“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — Madame C. J. Walker
The four-part docuseries Self Made, Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, launched on Netflix last year while many of us were adjusting to the impact of social distancing on our regular routines and lifestyles.
Madam C. J. Walker was the daughter of former slaves who rose to achieve enormous business success catapulting her to the status of the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. During the turn of the century, she was able to build a multimillion-dollar business through the 1907 recession and other personal and business hardships.
The movie left me feeling inspired and encouraged as a business owner. It was a timely portrayal of female entrepreneurship and the best practices and traits of a learned leader. The movie inspired me to stay focused, celebrate the positive change my work has on others and, giving up is not an option.
During these times of uncertainty and crisis. Here are the ten takeaways all entrepreneurs can put into practice today and every day.
1. Have a passion for a product, one that will create positive change in others.
Madam C.J. Walker had an immediate problem that affected her deeply – hair loss. She found a product she believed in and her strong belief that she could help other women to build confidence and use that self-belief to create financial independence. She was making money and she believed she could teach others to do the same. Whatever your product or service, you must believe in it with full-on passion. Your personal story is the validation that it works. Trust yourself, be authentic, and tell your story. Action: Write out your personal story. How does your story add value to, and validate your product or service?
2. Success takes time.
The scene with the chickens was priceless. How many of us have put in long hours, invested the last of our financial resources, and bet all of it on a successful launch, re-launch, or signature event, only to end up crying and depressed about the outcome. Walker understood that success would not come overnight and the challenges that came along the way were simply lessons to be learned. Action: Identify your business role model. How long did it take for them to achieve the level of success you crave? Based on what you find, put together a timeline that can be used as your roadmap?
3. Listen to Your Customers.
Prior to starting her own brand in 1906, Walker was a sales agent for another female millionaire, but the relationship fell sour when Walker wanted to become more than a sales agent. She proved she could be a partner. Fortunately, her proposition was rejected, and she stepped out on her own to create an improved product. Her first market was door to door. Her pitch was to focus on the benefits of the product. Then she took her products to the market. Her next pitch was to identify with the immediate problem of women improve their chance of getting a better job at a new hotel. She later saw the bigger vision to help women to present themselves for success outside of the role of “washerwoman” and similar domestic jobs reserved for black women. Action: What is your biggest challenge at this moment? How can you turn it into an opportunity that opens new doors, creates new platforms, builds new partnerships, and solves an immediate problem?
4. Go where the clients are.
Walker started her business in the mid-west, traveled to other cities selling her products, conducted market research, and opened a store in New York. She traveled to take her brand to the masses. In the age of online sales, businesses have the good fortune of building limitless markets. Creating brand influence increases perceived value and will help dictate your industry position as the value of customer loyalty trends upward. Action: Where are you located? Is it marketplace sufficient for your business to reach your financial goals? What can you do to create a brand that is bigger than its current financial position? Write down those professional and media platforms that will exponentially multiply your brand’s position power. Likewise, write down those markets that will increase your financial position.
5. Take Action on Strategic growth.
Strategic partnerships, as well as strategic relationships, are the key to business success. Walker knew when she needed to build a team, starting with finding a lawyer to formalize her business. He then became her business manager and confidant. While continuing to build her sales force, she identified sales leaders to expand and manage larger markets such as Chicago. When demand reached a peak and she opened a manufacturing plant and sought endorsements and investors. She did have the good fortune of having a spouse with an advertising background. She used the power of images and media to communicate her message and advertise. Action: Assess where your business is now in terms of partnerships, relationships, and market presence in contrast to your needs to break through to the next level of growth. Where did you want to be in the next 3 to 5 years? What five strategic partnerships, five strategic relationships, and five marketing strategies do you need to take this week? Call one of them each day this week. Start with a call, follow up with an email, authenticate with a written note, and repeat with a call. Follow up by giving them something they value.
6. Competition makes you better.
The rival between Walker and her rival reminded me of professional basketball players Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The men were so competitive and wanted to win so badly that they put forth every effort to invest in themselves and be the best they could be. They pushed themselves harder, they set higher goals, they studied their competition relentlessly, looking for the smallest opening to increase their chances of success. Each wanted to do everything they could to win, including pushing those around them to be better. In the end, these men appreciated the other for their skill, talent, and drive. Action: Who are your biggest rivals. What are they doing that is elevating their brand? What partnerships and relationships do they have? How can you create similar connections and opportunities?
7. Fail forward and be creative
Walker saw an opportunity in every challenge. She earned her knowledge and business experiences from the first day she went from domestic to saleswoman. At each challenge, she met it with creative approaches while never losing sight of her end-goal. When she was refused partnership, she created her own brand. When she almost lost everything in a chemical fire, she chose to reset and expand. When she was refused a major endorsement, she found an even better solution to finding investors. She continuously failed forward and created opportunities out of challenges. She continuously looked for ways to set herself apart. Action: The following is a list of questions I emailed to my weekly business lab of more than 70 members following our online call.
How is everyone feeling? What are you anxious about? Current business support information and resources? What business challenges do you anticipate? How do you plan to solve these challenges? What solutions have you come up with?
8. Have a grand vision.
Walker saw herself as an equal to the wealthiest tycoons of the time: Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford. This vision fueled her drive and shaped her growth strategy. She traveled the country exploring new markets and opportunities. This vision empowered Walker. She eventually led over 40,000 employees across the U.S. and Caribbean. The wealth of American enterprise was something that could be built and shared. Action: Become familiar with the story of the three leaders in your industry? How do they make decisions? Choose the sales model that fits your financial strategy? Explore what product and revenue diversification opportunities are available to you now or in the near future?
9. Women must invest in Women.
Walker was a champion of black women’s “economic independence.” She saw it as the only path to financial independence and a form of economic equality. The most impressionable part of the movie was the initial investment made by her devoted male attorney. This gesture was soon followed by a group of women who stepped in to save her company and her home with their pooled investment. This came after her unsuccessful pitch to the black male business owners in the community. Action: Who are the male and female business leaders in your community? What do they care about? Research what investment or venture capital companies are available to you? What are the criteria? What relationship strategy will you deploy to get in front of them regardless of the application process and outcome?
10. Confidence is Key
In my practice as an Entrepreneurial Leadership Coach & Trainer, I focus on confidence development because I know and research shows that confidence improves productivity, performance and boosts a business’ bottom line is as much as 22%. Walker knew the confidence formula: optimism + efficacy. She believed in herself and trusted herself and the people around her to bring forth the outcomes she wanted. She did her research and what she didn’t know she learned through practice. She made decisions to put her vision in motion and whatever the outcome, she refined the approach until it worked in the way she intended. The other factor in her success was charisma, a clear leadership trait that so many women miss. These are two problems I see most often — lack of, or low confidence and the absence of charisma. Walker exhibited charismatic leadership in her fluid and optimistic approach towards influencing others. She openly showed respect, understanding, and the ability to listen to her rivals and her friends. She exuded all the characteristics associated with leadership confidence: courage, authenticity, decisiveness, and poise. Action: Take a sincere look at what you fear. List these fears in four areas: career, personal, relational, personal space (environmental). List one action you will take to alleviate these fears, repeat incorporating new lessons learned.
Confidence is about developing the skills needed to give you access to what you want. I help female entrepreneurs to lead and succeed, with confidence development as the central driver of change.
Brooks Dunbar, Entrepreneurial Leadership Coach
I create female entrepreneurial leaders and top business performers.
Author, DIVA DECISIONS: How to Get from Smart to Intelligent by Claiming Your Power of Choice
Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @TheTrueDrV
Facebook: @cenconcowork @TheCenterForConfidence
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