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How to evolve as an entrepreneur

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An entrepreneur wears many different hats when launching and growing a business. But for Freddie Harrel, founder and CEO of RadSwan, an important part of building your own company is not letting any one role define you.

Top tips for creating a legacy of success from Freddie Harrel:

  1. It’s important to establish the right standards for your business and then stick to them to build customer loyalty and satisfaction.
  2. When fundraising, first think about the investors that will support your strategy, rather than taking any meeting you can get.
  3. Be really in-depth with your market research, knowing your total addressable market and really understanding them.
  4. Physical activations should be considered along with building online communities, particularly when you’re offering a physical product.
  5. Meeting customers in person can help to get the insights that can really inspire your other marketing techniques and find what works specifically for your product and brand.

Freddie Harrel knows all about change and evolution, that’s why she jokingly refers to herself as a shapeshifter. She started out in hedge funds in finance, then moved to a career in digital marketing for fashion, and then became a personal brand as a fashion blogger and social media influencer. So even before launching her own company, Harrel had already juggled quite a few changes.

In 2017, she decided to start a side-hustle, selling her own custom-made hair extensions for Afros through a beauty website. That project has now turned into RadSwan, an international lifestyle brand and line of hair products with a presence in the US, UK and Europe.

Humble beginnings

The origin of RadSwan is very personal to Harrel. She struggled to find products that suited her natural hair and were of high quality, so she decided to make her own. She found a contact in China on a hair forum and started to design her own wigs and extensions. Those original products were what launched her first venture in 2017 – Big Hair No Care. But after building up an international online community around the brand and Harrel herself, that company became RadSwan.

“I had played around with a lot of different things. For a lot of black women going on the natural hair journey, it is a journey, and through the exploration of that I just wanted my natural hair to be bigger and really celebrate wearing an Afro,” she says.

“I was done with the banking world and straight hair and being frustrated with what was out there. Human hair is very expensive, the sourcing is very dark, and I didn't want to be involved with these, but synthetic options were very low quality, the shopping experience is very poor or non-existent, depending on how you look at it. So I found this supply on a forum, and it was just for me, I had designed what I wanted for me.”

International from the start

Like many online businesses, Big Hair No Care was able to be international from the start. Harrel already had a following online to market to, with 40% of her audience in the US. The UK and France were also geographies that engaged with her on social media. Because the three markets were split fairly evenly, when Harrel decided to do physical pop-ups, she did them in London, Paris and New York City.

“That’s when we realised that the demand was so much bigger than we had expected. We decided we needed to be able to fulfil orders from the US as well and that was probably when we hit our first big wall,” says Harrel.

The initial supplier for the product was unable to handle the new level of demand, even with only two products to make. Harrel realised she needed to think bigger to get to the next level of the business, which is where the idea for RadSwan came from. But the execution required Harrel to really engage with how to build a team to enable her to scale up.

Team building exercises

“I tried so many different routes, ran the whole playbook, definitely, when building a team,” says Harrel. “At the beginning, we had another entity for the US, another person who was really helping with the sort of operational side of things. But that didn't really work.

“Then in 2019, when I relaunched as RadSwan and raised money from US investors, I moved my family to New York, and that was just a month before COVID. And then it was a different approach. It was lets hire a team.”

Harrel now had a network through her investors and their companies, but at the same time, the US was a new market for her, so that presented challenges in building the team. Although she initially looked at hiring team members, she found that she didn’t have access to as wide a range of people as she wanted. She also found it difficult to maintain a professional distance in hiring for what was still very much her project.

However, she found a solution in using consultants.

“I would say to someone who is not a very strong networker, or who, like me, gets too personally involved with people and managing teams, consultants make a great fit. What I've come to learn is that any job that exists, also exists in a consultant version of it. So you don’t have to have an employee, there’s more than one way to do it,” she advises.

Staying out of the box

It’s also important to avoid getting boxed in as the CEO, according to Harrel. Her strengths lie in brand building and providing the company with mission and purpose, rather than business operations or supply chain management. It is important then to reach out and source those people with different skills to support the business. But it’s equally important to leave room to grow and evolve as an entrepreneur.

“The journey of an entrepreneur is a personal journey too. It’s about exploring who you are and how your employees or customers relate to that. And you really have to keep an open mind and avoid putting yourself into a box. It’s a journey and your role is always evolving.”

If you’re looking for tools, connections and support to help build a legacy of success, find out more about how HSBC is supporting female entrepreneurs by visiting https://www.business.hsbc.com.eg/en-gb/campaigns/hsbc-female-entrepreneur-fund

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