Female entrepreneurs are making waves in various industries, from tech to fashion to food, but when it comes to targeting big businesses as clients, they often face challenges. The promotional products industry is no exception, and is one that Connie Matlejoane, a female entrepreneur from Klipfontein View in Midrand, Johannesburg, is working hard to overcome and share learnings for others.
Connie started her business, CRM Enterprise, with just a desk, laptop and cellphone in the corner of her bedroom, and has since grown into a successful operation with six permanent employees. Connie says, “The industry is high-volume, low-margin, and driven by bulk orders, which means that corporate clients who procure promotional products in bulk are essential to building a profitable business.”
According to Connie, female entrepreneurs can get a seat at the table by being persistent, building a track record, delivering excellent customer service, understanding corporate culture and decision-making processes, and having negotiation skills. Connie elaborates on these points and shares her top three tips for other female entrepreneurs.
Build a track record
One of the biggest challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in the promotional products industry, and small and medium-sized businesses in general, is gaining the trust of procurement and marketing professionals who prefer to deal with suppliers they know and have a track record with, rather than risk a mistake with a new entrant or a small business. Connie advises that by accepting even the smallest orders, keeping an active online presence, responding to requests for quotations quickly, and sticking to clients’ deadlines once the order is secured, female entrepreneurs can prove themselves and build a track record.
Create solid relationships
To secure corporate clients, female entrepreneurs must also differentiate themselves from their competitors by delivering excellent customer service and being willing to challenge themselves, even when it seems impossible. Building solid relationships with suppliers and having the skills to negotiate effectively can also give female entrepreneurs an edge.
Understand culture and decision-making processes
Understanding the corporate culture and decision-making processes of potential clients is another essential aspect of winning business from big businesses. By studying clients’ “About Us” and corporate governance sections of their websites, and meeting face to face with clients, female entrepreneurs can tailor their proposals and suggestions to what is important to the client, and make the most cost-effective recommendations.
Connie concludes by saying, “Being a female entrepreneur can also be an advantage as more businesses are actively empowering women and supporting women-owned businesses in their supplier development plans. The future for female entrepreneurs in our country is bright, as long as they are willing to put in the hard work and dedication required to succeed.”