoy that flexibility.”
Her businesses may be very successful now, but Main says she once suffered from the same lack of confidence many other women still experience. “For many women, fear of failure gets in the way. We’re always self-flagellating – we seem to have been conditioned to believe we don’t have the capacity to own our own businesses. We have to learn to have faith in ourselves,” she says.
Up against the patriarchy
Dynamic and successful entrepreneur Marang Marekimane, founder of Business Process Mechanics, believes women still face challenges in business: “We are still a patriarchal society as a whole, particularly in rural areas. There are some instances where men will still see me as the ‘pretty face’ in the room and not as the brain in the room. But I’m comfortable in my experience and credentials, and I’m very unapologetic about who I am, so there’s little that can be done to deter me in business,” she says.
In addition to running her own successful business, Marekimane also offers consulting to business accelerator programmes. “I deal with a lot of women in business, and I have noticed younger entrepreneurs are coming into the market with a lot of fire; with their sense of self intact, and probably more willing to take risks than women who are older. But she believes that no matter what their age, any time is a good time for a woman to start a business.”
There are highs and lows in business ownership, she concedes, but nonetheless she would not want to go back to working for a large corporate. “I like to say I am unemployable now – my mindset is very different from what it was when I was an employee. Now, I have found my internal drivers and the work I do validates me. I get to change lives, and this keeps me motivated,” she says.
Getting started in business demands careful planning and preparation, they say.
Anthony notes that early corporate experience is an excellent base on which to build your own business. “I learnt my own marketing skills within major FMCG firms before launching my own business,” she says. With a solid background in the industry and a personal dedication to ‘doing the homework’ before meeting with clients, Anthony says she has never encountered business challenges that arose as a result of her being a woman.
Marekimane also believes her early start in a corporate environment helped her build the skills she now uses as a business owner. In addition, it was crucial for her to discover what motivated her, to help her decide to make the leap to business ownership.
Main says whether you’re driven to launch a new business because of circumstances or opportunity, it’s important to plan thoroughly. “I planned and prepared for two years before actually leaving my full-time job and going on my own,” she says. She also recommends having 3 to 6 months’ salary saved, to cover costs while the business is finding its feet. “My personal business ‘power secrets’ are networking and ongoing learning,” she says. “I go to all the business events and accelerator programmes I can, and I am continually educating myself. Events such as the Small Business Expo, with networking opportunities and free workshops are a must for business owners, because you have to stay on top of trends and network every chance you get.”
“Passion sells and runs your business,” adds entrepreneur and MD of Reed Exhibitions Carol Weaving. “We’ve seen this time and again among the thousands of businesses that have participated in exhibition and its workshops over the years.”
The Small Business Expo and co-located #BuyaBusiness Expo will be held at the Ticketpro Dome in Northriding from 31 August to 2 September, when up to 10,000 entrepreneurs will network and learn from business experts in 90 presentations over three days. The event, the premier hub for small business development presented by Reed Exhibitions in partnership with Eskom, showcasing 190 small businesses, business opportunities and service providers, as well as training and insight for South Africa’s small businesses and would-be entrepreneurs.
The Small Business Expo, to be held alongside the #BuyaBusiness expo from 31 August to 2 September 2017 at the TicketPro Dome in Northgate, is devoted to the development of small and medium sized enterprises, providing an invaluable platform for small businesses to market their businesses and interact with prominent business leaders and representatives from a number of corporate companies. It’s the ideal platform to stimulate business growth and motivate both current and aspiring entrepreneurs. The Small Business Expo is organized by Reed Exhibitions in partnership with the Eskom Development Foundation.