Self Made is a Netflix four part movie series that was released towards the end of March this year. The lead role is played by Octavia Spencer, Blair Underwood plays her husband C.J and Tiffany Hardish plays Madame C.J ‘s daughter. I found the series so captivating when I watched it during the first weekend of lockdown that I finished all the episodes in one go…(don’t judge me yet). I was ready to do an immediate review as soon as I finished watching it but I decided to wait and have more people watch it so this post would be more contextual.
There are lessons to be learnt from Madame ‘s life that are relevant especially for women running their own businesses. Here are some of the lessons I gleaned. Feel free to add yours in the comments section of this post.
1. Start with your own story – Madame had been trying to sell the hair grower made by her friend Addie unsuccessfully. The day she shared her hair journey story and how the product she was selling had solved her hair loss problem is the day her sales picked off. The only thing customers are looking for are solutions to the problems they have. They will pay what they consider a fair price. Your focus should be on how your product or service solves the customer’s problem. If this is actually your own testimonial then you have hit the sweet spot.
2. Hard work pays – you will agree that Madame C.J worked hard,really hard. She put in the hours and the results were visible. She started off washing clothes, became a hairdresser and eventually she became the first black American female millionaire. Working hard is about not giving up, not taking no for an answer and refusing to be stereotyped because you are a woman.
3. Don’t give up– this lesson literally runs like a thread throughout the series. Madame tried her formula several times until she came up with a product that she was happy with. Even when she didn’t get the funding she needed from the people she first approached she didn’t give up. She just kept at it. She reminded me of the widow in the Bible from the book of Luke 18 vs 3-7 who kept on coming before the judge to get justice against someone who had wronged her. The widow was so persistent that she wearied the judge. By the way the Bible says this was an unrighteous judge. It doesn’t matter who you are dealing with. Keep at it sis. (I always try and find an opportunity to preach)
4. Build a network– you need a network of people around you to support your dreams. Dr Sam Chand calls these people ladder holders. They literally hold the ladder for you as you climb. Even though their relationship eventually ended, C.J, Madame’s husband was initially very supportive. Freeman was also very supportive of Madame. He believed in her dream so much he borrowed money from his cousin Sweetness to become the first investor in Madame’s business.
4. Watch out for the weakest link in your team – Madame’s son in law almost cost her the whole business. It was his carelessness that caused a fire that set the business back. He then went on to share company information with Addie who was Madame’s biggest competitor. Identify who the weakest link is in your team and manage them from the onset.
5. Collaborate instead of competing – for a greater part of the series, Madame and her former friend Addie were fierce competitors. Even though they started out as friends, somewhere along the way things got ugly. Addie even tried to “steal” some of the women who were working for Madame. I can only imagine what would have happened if Madame and Addie had actually collaborated instead of competing. Ladies, I believe the sky is big enough for all the birds t fly so collaborations are actually beneficial especially for small businesses.
6. Take those closest to you along with you – my own view is that even though C.J was initially very supportive of Madame, I got the sense that the vision for the business was not really shared. C.J was happy with the level of success they had achieved and yet Madame still wanted more. As a woman business owner, it’s important that your significant other is fully onboard with the vision and plans for your business. He might not be involved in the day to day running of the business but his full support makes your success easier.
7. Empower others – Madame’s success wasn’t hers alone. She had a team of direct sales women who were part of her distribution network. Her success allowed her to make a difference to women who would not have been able to provide for their families.
8. Get time to rest – this lesson comes from what Madame failed to do. She worked so hard so didn’t give herself enough time to rest. Hard work is important but so is rest.
9. Build on firm foundations – towards the end of the series we actually learn that Madame had stolen her friend Addie’s formula. Whether this is true in real life or it was a twist for movie purposes only, the lesson is to make sure your business is built on firm foundations. I shudder to think what would have happened if Addie had decided to take legal action against Madame. All the years of hard work would have been completely lost.
10. Build a good brand– Madame’s success was a result of an excellent marketing strategy. Being a marketer myself, i was impressed. Her formula was excellent as it solved the problem the customer had. Her distribution strategy using other women as a type of direct sales force was spot on. She was clear what type of woman she wanted to appeal to and didn’t go with fads of what everyone else thought sold. Her brand name which she built very carefully and tied excellently to her as a person was a stroke of genius. Even when C.J married another wife and tried to use the same brand name, it just wasn’t going to succeed. The world already new “the real” Madame C.J Walker. Her name was actually Sarah but she insisted on being called Madame C.J Walker because she was building a brand. Don’t underestimate the power of building a great brand.
So what are some of the lessons that you learnt from Self Made? Do share them in the comments section.
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