Trademark and patent lawyer Hemamaliny Pillay is helming a successful business with affiliates in about 20 countries but she believes it’s still important to interact with fellow women entrepreneurs from time to time.

When she heard of the three-day Women Entrepreneurs Strategic Workshop organised by the WIEF Business Network (WBN), she signed up immediately.

“I wanted to connect with other women entrepreneurs to share experiences and learn about doing business in this era. I believe that women get better results when we collaborate instead of compete.

“When we build each other up, our confidence rises and conversely when we knock each other down, it falls. Offering to help another woman in her business not only helps her, it increases our feeling of self worth which in turn will benefit our business too.

“Workshops like this are a good platform for women to learn from each other,” she says.

The World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) workshop brought together 30 women entrepreneurs from Bangladesh, Britain, Brunei, the Philippines , Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Yemen and Malaysia to discuss how they can take their businesses to greater heights.

“In the past, the workshops organised by WBN were more focused on preparing women for the business world. They were designed to assist women who were interested in venturing into businesses and providing them with tools to enhance their chance of success.

“This time, the Women Entrepreneurs Strategic Workshop is focusing on women who are already in business and who would like to bring it to the next phase.

The Women Entrepreneurs Strategic Workshop hopes to help women entrepreneurs build their business to the next level.

The workshop is designed to encourage these women to be creative and innovative in driving growth to face the fast changing environment they operate in,” says WBN chairman Datuk Dr Norraesah Mohamad.

The three-day programme in late August covered a wide range of topics. The women were briefed on the changing business landscape and were made to look at their business models and determine if they were on the right track given the changing marketplace.

The participants were then asked to assess their current business models and come up with creative and innovative solutions – guided by the facilitators – to build their brands and businesses.

Participants were also given a “crash course” on digital marketing by trainer, Angeline Samuel, who impressed upon the participants the need to constantly engage with their clients on social media, to build their presence and business networks.

“In this day and age, everything is digital. From news to food orders, everything is accessible online. Social media platforms are one of the most effective ways to help get the word out and it is also very cost efficient.

“Because social media is so popular, people of various ages and demographics are constantly browsing through the Internet looking for new things to explore and this is where businesses can use digital marketing to their advantage.

“News spreads fast on the Internet and within minutes, business ads can reach hundreds and thousands of consumers.

“But another benefit of digital marketing is that it includes consumer feedback and encourages two-way communication.

“What this means is that you have to engage with your followers and draw them in, and not just put up posts of your products or services.

“You should be doing videos, polls and even behind the scenes look at your business. People want to be able to relate to you and not just see photos of your products,” she advised participants who had many questions on how they can increase their digital presence.

The 30 participants of the Workshop who hoped to learn from their peers strategies to build businesses. Photo: WIEF

Like Hemamaliny, Samuel believes in the power of women empowering each other in the business arena. A software engineer by training, Samuel admits that she faced a lot of sceptism and gender stereotypying when she started A Tech International, her digital marketing consultancy six years ago.

“When I went to meet clients, they would ask me whether my “boss” was coming. It’s hard enough being a woman entrepreneur, imagine being young and a woman.

“It really is challenging for women and we have to overcome social expectations. Men often overlook and underestimate what women in business can do and this makes it all the more difficult to branch out and grow a network.

“I had to project my accomplishments to prove my worth in order to gain recognition and respect from other accomplished people in the industry. The lack of networking support stunted my growth in the beginning but I learnt to be confident in my skills and abilities, and to persevere.

“This is why I strongly believe in women holding each other up and why I’m always eager to share my expertise with other women entrepreneurs.

“I want to help women develop and grow their own network … a network that does not solely rely on society’s expectations on what women should be but one that helps entrepreneurs provide services that supports economic growth and social development.

“My goal is to teach women to be fearless in taking risks and challenge society’s perceptions on the way women run a business. My advice to all women is to persevere and have a strong support system.

“Always aim for the stars and don’t give up on your dreams and if you do fail in the beginning, your support system will be there to get you back on the horse,” says Samuel.

The strategic workshop, explains Norraesah, is in line with “Women Empowerment Year 2018”, the Women, Family and Community Development ministry’s initiative to empower and drive women into the fourth industrial revolution.

“We wish to see a 50% increase of women adopting digital strategies and technologies for their business expansions as well as see an overall increase of women’s participation in economic activities by at least 30%,” said the ministry’s director general Datuk Yatimah Sarjiman when launching the initiative earliert this year.

Participants also got the opportunity to listen to successful entrepreneurs, both men and women, who shared the ups and downs of their journey and the “secrets to success”.

Among them was Datuk Dr Mohd Abdul Karim Abdullah, the group chief executive officer of Serba Dinamik Holdings Berhad.

He started his company in 1993, and it has grown into a multinational business listed on the main board of Bursa Malaysia with presence in the region, the Middle East, the United States and Europe.

“It wasn’t easy in the beginning. I started out with just my personal assistant who was with me in my last job. But even she left me after a few months because I could not afford to pay her,” he shares.

But Abdul Karim’s perserverance and determination saw his company through the initial challenging few years.

“You have to always remember why you set out (in business) in the first place. I left a successful and comfortable career in oil & gas because as an engineer, I wanted to practise what I learnt and get my hands dirty instead of being in a management position.

“You have to have a goal and keep it in sight and work towards it. And focus on what you are good at and build on it,” he advised, emphasising the importance of having a value-driven business with clear guiding principles.