Female entrepreneurs must act like the boss to succeed
Manar Al Hinai says confidence is non-negotiable for women business owners if they want to make it
When I started my first successful businesses I was barely 22.
My young age not only made good newspaper headlines, it also meant many in the industry thought I was too inexperienced to work with.
Fast forward a few years and it’s still not easy dealing with such people. To illustrate, a few months ago a potential client approached me with a request to help him plan his new start-up. He wanted to launch an online F&B service concept. We had a fruitful meeting, where I took all the information I needed to work on a proposal for him.
A week later, I sent over the proposal; he called me back within hours, an alarmed tone coating his voice stating that my proposed fee was too high and I didn’t need to quote such a “large number”.
I was confused and asked him to elaborate. His next comment came as a shock. He said as a woman from a good background, who probably has a husband or a family paying for most of my living expenses, I didn’t need to quote such a large amount in exchange for my services, because I really didn’t need the money.
You can imagine what happened next. I refused to work with the client, ending the conversation there and then. While I lost the account, I stood up for my principles - which counts for far more.
This experience was not the first. Many female entrepreneurs I know face similar scenarios, always feeling as though they need to adjust if they are to make it in this world. They feel shy about negotiating, often lowering their fees or doing extra work beyond their agreed terms. One acquaintance even advised not smiling during meetings and adopting a poker face to score deals with other companies; her thinking was that smiling may suggest weakness.
A US survey by accounting firm FreshBook found that 20 per cent of women had to charge less to attract new customers.
This is simply not right. Now, more than ever, women across the world have a huge advantage when it comes to entrepreneurship. They have access to great education, technology and many funds and programmes - some entirely dedicated to women - which are all important factors to help them succeed. Here in the UAE, Mubdia license, issued by Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, allows women to launch home-based businesses - perfect for those with online entities or those that don’t need a physical space.
But what some women lack is confidence and this is non-negotiable if they want to succeed and grow their business. Whether you are closing a deal, securing a funding round, or hiring staff members, you have to show everyone you deal with you will not accept anything less than what you believe you should.
When you head into a meeting, make sure you come across as confident. Energy is contagious and can be felt by others in the room. First impressions count for everything. Fake it until you make it is the best way to succeed.
I used to be so nervous I wouldn’t sleep the night before and I memorised the points I wanted to discuss. But now, after years of being in the field, I can improvise on the spot and don’t need to practice. Know all your information and don’t be shy to ask questions. We’re not expected to know it all; entrepreneurship is a never-ending learning experience. Similarly, if you don’t have the answer to a question, say that you’ll get back to them later.
The success stories you read about, didn’t happen overnight. Most of the time, their “overnight success” tale was the result of long months, if not years, of persistence, dedication and work.
Women entrepreneurs: remember you are the boss of your business, and you must act like the CEO if you expect people to treat you like one. Be clear on what your time is worth. This is how success begins.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications firm in Abu Dhabi
Updated: January 5, 2019 05:32 PM