What You Can Learn From the Woman Entrepreneur Navigating Both Corporate and Business Worlds

Updated on 28 August 2019

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Lessons women corporate entrepreneur

By: Kealeboga Mokolobate, Transformation Facilitator, Transcend Corporate Advisors

With Women’s Month in South Africa coming to a close,  SME South Africa shares one woman’s experience navigating both the corporate and business world. 

Science has proven that generally, humans like to predict people and events. It makes the world feel safe and psychologically protects us from its inherent unpredictability. That’s why we create stereotypes and archetypes.

According to psychologists such as Carl Jung, there are 12 female archetypes; the caregiver, the lover/seductress, the creator … and the list goes on. However, when we think of ourselves as women, can we really be one person, one archetype?

Zanele Luvuno says it’s time to smash the archetypes that society creates for us as women.

Luvuno wears many hats (and believes that all the hats fit-no matter which angle they sit on her head). She is an executive director at Transcend Talent Management, a non-executive director at Transcend Capital Investments, an executive director at Indlovukazi Capital (Retail Investment company), a trustee at Major Drilling Trust (Major Drilling is the largest drilling company in the world), and through Native Barter Capital, currently has commercial property investments.

Through her retail ventures, Luvuno has also recently opened an OK!Foods stores in Chatsworth in Kwa Zulu Natal.  The store has created jobs for 47 people, almost 80% of them being women.

Growing up you see woman who have achieved so much in their careers, but we don’t know how they got there, how they managed their challenges – which can’t be all that different from ours

Each woman teach one

Over the last 20 years Luvuno has been in and out of the corporate world battling the many ‘isms’, from sexism and racism, to nepotism. A firm believer in creating a critical mass of women in leadership, she is working to empower women both in the work force she employs, as well as the opportunities she is creating for woman through Transcend. In the pipeline is a blog, ‘Typecast’, which will chronicle her journey culminating to who she is today.

The word typecast – in the television and film – industry defines a person who gets cast in the same role over and over again. This happens to many women and Luvuno believes in rejecting the roles foisted on women.

Luvuno explains her vision for ‘Typecast’: “Hopefully through my experience many young women can avoid some of the struggles I’ve had to endure.

“Growing up you see woman who have achieved so much in their careers, but we don’t know how they got there, how they managed their challenges – which can’t be all that different from ours.”

She adds,”Let’s tell our stories, and create palatable role models for those who are coming behind us”.

Luvuno gives advice for women entrepreneurs for dealing with gender discrimination and offers advice for building a supportive network. 

1. Getting around people’s prejudices and the ‘isms’

All of us as individuals come to the party with our preconceived notions of each other, especially in deals in largely male-dominated sectors, or in what are labelled BEE deals. There is an immediate judgement around capability based on race and especially gender. It therefore becomes really important to know who you are you, and to hold your power.

Where you may have gaps in your knowledge, do the research, if you cannot be a specialist in field, hire one. Do not let your lack of expertise exclude you from participating.

2. Access to funding

Access to funding can be a barrier to entry as well as a challenge for many women entrepreneurs while on the journey. As many of us know clients pay late, cash flow can sometimes be tight and this can ]hinder operations and prevent growth etc.

On my journey I have been fortunate to have people who believed in me and who were willing to back me in tough times. I built the right relationships with my bank, as well as individuals who have trust in my capability. Having more than one business is also helpful in creating a balance sheet so the banks can come on board.

Be able to distinguish between the spectators and the supporters, you want supporters

3. Access to market

Without access to market, your business cannot access customers and cannot grow. But many entrepreneurs simply do not know their markets well enough.

Immerse yourself in your particular field and find out as much as possible. Research is much more than the production process of the product you are selling. It is about understanding your customer, their behaviour and needs. It is also about understanding how to effectively reach this customer and how to position yourself.

Have you looked at all the possible business models related to the goods and services that you are selling? Have you had discussions with people involved in the relevant industries to gain knowledge on the dos and don’ts?

4. Scaling up

There is no cutting corners when it comes to having the right people, structures and processes. A business can bring in revenue, but your revenue will never grow past a certain point, without the aforementioned.

Every business needs the right people doing the right things. Often when a business is small, there may be 1 or 2 people working in the business, usually the founders and they are running all the aspects: the business development, general operations, delivery to clients, etc. but at some point one of these areas will suffer, after all there are only so many hours in a day. Invest in the necessary resources to ensure you are able to deliver to clients, and keep up with the growth.

5. Access to the right networks

Mentorship is an important aspect of your business growth journey. Mentors have walked the journey you are on and can help you trouble shoot around complex decision making.

Build a network of the correct people. Research role models in your field and proceed to chase these role models down. You will be surprised by how many people are willing to give you time, if you come prepared.

We get hung up on receiving support from specific people who we know in our circles and get despondent when they don’t have time for us, cast you net wider. There is someone who is interested in your story and is prepared to support you on your journey.

Be able to distinguish between the spectators and the supporters, you want supporters. Having more than one mentor and having mentors from different backgrounds ensures you have a full-circle view. Your own research and initiative will ensure you have fruitful discussions with your mentors taking into account all views. Quite importantly too: It is important to be ready for opportunities that matter.

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