Award-winning entrepreneur Joanne Mwangi started her business 18 years ago and has built one of East Africa’s leading marketing firms. In 2010, Professional Marketing Services (PMS Group) became the first woman-owned business and the only one since to be voted number one in the Top 100 SMEs competition in Kenya.
In 2009 Mwangi was named Woman of the Year by the Organisation of Women in International Trade, beating women entrepreneurs from 75 countries around the globe.
Speaking to How we made it in Africa, the marketing guru shares her advice on how to be a successful entrepreneur.
1. Be 100% committed
When starting a business, Mwangi says an entrepreneur should be 100% committed, have passion and turn a deaf ear to the naysayers.
“There will be enough people telling you that you are better off in employment. The best way to commit without burning out is to have an end date. Tell your family and friends: ‘I am going to put the next two years into growing my business, and if after two years it does not work I will dust off my CV and apply for those jobs.’ You have to be committed to your dream.”
2. Know your industry
Entrepreneurs should only invest in a business they understand well and preferably in which they have a background, or be ready to pay top dollar for skilled professionals.
“Your skill set must support your passion.”
3. Decide on your market
Having a clear plan on what product or service you want to sell, who your target market is and how you will fulfil your customers’ needs is vital in business. Mwangi reckons an entrepreneur’s marketing strategy will change depending on whether they are selling a high volume and low return product, or a low volume but high yield product.
“At PMS, for instance, we only do corporate work. If you tell me to arrange you birthday I won’t, but if a corporate company wants a 30,000 people event I will organise that. It is easy for me because that is what I do. You must decide where you want to play so that you don’t run helter skelter.”
4. Listen to advice
Mwangi says entrepreneurs should not have a know-it-all approach. She adds that listening to advice and criticism, especially from outsiders, can be eye-opening.
“You must accept that you are not perfect because for a lot of entrepreneurs that is our greatest weakness, me being one. Someone else might just tell you something that will completely revolutionise your business. There is nothing as important as an outside perspective. Somebody looking from outward-in will see things you don’t see.”
5. Plan for success
Entrepreneurs should plan for success and outline how they will handle money, business expansion and growth. One should also define what success means to them. When she got into business 18 years ago, Mwangi says her parameters were a loan-free car, a home to live in and a second house for rent. These changed along the way but at each stage, she notes, it is important to define the boundaries.
“I don’t think there is anything more difficult to handle than success. I think success is harder to handle than failure. In failure you wallow, you just cry and life goes on. Success has to be sustained and it is harder to sustain than to get it. So when you get your money, what is your game plan?”
6. Celebrate your success
Mwangi says many entrepreneurs lose out on the opportunity to maintain lasting relationships with family and friends because they are busy trying to build a business. When success comes, no matter how small or big, one should take time to celebrate with those close to them.
“Women especially need to learn to celebrate their success. Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a treat. Host a party, even without telling people why, and celebrate winning that contract. Life is for the living, you have got to have fun.”