12 tips for young entrepreneurs from an Egyptian startup founder

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Amira Azzouz is the founder and editor-in-chief of Fustany.com, a fashion portal for the Middle East in both Arabic and English, which launched three years ago in 2010. Recently she's struggled with a content scraping scandal, after discovering that at least four major sites in Egypt had stolen her team's content. Below, she shares some of the lessons she's learned over the years about maintaining a balanced, healthy, and successful life as an entrepreneur.

As a young female entrepreneur I’ve learned so much over the past four years, lessons much more practical than what I learned in college. I'm not saying I know it all now, but I definitely have a good share of experience (though I'm sure there are still more hard lessons to come!). Having said that, I think it's important to share these important tips with female entrepreneurs in our region, to help them maintain a healthy life. So here they are:

1. Try to find balance in your work and personal life

Knowing how to organize your time and balance your life is critical. As women, we're often not just responsible for work, but often, families who need extra care and attention. Learn how to make that perfect balance and establish priorities and a plan. Finding balance and the right attitude in your communications is important as well.

2. Choose your battles

In any busines, there are great days and other not-so-great ones. The most important thing is to learn how to pick your battles, as not everything is worth fighting for. Reserve your energy for issues that do matter. If you get a rude e-mail, think twice whether you should reply or simply ignore.

3. Document your correspondence

Instead of trusting contacts blindly, keep track of every single contract or deal in discussion; first, on your e-mail, and second, through written agreements. You never know when you might need to refer to writing to clear things up.

4. Find a go-to mentor

Have a friend or a mentor to whom you can always turn for advice or a second opinion. This especially helps when the decision at hand isn't clear. Mentors can help push your business further with new and fresh perspectives.

5. Follow the 80-20 Rule

On days when I'm overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done, I always start with the 20% of the work that will get me 80% of the results.

6. Set a vision, and remind yourself.

If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been side-tracked or distracted, I'd be filthy rich. It happens to all of us! To stay focused on a vision and set of goals, repeating them on a daily basis, having them written almost everywhere (my desk, my bedroom) and telling my friends to remind me of them are all helpful tactics.

7. Do your research

They say that creative people think outside the box. These days, in many cases, however, there is no box to begin with. If you want to have something unique, and create a strong perspective that differs you from all the competition out there, then you need to do your research, isolate why people should pick you over others, and highlight this. Got a new idea that will help boost your business? Run it by your team and a few close friends to get second and third opinions. 

8. Find a team that shares your vision

When it comes to young companies, you always need to surround yourself with a team you consider family, a hard working team that shares the same vision and goals. Having a team that doesn't share the same vision or has internal problems will do more harm than good. Also, don't assume you can do it all; find people who complement your weaknesses. My strong suit isn't finance, but after asking for help, our business is running more smoothly.

9. Watch your cash flow

Always make sure you know how much you spend per month, and then keep enough money for two months aside in the bank for those rainy days. Every business has its ups and downs, but the most important thing is to be prepared for those downs and come out of them stronger than ever. People and other companies can feel your weakness, so don't ever give them the opportunity.

10. Accept constructive criticism

While almost everyone seems to have an opinion on what's great about your business or what should be done better, make sure you listen closely. Accept criticism as much as you accept compliments, but filter it out and use only what's truly important to move forward. Also find ways to be diplomatic and professional when giving and receiving feedback.

11. Take time off

As a business owner, it's hard for me to get my mind off of work issues and ideas once I leave the office, but let's face it, there's nothing you can do about this when you're that overwhelmed. Learn to leave anything related to work behind once your working hours are over, and start off with a fresh perspective the next morning.

12. Have a plan B

Sometimes a great plan doesn't go through the way you thought it would. That's why you always got to have a Plan B. Don't waste too much time being stubborn and insisting to make your great plan work. When you realize something is not working, act fast to minimize your losses.

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