I had my weekly meeting with a group of young girls I mentor last week, and we had a discussion about women and slavery. One of the girls, Cynthia, was doing a book report on the lives of African women during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Being the history buff that I am, I began telling the girls about Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a young girl of Yoruba descent originally named Aina from an area that now part of south-west Nigeria. As a child, she was orphaned by a war between her family’s clan, the Yewa, and the more dominate King Ghezo and his Kingdom of Dahomey. Sarah was captured by the Dahomans and was going to be killed.
But her life was saved in 1849 by an intervention by British naval officer Frederick Forbes, who was there to negotiate the end of the slave trade. Although Britain officially ended the slave trade in 1807, both West Africans and Europeans participated in illegal trade for many years after. Apparently King Ghezo gave Sarah to Forbes as a gift to Queen Victoria. According to Forbes, Ghezo said, “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” A year later, Forbes renamed the girl Sarah Forbes Bonetta after himself and his ship HMS Bonetta.
Forbes said this about Sarah: “She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and [has] great talent for music… She is far in advance of any white child of her age in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection…”
She was brought to England, where she immediately impressed the Queen so much that she made Sarah her goddaughter. Sarah lived a short and but interesting life, as you will see in the video below.
Behind every great man… is an even greater woman! Karl Benz is best known as the German engineer who invented the world’s first patented automobile – Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 – to use a one-cylinder internal combustion engine and a single forward gear. But the world probably wouldn’t have known about his revolutionary machine without the help of his wife, Bertha Benz, who helped usher in the modern marketing industry.
If there was ever one story about a woman making things happen for a man, it would be this one. While Karl Benz was a genius when it came to car making, he was really bad at money management and making sound business decisions. After a number of failed business ventures and with the support of his wife’s family wealth, Benz was able to form the industrial machinery company Benz & Cie in 1883. When the company became a success, Benz was able to focus his energy on building the horseless carriage.
However, it soon became apparent that Benz was also bad at marketing. The first few public demonstrations of his automobile went badly, with one demonstration ending with the car crashing into a wall, and the crash terrified onlookers.
Benz also didn’t get much support from higher authorities either. German Kaiser Wilhelm I felt that replacing cars were stupid and unpatriotic. Even many church leaders at the time felt that cars were the work of the devil! Benz also faced competition from another German innovator Gottlieb Daimler, who was working on his own version of the automobile.
Enter Bertha Benz. She didn’t feel that her husband was properly marketing his invention, as she saw great potential in his work. In August 1888, Benz took the car out for a drive with her two sons without her husband’s permission and travelled to her mother’s home 60 miles away. This seemingly simple drive was pretty radical at the time, as she became the first person to drive an automobile long distance and bring worldwide attention to it.
Along the route as Benz drove, many eyewitnesses were surprised by how safe the automobile seemed to be. While many onlookers were shocked to see such a machine roll down the road, much less one driven by a woman (OMG!); nonetheless, Patent-Motowagen received the attention and press Benz hoped she would see.
Along the journey, Benz was also the mechanic. During the trip Benz had to stop at a pharmacy to refuel with petroleum ether, and that pharmacy became the world’s first gas station. With the help of a blacksmith, Benz fixed a chain and the brakes in the automobile and cleaned the fuel pipe with a hairpin. Benz is widely credited for inventing brake pads.
A few days later, Benz travelled home a different route so more people could see the invention. Upon getting home, Benz discovered that the automobile couldn’t travel uphill, as she and her sons had to push it up steep routes. This forced her husband to create the world’s first gear system.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Sales for the patent went straight through the roof almost immediately due to the publicity and Benz & Cie became the world’s largest and most profitable automobile company within 10 years.
The lesson here: creating a innovative, strategic marketing campaign around demonstrating how a product is used is the best form of marketing.
So the next time someone says that women can’t drive or fix their cars, tell them about Bertha Benz!
This week I am celebrating the tenth anniversary of my business Global Wire Associates. The idea for the business really came by happenstance. I don’t have any formal training in business management. A lot of what I know I had to learn along the way by myself or from others.
Back in 2005, I never thought this business idea would last a year, let alone ten years. During the last decade I learned a great deal about myself and about navigating entrepreneurship.
Leadership is important – Many people have always told me that I was a good leader and running a business seems to come naturally to me. It is one thing to have a leadership role in a community group or professional organization. It is a whole other thing when you are calling the shots at your business. Decisions – good or bad – always have to be made in an organization by the leader. A good leader is someone who is a commited to the business, communicates well, a role model for her employees and a champion for her clients’ best interests.
Keep learning – Learning doesn’t end when you graduate from school. I am always learning new things, whether it’s from my employees, mentors, clients and competitors. I try to be open-minded to new ideas whenever possible. Running a business is not about being book-smart, but rather life-smart.
Knowing when to say “no” – Many business owners are ready and willing to take on any work given to them by clients. I have learned that sometimes you just can’t do everything all the time for a variety of reasons. Maybe you don’t have the time, or overloaded with other work or you are just too tired. Sometimes you have to know your limits.
Don’t take others for granted – Don’t assume that your customers or employees will always stay with you. I have been lucky to have many staff members and clients for the whole ten years! Make sure you are always checking in with them by keeping that two-way communications going.
Take risks – Sometimes you have to try new things. Change is good. I have not always been open to change, but change is the way we evolve as people. Some risks I have taken and failed, but other risks I have succeeded. Starting Global Wire Books and Global Wire Design were both risks that have rewarded me handsomely.
The customer is always right (even when you think they are wrong) – If it wasn’t for the customers, I would have been out of business a long time ago. So this is why you want to cater to their needs. When you think they are wrong, you can kindly explain why. Most of the time, they change their minds because they trust your judgment.
Get organized and be professional – It is really hard to be messy when you are running a business. Get your files in order, pay invoices and salaries on time and get to meetings on time. Being professional can go a long way for your business.
Get it in writing – Always document any communications with clients, and especially have a signed contract in place before starting work.
Take a day off – It is good to take a mental health day or two. Go on vacation. Go to the movies. Spend time with family or friends. Watch Netflix. Take a walk, a run or eat some baked chickpeas. We all need to take a break sometimes.
Be patient – I had to learn to not be such a control freak and let go of things sometimes. Think before you speak. Control your emotions and be an active listener.
Being an entrepreneur is very stressful. You work all day, all night, seven days a week. Worrying about making a profit and meeting client demands can take its toll on your health. When we are stressed, many of us tend to eat more unhealthy food that in turn creates even more stress.
About ten ago I faced this dilemma myself, eating crappy food at all hours of the day and night. One day I went to my doctor about the stress and the constant stomach problems and headaches. She suggested that I take a closer look at my diet.
When I looked at my daily food intake, it wasn’t a good look; lots of breads, pasta, sweets, artificial drinks and meat with little fruits and vegetables.
“You also have a family history of diabetes, so you really have to take better care of yourself,” the doctor said.
At that point I realized that I needed to change my habits for the sake of my business and my health. Since then I have made better food choices:
Around that time, I started to eat less meat because it was expensive and red meat in particular bothered my stomach. So going mostly vegetarian was not a total stretch. Every once in a while, I’ll eat some chicken or turkey during special occasions, but I mostly eat beans and tofu for protein. I think going meatless has helped me feel better and lose some weight over the years.
The human body is not designed for processed foods and will reject it. When I started eating more fruits and vegetables, I became less tempted to eat sweets. Every once in a while I might eat a Kit Kat, Skittles and the occasionally donut, but I mostly stay away from the artificial sugar.
I have a weakness for starches and bread and pasta are my worst enemies. About five years ago, a friend told me about flourless Ezekiel Bread and Barilla Plus pasta, both healthier alternatives. I also eat more brown rice and sweet potatoes.
You will always see me with a water bottle or a cup of herbal tea. I only drink artificial drinks like fruit juices and soda at parties and other special events.
Here’s a breakdown of a typical day of meals:
On the left is food I generally eat everyday. On the right I listed foods I like to eat when I want to switch it up sometimes.
Since I adopted this food regimen, I really feel a lot better. In conjunction with my exercise routine, my healthy diet has helped to reduce physical and mental stress. I’ve also lost weight and I am able to concentrate on my work better. It might take a while for some of you to make drastic changes to your diet, but the benefits are worth it!