An Entrepreneur’s Lessons from Gardening — Lionesses of Africa

by Kathy Mann

With the latest wave of COVID in full force in South Africa, our family has been spending a lot of time at home. Fortunately, we have a large property with a lovely garden, although it needs a great deal of work. At times when I’m feeling bored or I need a little escape from my family, I work on our garden. 

Some days I’m not feeling that creative and I just focus my attention on weeding. It’s a way to create beauty and order in a time when things seem quite out of control. I step back from my work on a section and it feels good to have done something meaningful. 

Other days I’m feeling bold and I dig up large areas and reorganize things. I have observed flower beds on my many walks around our neighbourhood and I take special care to see which plants thrive in full sun and which ones prefer shade. I take these lessons home and apply them to the plants in my own garden. I’m still learning and much of what I do is experimentation. 

This reminds me of what it is to be a business owner. Sometimes we try out products and they don’t really work. Maybe the target market is wrong or perhaps the product delivery or packaging needs work. Sometimes we haven’t quite figured out the best way to market and communicate the value of the offering and how it works. It is worth experimenting and viewing each failure as a lesson that we take forward. 

A few weeks ago, our neighbour trimmed branches from trees overhanging our driveway. In the process, thousands of little seeds descended and shoots emerged in between the plants I had been carefully nurturing for some time. It reminded me of a few things that relate to owning a business. 

Sometimes things happen that are outside our control and we have to deal with them.This can take up time, money and energy that we did not budget for. There were so many little plants that it would have taken me years to pull each one up separately. I used a weeding tool to scrape and disrupt the soil so that their roots would not take hold. This reminded me that sometimes a little disruption is good for the environment and I made sure I really churned up the soil and brought new air and a fresh energy to the plants I’m looking after. Maybe it’s time I do the same for my business and dig up things that are not working, taking care to leave behind what matters most to me and my customers.

We can choose to spend our time feeling miserable about all the weeds popping up (or all the lost business from the pandemic, or obstacles we face in our business). Or we can take action and do something simple to move in the direction we want to go. We could do something radical and change direction entirely, test out a new offering or appeal to a new market just to see what happens. 

I’ve developed a habit of taking small slips of plants from driveways and pavements in my neighbourhood on my walks. I plant them when I get home and eagerly wait to see if they survive. Some of them take and some of them don’t. I see it as learning from other stakeholders in my business environment. Sometimes we can learn from our clients, suppliers, mentors and competitors. Some lessons don’t land at the right time and it’s perhaps because we are not ready for them. But sometimes, things do bloom and we can benefit from the groundwork others have laid. 

Developing a garden takes time just as it does to grow a business. You have to be patient and you have to try things and be prepared to fail at some of them. The world has changed since many of us started our businesses and it’s expected that we need to work differently now. We must be prepared for some plants (or ideas or products) to die off and we must be willing to take the learnings with us into the future. This is how we develop a diverse and healthy business with offering that blossom at the right time for those ready to appreciate them. 

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