All4Women Entrepreneurs is a monthly feature where we put the spotlight on amazing female entrepreneurs starting businesses in South Africa. This month we spoke to Phathi Hlongwane to find out how to make your business idea stand out in a crowded market.

Entrepreneurship is about filling a need. But what do you do when your market and competitors already exist?

Afro-inspired design is all the rage right now. Fashion designers, artists, architects and jewellery designers are all taking a hint from the beauty of our continent and rich African culture. From its inception, Inkaturah has been inspired by Africa and all our diverse cultures have to offer.

Inkaturah’s Phathi Hlongwane shares how she secured her top spot in the jewellery business, even though the market was already very crowded when she started.

You have to put yourself out there

When Phathi started making and selling her jewellery, she didn’t have formal funding or a reputation in the jewellery industry, but she says the best way to introduce prospective customers to your product is to put yourself out there.

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“When I started out, I would sell my jewellery just about anywhere. I sold at street markets and weekend markets to introduce people to what I had to offer. I wanted to put my jewellery out there by any means necessary,” she recalls.

In the age of social media, Phathi says social platforms have been an invaluable part of her business success and have helped her introduce her jewellery to customers far and near.

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Make social media work for you

Although Inkaturah still doesn’t have a physical store, thanks to online shopping and social media it’s become a name any fashionista worth their salt knows.

“Being online has definitely helped me. Social media platforms are visual. It shows off Inkaturah perfectly. My market is online, so seeing Inkaturah on their timelines keeps us top of mind and puts our work on a global stage,” says Phathi.

Inkaturah is also available at selected retail stores, but social media and the Inkaturah online store gives current and prospective customers access to Phathi’s entire range of jewellery anytime and anywhere.

“Social media is very important in creating brand awareness and creates opportunities for sales 24/7,” Phathi adds.

Related: Lessons on how to become a professional blogger

Keep your customers coming back

A base of loyal customers is the foundation of many successful businesses, including Inkaturah.

Return business is a big part of their sales. Phathi says gaining your customers’ trust is a large part of getting them to come back for more.

“Regular customers don’t only give you direct sales, they also spread the word about your business and help add to your network. I have some really loyal customers who bring in consistent business because they trust my product and know what to expect from the Inkaturah brand,” she says.

Building a base of loyal customers is easier once you have a strong brand identity; your customers know and understand what to expect from your brand.

“All my designs start with what I think is beautiful. I try to give my customers something they didn’t even know they wanted. I do take some leads from what I know they like and sometimes add aspects of current trends that are in line with my brand,” explains Phathi.

Staying true to the Inkaturah brand is important to Phathi and her loyal customer base. To keep this brand intact, she says that working with people who respect the brand and its customers is vital.

Take advantage of opportunities

As a small business, you compete for the same customers as large and established business.

Retail stores and brands that have been built through generations provide direct competition to growing jewellery businesses like Inkaturah. However, Phathi’s can’t-quit attitude has helped her turn what could be competition into a beneficial working relationship.

The Space is a mainstream retailer that showcases the work of local designers to a larger market than they could ordinarily reach on their own.

While establishing her brand and growing Inkaturah’s customer base, Phathi has formed a partnership with retailer The Space where her jewellery is available for purchase. This has allowed her to offer her product to a much bigger market.

Related: 5 Secrets to becoming a successful mompreneur from Ubuntu Baba’s founder

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