Advice from a woman entrepreneur
Sylvia Schutte, Managing Director of Stratitude, shared her learnings as a woman entrepreneur in South Africa. A strong and beautiful history to read and get inspired.
Women are making headway in the entrepreneurial landscape, but we still have a long way to go to eliminate the gender gap in terms of entrepreneurial involvement.
Sylvia Schutte is the managing director of Stratitude, a full-service marketing agency in Johannesburg. She started the company in 2009 and today has 18 employees. Stratitude is the exclusive South African member agency of Advertising & Marketing Independent Network (AMIN) Worldwide, an alliance of over 50 independent marketing agencies from around the world.
“The idea for Stratitude came from recognising the frustration that clients feel at having to brief multiple agencies. I saw a gap in the market for an integrated agency that could develop a communications strategy for a client and then offer all the marketing services in-house, from digital and direct marketing, to PR and social media”, says Schutte.
What keeps Schutte motivated and focused
Women face many barriers in business, including a lack of support structures, limited access to funding, and the challenge of juggling personal and work responsibilities.
Here are some learnings that she had along the way:
1. Be optimistic
“A positive outlook makes all the difference. Even when you’re faced with problems and obstacles – optimism enables you to see the opportunity in every situation. When we reach a crossroads with a client or we didn’t win a pitch, I always ask why and then take a good, hard look at what we did, to see how we can improve the next time. As Oprah says, failure is a signpost to turn you in a different direction”.
2.Surround yourself with people you like
“This doesn’t mean surround yourself with people like you! You want people who complement you, not compliment you, so whether it’s those who work for you or it’s your suppliers or clients, the people who share your values are the ones who will hang around and help you make great things happen. Even though we have a broad mix of personalities, skills and capabilities in our agency, we work really well together and have an amazing company culture”.
3.Keep on learning
“Three years ago we became the exclusive South African partner of a global network of independent agencies called AMIN Worldwide, and the insights and ideas we get from them are priceless. The same goes for continuous training and exposure, where my team will learn about new trends and best practice from industry talks and courses. We also invest in learnerships, which always come back to benefit the business. You might not know all the answers but if you ask the questions, you’ll be amazed at what you find out”.
4.Sleep on it
“I’m very guilty of reacting without first thinking things through. By taking some time and literally sleeping on it, the solution usually ends up being in a completely different direction to my initial reaction. While I still often get this wrong, trust me, it does work. I even tell clients to sleep on a creative concept or strategy before giving us their feedback”.
“I always say that anyone can prepare a plate of food, but you can really taste the difference when someone cares about what they are dishing up. We drive care in the agency; care about the work we do, care about the team we work with and care about our clients and their businesses. Every time someone has stopped caring, we notice it immediately, and shortly thereafter there’ll be a resignation letter or a performance talk”.
6.Stay focused on what you believe in
“Stratitude is a full-service agency but I’ve often questioned whether or not we should drop some of our services and rather specialise in one or two disciplines. Then I remind myself that I started the agency because I could see a client’s frustration at working with multiple agencies and often being charged a premium to have the same work done. Our clients see this value, which is why our doors are still open ten years later”.
7.Build relationships based on value
“We cherish our clients as if they are extended members of our team, and they see us as extended members of their team. We never take them for granted and always focus on helping them succeed, be it in our strategies aligning with their business strategies, how we work with them, how we develop campaigns and how we measure them. If we aren’t making an impact on their business, we aren’t adding any value”.
8.Hire smart and then learn to let go
“As an entrepreneur you’re hardwired to do everything yourself but, because you want to be involved in every single operation, the risk is that you start losing sight of the bigger picture. Surround yourself with a team you can rely on and then trust them to make the right decisions. This frees up your time to grow the business beyond what you could have achieved on your own”.
“I try to let everyone be creative and allow everyone to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Some of our greatest work is the result of an individual taking ownership and running with an idea. I am also the voice in the office that always asks “Why are we doing this?” If I make my team think about and understand the bigger purpose behind a social media post, a press release, a new website or a direct marketing campaign, then the how comes naturally”.
Women entrepreneurs in South Africa
“Women entrepreneurs are increasing in South Africa and at Stratitude we offer a unique optimism and focus in the business environment. While women look at the big picture and plan ahead, we also place emphasis on our employees and on growing each individual. At Stratitude we have internal mentorship, training and coaching programmes to ensure that our skills are always up to date and to nurture our passion, as this comes out in the work we produce”, says Schutte.
To help solve South Africa’s unemployment crisis, Schutte wants to see more women-owned and led businesses. She believes women should be creating jobs, rather than looking for jobs, and in this way start to impact the country’s business landscape and economy for the better.
An example of a program in South Africa that supports this cause is called “Take a girl child to work day”, where companies invite young learners to spend a day at the office. “Besides that program, we also offer internships at the agency and we participate in school programmes where learners spend time at the agency to help them with their future career choices”, explains Schutte.
Quotes that inspires Schutte to keep going
“Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from”. – Anon
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou