The 12th month of the year has rolled into the station, ready to take us on a journey into the New Year of 2017 as usual with much hope and expectation. Hopefully we will be laden with bigger hopes and dreams about our various individual situations than we had this year. After all we have had the previous 11 months and many more months in between to line up our dreams and hopes in a manner that makes planning easier. Otherwise, what is the value of hindsight or indeed experience if not to make us all better at what we hope and dream and DO!!
It has been an eventful year. There were many happy moments and as many sad moments too. Children graduated, found jobs and moved on overseas. Others got married and did the same. Family icons passed on; other family members did the same. I have come to accept the inevitability of all life’s land marks. Birth and death. Children grow up and out and pursue their dreams and you become a mere facilitator and or spectator.
Recently I had the rare pleasure of meeting with a group of women who were graduating after undergoing a 1 year’s course in entrepreneurship. In my line of work, I have come across many women who are at various stages in their businesses. Depending on the size and level, the needs differ and the aspirations for the business’ futures also are different. The one common thread I notice however was the lack of; clear vision, total attachment and belief in what the business stood for and where the business has impacted on the lives of the promoters.
When interviewed, many came to start their businesses by accident, or to meet a need to supplement family finances. Typically, businesses mooted like that remain unexploited and are never allowed to grow to their full potential. Some businesses are started as a hobby and the money generated is a bonus.
The group of graduates I met that day were not of this calibre. They had had a year’s learning on how not to view or treat their business. In the first place, if an activity is worthy of your time and effort, it must be nurtured. You pour everything into it. Information, skills, money; is applied so that the plan makes sense, right? They gave me the impression they were one with the business, totally immersed in its operations. They were aware of the risks surrounding the business, aware of where the company should be going and how it was getting there. What impressed me most was that in order to meet their small short-term demand for cash, they had started a savings scheme!
The last time I interacted with them was earlier in the course of the year. I remember mentioning to them that working in groups was empowering. Not only in terms of sharing ideas and even skills but in finding solutions that meet their immediate needs. While capital raising remains a big challenge for many of them, bank credit is not the only answer for some. If as a group they could grow their savings, they could make this available to their members. This method has several advantages:
As a group they begin to understand /assess risk in a very real way.
They learn about opportunity cost of money
They learn project appraisal and start to try to link the borrowing to the risks of the company
Members will access money without collateral as they are lending to one another.
They will also start to appreciate how the banks view them when they are on the borrowing side.
However, the lenders’ thoughts on risk mitigation and opportunity cost will not be too far away. It is a very good learning opportunity for all concerned. For the borrower, I am sure they will still be expected to borrow only what they need and no more. They will be expected to be accountable and pay back the money into the savings fund. The lender will demand for explanation on use of funds and for how long the funds are required. That should help them determine the price of money (interest rate) and repayment schedules are all applicable. This small move has opened up a whole new learning curve and perhaps a change of course for some of them to start up a fund as a new business for themselves. When you make decisions about something, it invariably takes you to other decisions that reveal new possibilities.
As a result of recurring need for cash in the businesses, the women decided to start the savings fund. Operating this fund will open up new possibilities which others may seize for their own benefit. As they continue to work together and use the power of numbers, there are numerous low level solutions that they can come up with. Apart from small loans, they can take up group insurance to cover vehicles, machinery and equipment that is common in each of their businesses. It works out cheaper for premiums. Because of scale they are also able to negotiate for better terms.
I am convinced that these women are beginning to feel what it means to be ‘empowered’. The ability to take things in your own hands and do something about it. Find solutions when you encounter a hurdle. Not to mention the confidence and hope that they all exhibited. Information seeking and accepting to themselves and others that they needed help.
During the testimonials, there was something that surprised me further. The women were able to openly declare their worth. They were able to mention how much money the business has generated and the assets that they have been able to buy. This was unprecedented. In my many years working with women in business, it was impossible to get anyone to admit that the business was profitable to that extent. The tendency was to always understate what they did and described their businesses as ‘small’ from which they made ‘little money’ in order to survive. This was always frustrating for me because if their businesses were ‘small’ and were not deriving too much benefit, why bother? Well I have since realised from the last group that perhaps the problem was the inability to derive the real profitability from accounting for the activities, keeping record of accounts etc. was not being done properly. During their learning this year, keeping of accounts and interpretation of the numbers must have surprised them at how much money they were turning around. As a result, they had no reason to be modest but to state it like it is! Accounting for their businesses was a revelation that they were on to something big.
The next thing I want to see these women do is employ the concept of leverage. Leveraging assets is the best way of stressing the most productive assets in the business. I believe they are smart enough to realise that the assets they have acquired will bring them most value if they are used in the business, to reduce risk, reduce the price of borrowing or inversely maximise the amounts able to borrow. Many a time, small businesses cannot raise sufficient capital because of absence of collateral. The businesses are as a result highly geared and are not attractive to lend to by institutions. I am therefore happy that these ladies have been amassing assets which they can apply to their businesses in the form of higher borrowing and or reduced interest rates asset while managing their risks accordingly. Once they are able to do that there will be no looking back.
In conclusion, I wish to underscore the value of training, coaching and mentorship for start-ups and entrepreneurs in general. It is quite evident from the transformation that these women have undergone that they benefited from the interventions. Starting to share knowledge, information and solving common problems together is the start of real networking. Trust is a big deal in business and it seems to have been fostered in this exercise. Where it is absent, true networking will not happen; especially among women. Women rely more on emotional connection than men. So trust is an important element in their interactions. This cluster is ripe with opportunities and we hope to hear from them in the times ahead.
Finally, I wish my readers a wonderful Christmas and New Year holiday. I wish each and every one of my visitors to the blog a successful year in 2017. Never underestimate the value of information. They are little nuggets that appear here and there and therefore be ready to pick them and keep them for a rainy day. I sincerely hope that you have picked up some small nuggets from any of the blog posts in 2016. Leave your comments and or any suggestions on other areas of interest that can be tackled or to make things better.
Season’s greetings and a happy New Year!