Melanie's Entrepreneurs Blog
The Funniest Skit
I have written some very serious blogs about the importance of charging what you are worth for your products and services.
This band has summed it up in a nutshell...
The bigger dream...
When they said "You will NEVER make a living from tie dye!"
I started and ran a successful clothing stand at the markets for some years. I made good money there, and somehow, for me, the dream needed to be bigger.
When they said "Tie dye is only for hippies!"
I took it to the catwalks and managed to get my fabrics into six collections at SA Fashion Week in 2005. Some of those fabrics went on to New York Fashion Week.
When they said "You cannot afford to do charity work until your business is making a lot more money."
I found ways to get my ideas into NGO's around the world by spreading viral concepts of volunteerism and sharing. Instead of giving them money, I taught them to fish for themselves.
When they said "Your company is not ready to trade in global markets."
I taught myself more about the internet so I could harness its incredible power to reach people all around the world with my information.
When they said "You can only add value financially to the economy if you can build a big company that employs many people."
I found a way to teach thousands of people how to create their own cottage industries so that they can grow the GLOBAL economy as a collective creative force.
Don't let the limiting thinking of the naysayers limit your thinking.
Have the courage to dream a bigger dream. Always dream. Dream all ways.
When you feel frustrated in a place in your business, ask yourself "How could I do this differently? How can I expand with the resources I have now?" Trust that those resources will be what you need to get you to your next step, no matter how hopeless a part of you might feel.
Even if your Big Dream seems remote, small daily efforts (and large) will eventually get you there. All you need is persistence to work with what you have every day, to squeeze maximum value from those resources, and you will get further than you think.
I find it interesting that the naysayers will often point you in the direction that you need to go.
Inspiration is a Superpower
"Inspirational quotes are lame!"
When I read this this morning I felt my blood pressure rise. I trade in Inspiration and it was like hearing that I have no value in the world. And I know that I should not take it personally. Different folks and different strokes.
It did get me thinking. If I am feeling this emotional about the topic, perhaps it is worth writing about?
Why IS Inspiration so important to me? Why do I believe it is so important to the rest of the world?
I had no idea that I was trading in Inspiration when I started my business. I believed I was trading in colour and cloth. Yet over the years I have received THOUSANDS of letters of gratitude from people who have said to me "Thank you Melanie! You have INSPIRED me to..."
Inspiration is the ignition fuel that moves ideas from dusty boxes in inner closets, out into the world. Without it, less would get done. Creatives are often crushed by their inner fears and the voices of their naysayers, working hand in hand to undermine courage.
Inspiration can cut through all that noise to "Let me TRY!"
So while some believe that inspirational quotes are lame, I will continue to encourage others in my own way, knowing that the ripples of what I do will be felt throughout time.
It is the Superpower that I was given and I plan to use it to benefit the world in the biggest, most audacious way that I can manage.
You can NEVER be retrenched...
Being self-employed is tough. I have been self-employed for most of my adult life and it is not for sissies. Month end is tough. Most months.
Yet I would not trade the autonomy for anything!
And every time one of my friends gets retrenched, I am relieved that I can never suffer their fate.
I ALWAYS have something to do next. There is always a big project to look forward to, a new product to launch or in down times, a re-invention of the business model. "What next?" is usually clear and I am usually moving towards something that I am looking forward to.
Experiencing retrenchment or loss of work is awful. I experienced it once when I worked for a printing company for a short time. I was just getting into my flow in the job when the chain liquidated and they informed the staff on 30 November that we should not return to work the following day. I went right back to being self-employed after that.
Everything comes to a halt. Your self-worth takes a hit, no matter how much you rationalize. The feelings you are left with are dismal, even hopeless. It can take a long time to bounce back emotionally. Many people never do. I have met many people who suffered a blow like this at a bad time and then found themselves unable to process what had happened to them.
I guess that life is tough on both sides of the fence, and I am happy with the choice I have made to be self-employed.
To all of my friends who work for bosses and suffer occasional retrenchment, you are very brave and I admire your ability to bounce back and try again.
Posture is EVERYTHING
I dream of seeing the UN-Employed stepping into being SELF-Employed...
Today somebody asked me again "What inspires YOU Melanie?"
In 1993 I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that the job in the casino as a croupier that I had fallen into at 19, was not going to bring me happiness for the rest of my life.
UN-Employed was not a psychological fit for me. Rather than sit and wait for another awful job to happen to me because I still did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I decided to start something that was mine to drive in any direction that I saw fit.
This fool rushed in.
I knew NOTHING about business. I knew NOTHING about textiles, fashion or even the dye that I had just begun working with.
All I knew was that it felt good to be able to choose for myself what to do next.
The posture that we stand in when we say to somebody who asks "What do you do for a living?" is confident and powerful when we can say "I am self-employed." When we have to answer "I am un-employed." the posture is one of defeat and hopelessness.
When I was a child, I often heard "Posture is important in life." I just thought it meant that I should stand up straight. The older I get the more I understand that posture IS EVERYTHING.
The posture that I stand in now will tell you a lot about me and how I feel. It will inform how I act. It will inform my internal narrative.
An UN-Employed person is pushed into a posture of guilt by the expectations of society. When I am UN-Employed I get smaller and smaller every day. The longer I am SELF-Employed the more confident I am that I can survive whatever comes at me.
Living in Africa I often think about life on the African plains for the animals that lived here long before we arrived. Every single day they make the trek to the watering hole to face their enemies and drink what they need to survive.
Nobody is standing with a bucket of water to assist. Everybody has to face their enemies at the water's edge, whether they liked it or not. If an animal cannot get up and walk itself to the watering hole, it dies. If it gets mired down in the mud and cannot free itself, it dies.
We are all just animals at the watering hole.
The notion that there should be a business grant to support every start-up is unrealistic. The notion that it should be easy and without risk is naive. The idea that we have time to cry out about how bad it is and that that will bring assistance from some outside source is futile.
The answer to UN-Employment in this country is not about "job creation". The answer lies in teaching people to find it in themselves to search for their own personal solutions.
Looking to others for help will leave you trapped in the mud, drowning in feelings of guilt. Rather use that energy to get up in the morning and show up.
I mentioned that when I started my own business for the first time in 1993, I had no clue what I was doing. I learned what I needed to along the journey. It is possible to learn anything that you need to know along the way with some good reading. SO many resources exist and many of them are free.
It is not knowledge or money that makes an Entrepreneur.
It is the courage to TRY.
"No one told me when to run...
I missed the starting gun!"
Many of you comment about how busy I can be and I thought it might be worth explaining a little further...
When was approaching 30, I found myself in a dead-end, abusive relationship without financial resources. All I could hear were the lyrics of this Pink Floyd song replay in my head again and again...
"No one told me when to run. I missed the starting gun."
I still did not know what I wanted to become when I grew up? I still did not feel grown up? I looked back on a series of choices and I regretted many of them.
So I started running and I made myself the promise I would never stop.
Enough with regret. I had heard my own inner starting gun.
I know that if I apply my energy in some positive way every day, when I look back one day, there will be fewer regrets. My time will be filled with beautiful things and meaningful experiences that could never have happened if I did not go out there and throw myself at it with heart every day.
My busy-ness is me engineering the life that I WANT not the one I landed in.
In the fifteen years since then, I have had my fabrics in six collections at SA Fashion Week and I have made fabrics that have gone all the way to New York Fashion Week. I have published two books in four countries with Metz Press (South Africa, Canada, USA and Russia). I have built a successful online mail order business selling craft products. I have traveled 250 000km around Southern Africa to teach thousands of people in South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho.
None of these things were what I had planned for my life when I was 29.
ALL of them are far more exciting than anything I could have imagined for myself at the start of the process. ALL of them are the result of daily positive effort. All of them are an iteration of some small dream of mine that I kept blowing up a level just because there was another level to take it to. (And often because somebody had told me "You will never...!")
If YOU have a dream, no matter how "far fetched" it might seem to those around you, I encourage you to pursue it. Throw yourself at it with everything you've got.
It will be the toughest journey of your life. It will grow you a thick skin, a spine and resilience.
And it will be the most exciting adventure that you can take yourself on. You will learn that you are smarter than you think and tougher than you imagine. You will learn who you REALLY are, what you REALLY want, and how to plot a route to get there.
How To Start A Business On A Shoestring Budget
It almost does not matter how much money you start your business with...
...It is unlikely to be "enough".
...You are likely to spend it in all the wrong places at the start.
...When it runs out you will have to come up with another plan.
...You will have to keep on coming up with plans the longer you are in business if you do not succeed in turning a true profit.
I was unaware of any of this when I started my first business. I was 23. It was a case of "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." I salute all of the fools out there who start businesses this way.
There is seldom a good time to start a business and if it is, circumstances will likely change.
Yet people start and run businesses in spite of challenges all the time.
This fool is still Self-Employed more than twenty years later and I would not trade any of the hardships for a day of being Un-Employed. I have not been Un-Employed for more than two decades.
Are YOU the kind of human who would prefer to take your chances at self-reliance over the whims of working for others?
Are YOU an Entrepreneur?
Answering Your Specific Questions
Recently I have experienced a deluge of e-mails and messages on WhatsApp from people wanting me to answer their specific business questions. Some are Big Important Questions, relating to their specific business strategy, others are simple questions that I have already answered in one of my eBooks.
I am unable to answer every question in person AND run a sustainable business. It would be inauthentic of me to teach my students how important it is to value their time and charge for it, while I am giving mine away for nothing.
"Do as I say, not as I do!" is not a very good place for a teacher to teach from.
We have set up systems to support ALL of your questions. If it is something simple, Bonnie at my office will point you in the right direction of the eBook that you need to answer your specific question.
If it is an important strategic business question, I do Mentorship sessions over Skype at a rate of $165/hour, payable in full in advance to book the time. I find that it helps my students to hone into what is REALLY important if they only have an hour to pick my brains and that hour comes at a premium price.
Click through to the Contact page to book your Skype session with me.
Starting Is Easy. Continuing In Tough Times Is Hard.
Starting a new business is easy. In my particular case it was "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." I think this is the case with many start-ups, and the reason so many of them fail.
And I honor the Fools. Because they have the courage to start things at all.
The fact that 96% of start-ups fail shows that it is not hard to start a business. Many try. What is hard is staying in the game, day after day... year after challenging year...
Companies do not close down when they run into tight cashflow challenges. The world is full of stories of Entrepreneurs who perform miracles from seemingly hopeless situations. Companies close down when the Entrepreneur gives up and stops looking for solutions to those daily challenges.
The 96% failure rate is not a story of financial failure, it is a story of a loss of courage and heart. It is the story of Fear overcoming the belief that you can succeed.
I know very few Entrepreneurs who can say that they do not have cashflow challenges. Whether they have large businesses or small, the story is always the same. Some just shuffle more noughts around.
The reason I think is that Entrepreneurs are dreamers who like to think big. We get where we do because we keep shifting the goalposts forward to a bigger and more audacious goal, and goals like these eat resources. We create our own cashflow hell in an ironic way, when we hope to reach these goals prematurely when markets are not yet ready for our innovative ideas.
There are a couple of things that I focus on when I am having a tough day.
First, I clear my mind of the clutter and noise. No amount of worry will change the outcome and worry dissipates the energy that can be used differently and more beneficially somewhere else.
Secondly, I go fishing. There is nothing so empowering as making a sale to lift my spirits when I am worried about money. I go out there and talk to people about my products. When the sales come in, my worry lifts.
And some days it is still not enough. I feel like I am on a ledge and I want to jump off.
On these days I find a Mentor who is up to the task. I am blessed to have a handful of them who I can call on any day and just blurt out what is getting too much for me. They are all experienced Entrepreneurs who know the signs and go "There there...It does feel really shit sometimes. I am not surprised you feel shit today. Tomorrow you will likely feel better? Don't give up. I KNOW you can do it."
If you do not have a Mentor like this, I have found a video that works really well for me too...
And for more wise words from my favorite storyteller...
Asking For Help
This is something that many Entrepreneurs struggle with. And it is how so many of us fail. I worked for a long time in a vacuum because I was too embarrassed to admit that I really had no clue what I was doing.
I was raised by parents who assumed that some trustworthy and financially competent man would sweep me off my feet and take care of me. I assumed the same thing.
I started making stuff and selling it to fill the time until that happened. Years down the line I realized that that might be as good as it gets and I had better figure out better ways of running my business.
I always managed to keep it afloat somehow. Often I would pay the personal price by working inhumane hours and in the process, alienating the very loved ones who supported me through the hardest times.
Entrepreneurs so often think that working longer hours is their solution. I certainly did.
Until I learned that it is possible to fill any amount of time with any amount of "busy-ness" without it having much actual effect in the world.
Do YOU fall into that trap?
Asking for help and why we do not ask, is a complex topic much better explained by one of my personal icons, Amanda Palmer...
This morning somebody in my network shared a fantastic video with me about Pricing Your Products by a leading global art expert. I enjoyed the video very much and she had many useful tips for growing your art career. Click through to the link below to watch it for yourself...
Her video left me thinking..."There is SO MUCH more to it!"
The conversation is too linear in my mind. The question we are typically asking is "How much do I sell this for?"
At the end of the month when we struggle to make ends meet, the ACTUAL question is "How many of these have I sold and at what profit margin to pay my rent, food, overheads and costs, school fees, medical aid, pension, insurances, holidays and savings?"
The linear question simply does not address the complex, organic realities of month end.
Until we wrap our cost of living into the sum, the numbers are practically meaningless. If we cannot cover our personal cost of living from selling our art, no matter what the price we charge, we have real challenges. Artists who work for less than they need to survive financially, spend their lives on the outside looking in at the financially active community. After a lifetime of that, they are bound to be embittered about their art when they are eating cat food from a tin in their old age?
One school of thought will say "They were irresponsible and should have got a real job like the rest of us." Others will say "Artists work for LOVE not money!"
And the Struggling Artist struggles on...
We must sweep aside perceptions and social pressure and act selfishly in our own best interests to educate and stand on our value. Artists are smart. We have every right to the same financial freedoms as everybody else. If you are a freelancer, the only person who can take that freedom is YOU. You cannot afford to wait for permission to sort your shit out if you do not want the coming month end to hit you like a train smash.
And it is complex...
Until we wrap the market into the sum the numbers are also meaningless. If we cannot find enough people out there to buy at our price, we have real challenges.
By asking..."How many of these do I have to sell and at what price to pay my rent, food, overheads and costs, school fees, medical aid, pension, insurances and savings?"
...we have a more realistic view of what we are facing.
...it informs timelines.
...it informs sales strategies.
...it helps you to decide what is worth pursuing and what work you should abandon completely.
My Costing & Pricing online course connects these numbers for you in a meaningful way. It is written in plain English and the concepts are simple to master, even if you are not good at numbers.
The course powerfully shifts your awareness about the numbers so that you begin to have the confidence to charge what you need to to survive and the wisdom to ignore the constant peer pressure for cheaper pricing.
When you invest in the course you are investing in your own financial future. As soon as you implement what you have learned you will begin to make more money.
If you sign up for only one course this year, it should be this one.
Click through to the link below to read more about it and sign up...
Small Business Friday
The NSBC has declared 2 September "South Africa's biggest small business day of the year." Click through to the link to find out more about it...
Attend networking events and participate with other other Entrepreneurs. It is the best way to learn about business and build the networks of people that you will need on your entrepreneurial journey.
If you have goals, and like me, keep shifting them. You will need bigger and bigger networks to support your dreams. Start building them now and add to them every day if you want to survive in business.
LinkedIn works well for certain industries and you should make sure that you have a presence there. If you are not yet on LinkedIn, set up your profile there today. It is an online flyer that your industry peers and customers can visit at any time. Click through to the link below to check out my LinkedIn profile...
Mentors And Incubators
When I first began my Entrepreneurial journey I worked in isolation, seldom sharing my challenges with anybody and struggling on in stoic silence. This is what I had seen my Father do when I was a child. Soldier on.
It was only much later in my career that I stumbled on a Business Incubator and realized how little I actually knew about business.
Many Entrepreneurs are just people with good ideas who try to sell them. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread..." First I was brave. Later I became stoic. Eventually I turned to others with more knowledge than me and asked for help.
Five years at a Business Incubator gave me radical new tools to try on my business. My rate of personal development escalated exponentially and I learned to understand business in a whole new way. I finally understood just how little I knew, and that I needed to learn more if I was going to survive financially and thrive.
Today I have many Mentors who I speak to for advice.
While it is good to have positive Mentors who support your plans and encourage you optimistically, it also helps to have those Mentors who shoot holes in your plans so that you watch them screaming to the ground in flames. They will teach you what to expect from your customer's worst objections. While their words can take the wind out of your sails, their realistic voice is vital as a counterpoint to the pom pom girls.
Listen to those who believe in you and those who do not. There is a broad range of things that you can learn from all of them. You will come to understand your strengths and your weaknesses. Do not take the feedback personally.
A Mentor can be anybody. Somebody in your industry, somebody in another unrelated industry with similar challenges, a customer, a supplier...
My Mentors include some very competent Coaches, including Colleen Jack...
There are a number of Business Incubators in South Africa that offer assistance to Entrepreneurs...
For an incubator that specifically supports black Entrepreneurs...
And Business Partners have been around for a long time...
Why Costing & Pricing Is Key
I speak to so many start-ups who complain that cashflow is a challenge. Many of them sell great products to happy customers, yet at month end they still struggle to make ends meet. They work harder and harder to find more customers. They work longer hours. They improve their quality. Yet somehow... at month end the money is not enough to cover everything and they live in a constant state of stress.
Somewhere there is a disconnect, and I believe that the challenge lies in the fact that start-ups do not properly understand how to cost and price their products.
Do any of these apply to you?
You truthfully have no idea how to work out what you should be charging for your products? Numbers are not your thing.
You use a formula that you got somewhere.
Your customers tell you what you should be charging.
Money comes in and money goes out, yet at month end you often fall short of what you need to cover your rent and overheads.
You have a fairly good idea about your pricing, and you would like to check it against our methods anyway.
You struggle to collect money from customers once you have delivered the job with an invoice. Sometimes you wait a long time to get your money from them, and you have to badger them to get it.
You hate asking for money and wish that people would just do the honorable thing and pay you when you have delivered a fair goods exchange.
You feel that you do not know enough about business or money and you would like to learn a simple system for working it out.
If any of these sound like you, then we have material that can help you. Look to how you cost and price your products for your solutions.
Many people who make great handmade products do not have a background in business and money. They start great companies making and selling great products, and they have to learn about the rest as they go.
Join our online community and start to change you financial sustainability. As soon as you implement what you learn, you will start to make more money. We will teach you in plain English that you can understand.
What do dung beetles have to do with business?
I have been self-employed for most of my adult life. Every morning when I sit down at my desk to start my tasks for the day, I cannot help but see this little creature in my mind’s eye.
He is pushing a fairly small ball of soft dung up a steep hill. As he goes, it gathers a crust on the outside and it becomes larger and larger, making his task more difficult as he progresses. He strains and toils until finally, he gets to the top of the hill.
At this point, gravity takes over, and the ball rolls down the hill with no effort.
I keep telling myself that if I just hang in there and put in the daily effort, that one day I will reach the top of the rise and my momentum will carry me the rest of the way.
I worked in keen anticipation of that day until a friend pointed something out to me. He suggested I carry the analogy still further. Watch the humble dung beetle for a little longer. When the ball reaches the tipping point, different things can happen.
If the ball tips over the rise and he can hang on, he rolls with it all the way to his destination. But how often does that happen in real life? What if he cannot hang on and spins off in the opposite direction from his ball, becomes separated from it and has to start over? What happens if another beetle comes along and takes it away? What if it rolls right into a river at the bottom of the slope? All of these things can happen.
I must thank him for his sense of realism.
If you are an entrepreneur struggling with the challenges of your small business, look to this little microcosm and learn from the dung beetle. Every entrepreneur has his own ball, and anything can happen.
Written in 2009 by