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Heads up entrepreneurs – this one is important for everyone, but especially for you! Your first job might not be your dream career, but it can teach you valuable lessons. Here, 12 entrepreneurs take a trip down memory lane, sharing the story of their first job and what they learnt from the experience…

1/ Don’t burn bridges

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Preparing for pitch day! Go team! #PR #PrAndMarketing #PitchDay #Professional #PublicRelationsAgency #B2B #PrLife

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  • “Don’t burn bridges. A falling out with a previous employer or colleague can follow you throughout your career and potentially close doors to future opportunities.” (And entrepreneurs need networks!)
  • “Accept constructive criticism and be open to learning.”
  • “Be grateful for the opportunity and never forget that you’ve been given a chance to ‘reward the faith in your ability’.”
  • “Follow the progress of your colleagues and acknowledge their achievements as they grow and succeed; this helps you build a valuable network.” – Michelle Cave, Managing Director, Brand Fundi

READ MORE: “I Launched A New Start-Up During Lockdown” – Small Business Success Story

2/ Negotiate your salary

“Even if you haven’t received a real salary before and aren’t sure you have the right to ask – you do! Of course you need to be fair to yourself and the role (do the research here), but it sets the tone for the relationship you will have with that employer and employers going forward.

“Also, when applying for a new job you’re often asked to submit your current pay slip as reference, so it could form the benchmark for your salary scale.” – Inge Wulff, Founder, Know Scrubs

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My beloved Know Scrubs ? . Who knew a global pandemic would give my company the push it needed? ? I wrote “more bulk orders” on my vision board in Jan, but it turns out I was ill prepared ? . These couple of months have been more emotionally trying than expected. EVERYTHING at almost every stage went wrong. I’ve learned a lot about my capacity as we try to scale this one-woman show – to legit business – while I maintain another full-time job – during lockdown but #squirmingislearning I guess ?‍♀️ . Around 1500 scrubs later I am mostly just WILDLY GRATEFUL for the support from clients, friends and family who have gone out of their way to assist and been unbelievable during this time. I want to celebrate by being socially close and day drinking with my friends (ideally at a particular party on a particular jhb rooftop), but for now I will settle for being content with how far @know_scrubs has come and that I could make a sort of rainbow with all the prints ?❤️

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3/ Understand the value of money

“I was a runner at Pizza Hut. I really liked it, actually. It taught me to value money and to value the things that you can get with it. I’ve never been silver spoon-fed, so to have worked hard from the get-go has been good value to have.” – Huenu Solsona, Founder of Galileo Open Air Cinema

4/ Network, network, network!

Listen up entrepreneurs! “I realised only much later how important networking and connecting to people really is. Instead of just trying to impress your manager with hard work and long hours, agree to join Friday bar vibes (speaking pre-COVID), networking events etc. I sometimes had to force myself because I’m more of an introvert and would rather stay at my desk, but I’m so grateful I gave in when colleagues tried to convince me. This is where deeper connections get formed – not around a boardroom table presenting your latest strategy.” – Danica Helfrich, Marketing Manager – Travelcheck

5/ Talk others up

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✨She remembered who she was and the game changed. – @lalahdelia There was a time in my life I neglected myself. I carried self-destruction thoughts. I had self-limiting beliefs. I begged for the wrong people to see my worth. I occupied spaces that did not contribute to my bigger vision. I hung out with the wrong crowd that did not motivate me to be better or do better. I held on dearly to the opinions of others about me. My inner child was begging for love & acceptance. This was a very dark time in my life. Maybe this sounds familiar to you but your ego is telling you nah you don’t have shortcomings. The ego loves to lie to us. Through prayer, daily devotion, mindful practices, healthy eating, visualization, journaling and meditation I was able to pick myself up from the rut I was in. It was a messy process at first but I reached a level of self-ACTUALISATION, – it’s still a journey. It’s not a destination. I am so glad I have reached this level of self-awareness and genuine happiness. I have found my centre & healing. I have forgiven myself of my past pain & now I just aim to be a better version of myself with each passing day. Everyday should be a constant reminder that your future is so bright and that you have all the power within you to alter your current state. The vision lives within you. You need to start owning the narrative to your life & not leave it to others. Change does not occur in one singular moment, it’s a series of events & gentle reminders that nothing is permanent. We need to be a bit more forgiving to ourselves & practice gentleness because we are all that we have.

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“Nobody built statues out of critics – you must always speak highly of your colleagues. You need to learn to draw from your colleagues’ strengths to build successful projects at work and meet the company’s vision.” – Siki Msuseni, Founder of Amplified PR

6/ Do what you love, or at least what you like

“My first job taught me that I never want to work full-time (9-5pm) in an office for a boss again. It also propelled me to quit everything and travel the world living off my travel blog alone. Since then I’ve worked in freelance and self-employed capacities with half-weeks in office or full-time remotely.

“I also learnt that while money is important, doing what you love and what fulfils you means way more. What you spend the majority of each day doing directly effects your emotional and mental well-being. Why not let it be something you really enjoy? Life is too short to work for a paycheque only, while you hate your days. Somewhere at the intersection of financial sustainability, purpose and true fulfilment lies something you should be doing with most of your days.” – Lauren Manuel McShane, Travel Journalist and Content Specialist

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With only a few hours to spare until Women’s Month in South Africa comes to an end… – May we continue to salute and support the mighty women who carry their families, their households and nurture pockets of society- often with heavy burdens they shouldn’t have to carry alone. – May we raise boys who are encouraged to feel, to speak, to cry and to heal before they become men who are whole, healed and ready to father and in turn hold the space for other young men to do the same. – May we raise boys and men who understand and uphold consent. Who respect and honour women and fight to protect them. – May we stand firm against men who lord their power over women and may we speak out about abuse against women and children: whether it be mental, emotional, financial or physical. -May we realise that the village isn’t gone: the village is made up of individuals. Be a part of the village for someone. I’m thankful to say my village is strong ??♥️ South Africa is a nation filled with strong, resilient women. Yet we are doing a tragic job of protecting them. We can get there. But we all have a role to play. Men, mentor young boys and be a role model to those without dads. Speak out against those who cause harm ( physically or mentally) to women and children. Moms, gather around other moms lacking support and struggling. Women, support and uplift each other. We can be better. We MUST do better. #womensmonth #southafrica #momofboy #mentalhealthmatters ? @sashacampbellphotography Make-up: @kirstenmurphymakeup

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7/ Give the “small jobs” your full attention too

As entrepreneurs, this is critical: “During my first professional job as candidate attorney at Miller Bosman Le Roux Attorneys, I learnt discipline, multitasking and ensuring that no matter how big or small the case, to treat all my cases as equally important and deliver the best outcomes for my clients.

“I also learnt that there are important steps to take and lessons to learn in your current position. That’s why it’s important to embrace the journey with humility, and an open and willing attitude to learn from more experienced professionals around you. Like them, when you are ready and prepared, you too will propel to the next level.” – Melene Rossouw, Attorney and Gender Rights Activist

READ MORE: Taking A Break From Work Can Actually Make You More Successful In Your Career

8/ Team work makes the dream work

“Editor/PR at was my first ‘real job’ and I loved it! The lessons I learnt there: First, team work makes the dream work. So cliche but so true – I was nothing without the team I worked with. I may have had ideas, but I wasn’t able to execute any of it without a super smart and diligent team.

“Networking is and will always be the most important part of any business and/or job [you listening entrepreneurs?]. To this day I have a wedding supplier friend I still see and work with. Some have even used my PR services and bought Baskiti products from me!

“Know when to call it a day. I loved my job so so much, but I knew there was nowhere more for me to grow to and I needed to broaden my experience and knowledge.” – Jana Leonard, Entrepreneur

9/ As entrepreneurs, how we engage with people is everything

“My first summer job was a waitress at an upmarket restaurant in Cape Town. Although at that time I’d often complain that I’d rather be working on my tan than serving sushi on a Saturday, in hindsight that first job (and paycheque!) got me to experience the sweet joy of independence, and taught me that how you engage with people is everything!

“From difficult customers to the demanding manager, I learnt that whilst not everyone will be your mate, if I remained calm and treated everyone with respect, life became a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable!

“The service industry requires you to engage with people from all types of backgrounds. The less you judge others and remain curious about others’ culture and backgrounds, the more pleasantly surprised you will be!” – Megan Kritzinger, Owner of Stellski Coffee

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⚡️They believed they could, so they did⚡️ . Whilst donations are welcome, we like to work for our moolah. Cape Town – we are delivering our speciality coffee beans to your door. We got 250grams (R90) and 1kg beans available (R360), free delivery. If you haven’t tried our coffee, now is the perfect time to try. Link in bio to read more. Please forward on and share with family and friends ??♥️??☕️??? . . . . #spreadjoy #stellskicoffee #lovewins #shoplocal #supportlocal #bethechange #riseandshine #letsdothis #capetown #capetowncoffee #capetownetc #capetownmag #smile #delivery #coffeepeople #coffeeaddict #barista #teamwork #dreamscometrue

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10/ Entrepreneurs need to think outside the box

“My first job was selling skirts at a flea market. The location was really horrible and it taught me how to be creative and think outside the box. I couldn’t just rely on the fact that I had a stand. The visibility alone wouldn’t result in a sale. I needed to find a different way to connect with customers and sell. 

“That job also taught me the power of community.  I learnt the importance of getting to know the other stall owners in my proximity as we all needed each other at some point during the day.” – Celeste Stewart, Owner and Founder, Bold Curiosity

11/ Entrepreneurs, don’t be afraid to fly your “creativity” flag

“My first job was an informal marketer for a tobacco company. This industry is not allowed to advertise so ‘out of the box’ thinking is required and special attention is given to behavioural patterns of the consumer.

“This job taught me to stretch my mind and never be afraid to be creative in how I do things. It also taught me how people think, how they make their decisions, and to always influence people in how they think rather than what the company wants them to think.” – Sibabalwe Sesmani, Founder and MD, Unorthodox PR

12/ Big companies may be prestigious but small companies will often give you more experience.

“The company I worked at was a tiny operation with just a handful of employees. As a result, I got to manage numerous accounts on my own, manage client relationships, and control every aspect of producing their corporate newsletters single-handedly. It was a level of responsibility that would never have been entrusted to a junior, graduate staff member in a bigger organization. But since there was no one else, it fell to me and I learnt an enormous amount from the experience.” – Wanita Nicol, Writer and Certified Personal Trainer

Now use these lessons from successful entrepreneurs (and former entrepreneurs) to take your own biz to new heights – and pay it forward. Use your own lessons to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

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