Business Learning Curves: 12 Points Of Reference On The Methodology Of Business Some of the Middle East's most prominent female figures in the business arena share their insights on working and succeeding in the corporate world.
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Women in business came together at the Ritz-Carlton JBR in Dubai, UAE on May 25, 2015 for Entrepreneur Middle East's first Achieving Women's Forum, which featured some of the region's most prominent leaders sharing their insights with over 200 attendees of the half-day conference. Here are 12 of the salient points that were made during the event:
1. Want to be successful? Keep an open mind.
In her keynote address at Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women's Forum, Noor Sweid, Managing Partner, Leap Ventures and Board Member, Endeavor UAE, noted the importance of one being open to opportunities in order that one may indeed find them, and then capitalize on them. "If you're looking to succeed, keep your eyes and heart open to opportunities," she said. "You'll miss opportunities that come to you if you're not open to them. Success is about seizing the opportunities that present themselves to you."
Sweid also counseled the Forum attendees on strength in numbers. If you're launching an entrepreneurial endeavor, look for likeminded associates to team up with. According to Sweid, entrepreneurs who are trying to get their respective enterprises up and running would be wise to find a partner to help them through what is almost certainly going to be a grueling journey. "Don't go at it alone," she said. "It's really key to find someone to work alongside you to get you through those rough days." Of course, this is not to say that a partner or co-founder's role will be just that of a support figure- on the contrary, having another set of eyes to go over and supervise a company's setup and execution could play a key role in ensuring its success in the long-term.
2. When looking to raise funds, make sure you can sell your story.
According to Chantalle Dumonceaux, co-founder and Operations Director at WOMENA, entrepreneurs hoping to raise money for their startup ventures need to show their passion for what they are doing, as that will almost certainly have an impact on the investors they are trying to impress. "Believe in yourself," Dumonceaux said. "Passion speaks more than experience. Investors will respond to it- they're people too." Ghada Abdelkader, Corporate Development and Investments Manager at Crescent Enterprises, added, "You're selling your business- make sure you can sell your story."
3. An idea is just an idea without the method of execution. Back up your concept.
"It's not just the ideas. It's the ability to show that you can execute on the idea," explained Abdelkader during the third panel of the day. She suggested that when considering capital injections to scale your business, flexibility is needed when evaluating funding options. Several alternatives may present themselves, and you'll need to weigh the pros and cons carefully before committing to one or more options. Another important finance tip? "Make sure your projections are validated based on market expectations" before you go searching for funds. You need to be able to back up your numbers.
4. Pitching to investors? Financial literacy is important.
"Whether you have a finance background or not, if you will be running a business, [you need to] get your numbers right." That was souqalmal.com founder and CEO Ambareen Musa's matter-of-fact response as to why entrepreneurs need to keep a tab on all money matters relating to their respective businesses. "If you're smart enough to start a business, then you should be smart enough to understand your financial numbers," Musa said. It is of primary importance for those launching enterprises to be able to understand how the mechanics of the business works, and that means being able to crunch figures right alongside a CFO. Start by getting handle on the basics, then try and move along to the more complex aspects of your financials.
5. Find the investor that's right for you and for your business, and that doesn't just mean looking at the dollar signs.
"When you're pitching to investors, you think you're pitching for money," said Nina Curley, Managing Director, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi. "But you're actually pitching for their trust." Research is integral to the success of your operation, and when pitching you need to be able to show that you are more than just familiar with the market that you want to enter. She also noted that investors, VCs included, need to share your goals in terms of exit and potential IPO scenarios. The entrepreneur-investor relationship needs to be one that works both ways- as Musa noted, if a potential investor was offering her only money for her business, she wouldn't take it. "A good VC can accelerate your business," Dumonceaux explained. "A bad VC can destroy your business."
6. You have to create the image you want people to know you for- work on your message.
While there is hardly a need to talk about why having a digital presence is important in today's world, there is still quite a bit of confusion on how one presents one's profile on the Internet. "It's not so much about influencing people, as much as it is about really wanting to connect with people," said Maha Abouelenein, founder and Managing Director, OC. "You want to make sure when people search for you they find something that's relevant, they find something that's positive, and you have [to take on] the responsibility to get that information out there. You have to drive your brand, you have to drive the persona, you have to create the image that you want people to know you for."
7. Take time to cultivate your social media presence, and a solid digital footprint.
It's easy to be bowled over by the sheer number of followers that Rosemin Manji, founder, RR&Co., has on her Instagram page, but it's important to note that this digital influencer got to where she is because she took time to actually work on and develop her social media presence- a practice that she continues to cultivate even today. "I try to do things that are of interest to me and to my followers," Manji said. Strategic content planning is also needed when you are presenting the brand of "You", and that means originality and timeliness. Think before you post, and ask yourself if this represents the persona you want the world to see. "I do spend time to make sure that the right photo goes out; that it's not super repetitive."
8. Fielding negative comments? Don't ignore them- try to convert them into positive ones instead.
When asked about her strategy in responding to negative online comments, Manji replied that she often tried to spin them into something positive. Racha Ghamlouch, Entrepreneur and Speaker Relations Manager, ArabNet, noted how this methodology could be put to work for brands and companies as well, saying, "With regard to the most negative commentators on your brand- if you can learn how to convert them, they can then become your best assets." Ghamlouch pointed out that every company at some point will be dealing with the odd naysayer; have a plan in place ahead of time. Firdaus Shariff, Head of Marketing at SAP for South Europe, Middle East and Africa, agreed with the use of such an approach to deal with critics of your brand on social media, noting, "The minute you start engaging with people, that's when their perceptions change." Of course, doing this requires time and effort, but it does pay rich dividends.
9. Bringing your brand online, no matter how large or small, requires a touch of humanity.
Shariff stressed that a company's communication schema online can no longer have that cut and dried (robotic) edge. No matter the size of your venture or the type of business that you conduct, there must be a humanizing element- even if you are running the communications of an enterprise as big as SAP. She also pointed out that what was once a clearly drawn line, between the personal and professional information spheres, no longer truly applies due to the nature of today's Internet. In addition to posting material about your professional endeavors, she suggests making an effort to share content that might actually shed some light on you as a person, and this too can help your brand- so long as it's appropriate to your line of business, and what message you are trying to send.
10. If you are a woman in business, then mentor another woman in business.
Given how useful she found the support from mentors throughout her career, Noha Hefny, Director of Corporate Affairs for the Middle East & Africa at PepsiCo, encouraged women in the business world to take on mentorship roles to help and support their contemporaries in the workplace. "I think, as women, we have a duty to make ourselves accessible," she said. "Informal female mentorship is just as important as formal mentorship… By knowing your strengths and how you can serve, you can make a difference." Try applying an open door policy when it comes to advice, and encourage other senior executives in the company to do so as well.
11. Develop an inclusive company culture, and make it the norm.
Adding on to Hefny's comment about being accessible in the workplace, Nisreen Shocair, President, Virgin Megastore Middle East and North Africa, noted that companies by themselves should make it a priority to become a more inclusive environment, and ingrain gender diversity in the way they work on a day-to-day basis. "I believe the most accessible way to be able to achieve any of our female or women-oriented goals is to make it part of culture," Shocair said. "If it is not part of culture, then it is never going to mean anything- it's then always going to be just a pie-chart and an annual report. That's good for investors, but that's not good for culture."
12. Feeling overlooked? Assert yourself, and make your voice heard.
While there may be an increase in the number of women in the business arena today, there's still a long way to go to correct the skewed gender balances in the workplace. As a result, it's possible that women at work may be overlooked, or worse, steamrolled by their male peers- but the solution here is not to allow this to be the status quo. Rania Rostom, Chief Innovation Officer at GE Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, said that women should never give up on their individuality, and if required, shout to make their voices heard. "Be yourself," Rostom declared. "Authenticity is the key. You cannot progress in your life or career if you compromise who you are." She also advised that women in business should ensure that their values, and that of their organization need to be in-line with one another to facilitate success. Otherwise, you probably need to look elsewhere.