A client of mine told me that he has great difficulty networking. As a black entrepreneur, he feels that he would be abusing the relationship to discuss business with friends and family at a social gathering. In some other cultures, it is not just acceptable but encouraged. And his ego gets in the way: people may think him weak, may think he is asking for help.
As an independent, pioneering spirit, he has all the characteristics of a modern entrepreneur. He is intelligent, educated, hard working and has a vision for his business. But, because under Apartheid, Africans weren’t going to go into business, he lacks the ‘cultural capital’ that comes with having a parent or relative who owned and ran their own business. So now it’s a foreign concept for him to discuss business with family.
My personal weaknesses
It made me think of all my own weaknesses. As a mentor, I am embarrassed to say that I feel ashamed to need a mentor myself. Why? If I believe that my clients would benefit from having a mentor, why shouldn’t the same be true for me?
I am shy and find it difficult to talk to strangers at network events like The Hookup Dinner or Startup Grind. It takes enormous effort for me to ask group of people if I can join in. That’s when I remember that being shy is not all that uncommon; Harvard Business Review even ran an article entitled: Marketing for the Extremely Shy a few years back.
Because I train SME owners, I’m sometimes embarrassed that I don’t know everything about the business world. A while ago, I had to look up what “value proposition” means only to find that I knew all along, I just didn’t know that it was called that.
I also fake-it-‘till-I-make-it. I don’t pretend that I know stuff, but I do surround myself with people who know more than I do and I learn from them. Then I discovered that successful entrepreneur Richard Branson does the same. It works for him.
first published in SME South Africa
Sometimes I get very disheartened and am tempted to give up. I pray. I lie awake at night worrying about the business. Then I meet other entrepreneurs who are honest enough to tell me that they have self-doubt and need encouragement. It reminds me that this is the life of an entrepreneur and I take heart from their honesty. That inspires me to encourage them to keep pursuing their dream.
Do as I say and not as I do
I am keenly aware that I should work ON the business, not IN it. I have even written an article for SME South Africa on the topic. But, like so many entrepreneurs, I often believe that I have to do the job myself. Contracting out functions that are not your core competence, like bookkeeping, is actually more cost effective. It frees you up to do the things that you do best. Frequently, I remind my clients that a challenge is really just an opportunity in disguise. I have to remember to apply that advice to myself. How do you turn your personal weaknesses into opportunities for your business growth?
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