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Updated 29 Feb 2020

5 Things I wish I’d known sooner as a female entrepreneur

Find out what makes Tasneem Abed, an entrepreneur in Cape Town, consistently the highest performing ‘agent’ in her field. 

Candace van Zyl, 18 August 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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“Growing up I never thought I’d be in business,” says Tasneem, “let alone be an entrepreneur. I started working straight after school because my parents said I must get a job. They were in printing, and so, like a good daughter, I followed suit.”

What followed was years of exposure to all aspects of the printing industry - from estimating to account manager to paper. She then joined QuickEasy, a business software company that has provided business software to the print industry for over 18 years. She flourished in sales and customer relations and enjoyed seeing how the software brought value and made a difference to her clients’ businesses. Then, just over two years ago, Tasneem ventured out on her own, launching herself as an independent Business Agent for QuickEasy BOS. Since then, she has continually proved to be the highest grossing agent across the country.

Related: 21 Richest self-made women in the world

Here are her secrets:

1. Ask, learn, try

When Tasneem started on her own, she knew sales and she knew the industry, but she had no experience in the more technical aspect of software installation.

“I have never seen myself as technically inclined,” admits Tasneem with a smile. “However, my job requires that I sell, install and support QuickEasy Business Operating Systems - a highly technical business software that covers every aspect of business. Installing BOS involves massive customisation that takes place over a span of days, in order for the app to fit seamlessly into the business. When I started out, I was terrified of trying to do some of the more complicated installs myself, and kept referring them to the other more ‘technical’ agents. But, Heinrich van der Vyver - the founder and developer of QuickEasy BOS - was quick to push me into the deep end. He said, ‘Tasi, you work for a software company - you need to figure it out.’ - so I did.”

“I wanted to prove myself to myself, so I put my head down and worked harder than I’d ever done before, to accomplish what I’d never thought possible. I took my time, I read, I asked questions, I tried, I failed, I tried again. I was thrown in the deep end, learnt to swim, and now I love it.”

2. Face-to-face first, email last

Cold calling is not dead. “When it comes to sales, and to customer relations, face-to-face in this digital age is still more powerful than sending a dry, cold email. When I started out alone I made phone calls, literally 50 calls a day. I’d land a demo, and get myself in front of the business owner. Once they could see who I am, and see how effective the software is, I knew that the door would be open for me to take this further. I know that most people prefer doing business via email - it feels safer and more sterile - but when it comes to sales, or to keeping healthy customer relations, rather set up that meeting, buy the coffee and spend some time there,” Tasneem explains

“I hadn’t realised that I had so much to offer my clients.”

“I found that, with BOS, I don’t just provide business software; I’m actually in the relationship business. Trust, time, integrity, conflict resolution, all of these things are better handled face to face. Pick up the phone, and schedule an appointment.”

3. Only make promises you can keep

Once the appointment is made, it is vitally important that you show up, on time, and that you’re prepared. “If you make an appointment, keep it,” says Tasneem. “Big trust is built on a lot of little things, like keeping an appointment and showing up on time.”

“More than that, I don’t make promises that I cannot keep when it comes to the software, or to my abilities. I don’t oversell. I will never sell you something that doesn’t work, or pretend to know something that I don’t have the answer to. For example, accounting is not my strong point. Estimating, workflow, business strategy, yes. Accounting, not so much. So, when an accounting query comes up, I am honest with my client and assure them that I will refer them to an agent who is more proficient in this field than I am. Do you know that, instead of making them feel that I am not competent, it does the opposite; it protects the hard-earned trust relationship we have. Plus, having a ‘generosity’ mindset - where I act and believe that there’s enough for everyone - means I share the work with those who can solve my client’s query. This generosity always comes back to me; my client is happy and remains loyal, and I have sowed good seeds for future relationships,” Tasneem expounds.

Related: 8 Women entrepreneurs who successfully juggle running a business and family

4. Communicate with stakeholders

“I’ve experienced this several times, and it’s heart-breaking,” says Tasneem, when asked about the importance of communication. 

“Imagine, you’ve spent hours at the client’s offices, literally shoulder to shoulder behind the computer with the estimator or the bookkeeper who is having a problem, and you’re solving it. However, when it comes to invoicing for that time, the business owner or decision-maker has not been aware of this, and now your invoice lands on their lap, and they feel slighted. Communicating with the person who is responsible for paying your invoice is vital. Who are you constantly in touch with? It is good to have relationships with the end-user, but keep the business owner apprised of work done. Send a weekly summary or report after you’ve spent time on site, if need be. Take them out for lunch once a month and chat about deliverables or future plans. If your client runs an owner-operated business, then it is vital that the person you have a relationship with is the business owner.”

5. Don’t be afraid to grow

Tasneem now has over 90 customers that she oversees, and recently joined forces with another QuickEasy BOS Business Agent in Cape Town to offer better support to a growing customer base.

“I realised that I was the cap on the potential growth of my business. I simply wasn’t able to get to everyone; so, I started thinking about a partnership. Partnerships are like a marriage,” says Tasneem.

“You need to date for a while to see what this person is like under pressure, what they feel is important or not important, and more importantly, if their strong points compliment your weaknesses. Take your time when considering a partnership, don’t jump into something out of desperation. Remember, it’s your hard-earned reputation and trust that is at stake. Most importantly, get everything in writing. It’s still scary sometimes, but we cover each other, and it works,” she adds. 

Finally, when I asked for a parting thought from Tasneem, she said, “I work from love. That’s what wakes me up in the morning and keeps me up late at night. I love my job. My children see it. My clients see it. Sure, I have bad encounters from time to time, but I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made, because I love what I do. I love that no two days are the same - each client presents their own challenges and things that need attention, and every day demands something new of me. If I’d known how much I’d love working for myself ten years ago, I probably would have made the leap sooner.”

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About the author

Candace van Zyl

Candace is a marketing and business consultant who works with Entrepreneurs and start-ups. She is passionate about seeing SME's supported with sound policies and systems, and successes celebrated.

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