Running a business can feel lonely and isolating, but as we recently heard from two founders, the journey of growing a business is often marked with common challenges. For those willing to adapt and move forward, these challenges can offer the most valuable lessons and opportunities on the path to success.
Having the right resources
At 21 years old with no resources or capital, Fabienne Costa founded YCL Jewels from her high school desk. Now running a global business, her youth, inexperience and self-described ‘recklessness’ was both Fabienne’s biggest challenge and her greatest blessing.
“If I think back, that feeling of recklessness is such a beautiful and magical part of my journey that I really nurture because it gave me such fearlessness. On reflection though, having no money to get the brand off the ground meant we had no budget to try different things. It took longer to scale, with no way to market and test product; what you release is what your customer gets”. Her advice “if you can test different products with the market, see what resonates and leave what doesn’t, you’re in a much better position starting out”.
Leonie Henzell has successfully built, scaled and sold a business and has now come full circle, embarking on two new business ventures – Soul Baby Gifts and Beauty’s Got Soul. With cash-flow the lifeblood of any business, she stresses the importance of having the right advisors around you to help you make key strategic decisions.
“The first time I would have liked to have found the advisors that I found earlier, and I have those now. Find the right lawyers, find accountants who are entrepreneurial and can help you with things like 3-way forecasting – find really good advisors who you trust and who have your interests at heart”.
Building supplier relationships
For both Fabienne and Leonie, positive relationships with suppliers built on transparency, trust and collaboration have been fundamental to the growth of their businesses.
Spending time with manufacturers, being open minded and understanding has meant over the last seven years Fabienne’s production managers have become like family.
“I’ve learnt that open and honest communication is key. Clearly communicating your deadlines and expectations from the outset, and showing honesty and vulnerability keeps us all on the same level – we’re all human and when you approach it from that perspective it’s easier to build trusting relationships” Fabienne explained.
For Leonie, looking for win-win opportunities has become her preferred process – a process she has honed over many years of working with her suppliers.
“It’s really like they’re your partners, working with you for the best outcome. We try and find ways to help each other. My biggest learning has been to buy better – I never used to ask for the discount, but it’s much easier to save money than it is to make it. By demonstrating the value in partnering with us we are able to create something that is win-win for both”.
Letting go of the day to day
Handing over the control of certain day to day operations is essential because it gives Directors the time and space to work on growing their business. For both Fabienne and Leonie, recognising they can’t be good at all areas of their business and handing over certain facets has been a learning experience.
“I am learning how not to do it all. As your business grows you learn that you can’t be across all things at all times and so it can be really detrimental to a brand when directors don’t hand things over – things can be missed. So I am strategically hiring in different realms, learning how to entrust someone else and seeing the positive result of having them perfect the thing I used to solely manage on my own” Fabienne said.
For Leonie, building up a core team that addresses key pillars of finance, marketing, customer service, operations and distribution is where the magic happens. She reflected “I’m quite the perfectionist, and thought my work was the best type. I’m not like that anymore, I’ve become such a good delegator and teacher of things. I’ve learnt that you get nowhere in business doing things by yourself. I built that core team up in my first business, learning that you can do a lot of turnover with a supportive team. I can’t wait to build that up again this time”.
Resilience is key
For someone who prefers to be in control of everything, the growth of YCL Jewels has taught Fabienne to welcome change, “I’ve learnt to trust myself as a leader even amongst the waves of doubt. I’ve learnt you can’t predict what is coming but for all the times I’ve fallen down I’ve risen stronger. If you’re willing to look at the areas you can improve on and be open minded it will usually provoke something even better”.
For Leonie, resilience, and a willingness to make things work has laid the foundation for each business journey. She explains, “If you’re going to go down the path of starting a business, you’re going to need to love learning, you have to learn a lot by yourself. It’s not all fun times, some days are hard, so you have to be really resilient, determined and devoted to where you want to go. You have to be willing to do what others won’t do, for longer than other people are willing to”.