The Accidental Femmepreneur

The Reluctant Corporate Creature
May 12, 2020

Welcome to my first blog!

In the next few blogs, I want to share my business experiences, fortunes, and misfortunes with you as an entrepreneur and business manager in the corporate world. My first blog will feature my years as a solopreneur and the lessons I have learned along the way.

You might ask: Why do you call yourself a femmepreneur? Because fempreneurs are women who have taken to entrepreneurship and noticed that they entrepreneur slightly differently from men. The experiences I had as an entrepreneur were some of the most exciting, rewarding, unique, and challenging circumstances I could find myself in most of the time.

Choices in 1980

I became a young mum in 1987 when I quickly realized I would need to find a means of earning a second income for our family whilst caring for my infant son simultaneously. I, like most mothers across the world, faced the conundrum of career versus family – a dilemma that persists to this moment in my life. After I fell pregnant with our first son, we decided that I would be a stay-at-home mum to look after our children. This approach was typical of the time during the 1980’s, and was deemed as the choice a “good mother” would make amongst our family circle and group of friends. I too realized it would be good for my children if I was around especially during those formative year, but I always felt that I wanted more in terms of developing myself. Furthermore, I felt it necessary that I too had a voice in society, especially in within the business arena.

In conjunction to my full time role of a stay-at-home mum (now known as a home executive), I managed to land a job as a Tupperware salesperson. In some ways this was the perfect job in light of continuing to be responsible for our children whilst my husband was at work. To my delight, I immediately showed a knack for sales. Weirdly enough and despite the success, I constantly told myself that I was not a salesperson for various reasons. Part of me felt that it was glamorous, serious, or reputable enough as other and perhaps, more formal careers.

Notwithstanding my own misconceptions, the biggest contributors to my success were my creative demonstrations and exhibitions, a great product, the network I’ve built, and good customer service. In retrospect, it is clear that creativity and passion has and will always be significant in each of my successes.

From sales to catering

As fortune would have it, my next endeavour was close to home and presented itself at my husband’s firm. It involved providing a catering service at their monthly board meeting lunches and events. Initially, it was more of an informal service, taken on turns by the wives of the directors. However overtime, only 3 of us remained interested which thus gave rise to us developing and starting a small catering business called Three’s Company. (Remember the TV show?)

Our discreet business thrived and signed many a contract. Our first big event for example was that of a large South African company touring the country with a famous art collection (worth R25m in 1993) on exhibition. It was just our fortune that they had shown interest in utilizing our services whilst visiting our hometown.

We met with the PR officer of the company at the venue and discussed all details. The event required catering for 300 people, including canapés, the best champagnes and wines. Of course, we promised to deliver on everything and more! Although, several lessons had to be learned during the event such as a venue without a kitchen is a logistical nightmare, student (not professional as required) waiters will make bottles of booze disappear, and cleaning up afterwards might even be harder than putting the whole event together.

The desire to create couldn’t be ignored any longer……

As we signed more contracts, the need for flower arrangements appeared. Being a creative I always knew I wanted to have my own florist. My first advert was in the small ads of a local newspaper. I had to physically drive to the newspaper’s offices to submit a handwritten advert and to pay an astonishing R20 for it.

It would run for 3 days: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’ll admit that I experienced a fair degree of anxiety whilst selecting the wording for the advertisement, not to mention this weekly expense that I’ve now incurred which might amount little to nothing as nobody might have known about my small start-up. I got one lead from the ad: a wedding.

I consulted with the bride-to-be and obviously promised to deliver on everything she wanted, but inside I doubted myself to be able to deliver. Fortunately, it turned out great, and I was in business as both a caterer and a florist. Both these businesses were run from our homes. Another significant life theme continued for me: to be flexible and available as a mum while making a financial contribution to the household.

Then tragedy strikes

In 1995 my husband was killed in a motor vehicle accident at the age early of 34. My children at the time were only seven, five and two year old. I found myself a widow at the age of 33, uncertain as to how I would preserve and overcome. That night I made a pact with God that If He would help me survive this ordeal, I would promise to do everything in my ability to provide for myself and children. I promised to give it my all.

The creative student

As survival mode kicked in I was hired as a public relations officer at a local law firm for a half-day position. They allowed me to do a course in public relations wherein I had the self-realisation that I was indeed a student for life. My eagerness and huger to absorb information and acquire new skills also assisted me through the stages of bereavement.

After a year, I was back at the big question: what kind of job will accommodate my small children best? I decided to take a 2 months sabbatical, and the opportunity emerged to go back into business as a florist. I would continue to operate the business from my home to be available to my kids. This time I was fortunate enough to start by word-of-mouth from friends and family, without spending any money on marketing or advertising. My new business was called Lots of Pots. I juggled all these duties with the assistance of my domestic worker whilst being a single mother of three.

This business blessed me a loyal customers that retained my services for corporate events, weddings, funerals and delivered personal orders in-between. The next opportunity emerged when the neighbouring property next to mine became available on the market. This led me to purchasing and converting it into a guesthouse. After a few years, a friend approached me to buy a lady’s boutique, and we started importing clothes for our business. With travelling as the next theme to emerge in my life, I had to get an au pair to look after my kids while travelling abroad.

Choices always have consequences

After 12 years of being a single mum and running 3 businesses, the inevitable happened: I fell into total burnout and depression. The entrepreneurs’ worst enemy was at my gate! I remembered my pact with God to work myself to death and was forced to take stock on my work-life balance and why I was suffering.

My therapist was a lifesaver during that time, and we decided that I had to consider a career change at that stage. My kids were older now, and I started exploring potential corporate positions that fit me.

I decided to put my business on the market to continue on a new journey.

Things I learned about myself

  • My creative mind is the most important part of my personality and skillset and needs to be stimulated and challenged in my daily tasks.
  • I enjoy overseeing a variety of business aspects every day.
  • I will be a student of life and business forever; a female entrepreneur 

Lessons I have learned as a Femmepreneur

  • As mothers and women, the career sacrifices we make for our families, will be rewarded much later in life. We as working women can have it all, just not at the anticipated time. Be patient about it.
  • To start a business you need tenacity, the support of friends and family, some cash, and some luck.
  • If your business name is not out there in the market, your business doesn’t exist.
  • Know what you are good at. Know what you are bad at. Be honest about it and ask for help.
  • Life-work-balance of the business owner is key for the business to survive.

Next week I will tell you more about my corporate career and the business lessons learned in that space. And much later on, we will dive into many current business topics to investigate new trends and old favourites that are still relevant in the exciting world of business today!

Please tell us more about your journey as an entrepreneur and the challenges you faced in the comments below.

In the meantime: let’s keep talking business!

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