To celebrate International Women’s Day, the PR team behind Green Building Consulting & Engineering wanted to share the story of a successful female entrepreneur. And what better way to do so than by shedding the light on our own director and founder, Armelle Le Bihan, who happens to have her birthday on this very day! As a successful business woman and winner of the Outstanding Female Entrepreneur Awards 2017, Armelle shares her experience and retrospective on her entrepreneurial journey so far.
Question #1. How did you start from scratch in a country that isn’t yours with a service almost unheard of and no market demand in the ASEAN?
“When you start from scratch you have to understand the market expectations and adapt your proposition to the local business dynamic. As an engineer, I tend to make sure all processes are in place and wait for the whole chain to have been properly thought through before starting. For instance, the natural way would be to start creating your website, marketing materials and preparing in advance standard proposals for your prospective clients. But the reality is that your business starts when you have your first client. One of the quotes I recall often is “start before you are ready” and this was exactly what happened. I started by selling my services, myself but also the idea of green building to clients and then established tailored proposals. We are actually just starting to do brochures now, 3 years later.
“Start before you are ready”
The tough part was to convince prospects that they would benefit from changing the way they usually work in a very traditional design and construction industry. Starting from scratch is not easy as it requires to go beyond your limitations and no one likes to be outside of their comfort zone. But that is exactly where everything happens. We tend to do what we know best, but if you are starting a business on your own, you have to be able to do everything that a business requires plus your core profession; so anything from marketing, sales, networking and trading, contract writing and negotiation as well as accounting. I’ve once read, “you started your own company? Congratulations, you just landed a job in sales“. This is pretty much it, I spent my first years being a sales representative before being an engineer and it still applies today. You have to learn how to understand your clients and their needs to propose them relevant solutions and build meaningful and durable partnerships, which is something I discovered that I really enjoy doing.”
“You started your own company? Congratulations, you just landed a job in sales.“
Question #2. How did you gain clients’ trust in the design and construction sector when budgets stakes are high and validation cycles long?
“The key is to spend time in understanding what our clients need and develop partner relationship rather than supplier-client deals. That is how we got awarded the conceptual design of the first green Olympic stadium in Mongolia, a hundred-million-dollar project. It all started off by trying to connect with people that we thought could have an interest in widening their range of services in order to gain competitiveness. People tend to bond when they share similar cultural background, values and experiences. Being French, I started by contacting a French design and construction practice, increasing my odds of success in South-East Asia. What started off as a cold but diligently prepared email to one of the founders is now an ongoing collaboration. It is the introduction from one person to another that led to our first project together, the competition for a prestigious hospital facility in Bangkok. This enabled me to show first hand my services and capabilities. Although, we did not win the competition, this brought us to be appointed as green building consultant on the Olympic stadium in Ulaanbaatar which is today one of our signature projects.
If your service is still unknown to your target market, you need to make people want to work with you before they become willing to buy the service itself; and that takes time.”
Discover the Olympic Stadium project here.
Question #3. Now that you have spoken about the hardships of entrepreneurship, can you tell us more about your strategy to capitalize on your experience?
“We have taken on a more collaborative approach with our partners in proposing common proposals for their clients where sustainability is directly incorporated into the design, bringing an added value to their services. This is something that has been happening with most of our clients who are now integrating our services in their basic concepts. This is a win-win situation for both parties; they get a distinctive advantage from the competition and we get their support in business development. By delivering this sustainability message and explaining to different stakeholders what they could gain from working together whether it is in terms of costs, experience or corporate image, we have been delivering a message which resonates across business segments and in different industries. Furthermore, the services we propose are in line with a global movement around climate change as expressed through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework by the UN and the commitments of the COP 21.
Having started with services for new designs and concepts, we are now developing a new segment for existing buildings as there is a huge infrastructure that needs to be reinvented and retrofitted in the region. On top of that, we also believe that general public needs to be informed and educated about environmental issues. We must inspire and empower people in taking more sustainable actions day by day. To do so, we are giving international talks and sharing our passion for the planet by providing knowledge and tools for people to take a step forward in practicing sustainability. For instance, we help answer questions like where does your plastic bottle go when you place it in a bin? How can you reduce your water consumption at home or at work? How you can decrease your energy bills while maintaining a level of comfort? and so on… I think this is a relevant statement for young (and less young) generations who are seeking not only to live through the years but to leave a positive mark on the society and the planet. ”
Discover Armelle’s talks here.
Question #4. Do you have a last word about International Women’s Day?
“In my opinion, successful women surpass the gender gap by being truly committed to a long term mission and purpose. Success is not gender related but character related and will depend on how bad you want it and what you are ready to do for it. A saying I like goes like this: “Success isn’t owned, it’s leased and rent is due everyday” and that goes for men and women alike.
“Success isn’t owned, it’s leased and rent is due everyday”