Entrepreneurship can be a difficult and lonely journey. To shake off the isolation, it helps to find cheerleaders in the people who’ve walked the path you’re on.
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Danielle Anderson learned the importance of this kind of community after she quit a banking job to become her own boss.
“When I decided to venture into social entrepreneurship, I realised the people in my circles were those who knew what it was like to be employed, what it meant to work for corporates and the stability that came with a paycheque. But I wasn’t interested in that environment anymore,” says Danielle.
The 37-year-old who co-founded Afri-love Connection Club – a female business founders’ networking club – says she worked to rebuild her network by combing through the Internet to find beneficial business gatherings.
Her title then was ‘business coach’, and while at a co-working space in London, she met Lulu Kitololo, a Kenyan. The two got to talking and discussed the possibility of going into business together.
They came up with the idea of running a networking club for female business founders.
“When we decided to relocate to Nairobi, we realised a lot was missing in terms of support, specifically for female entrepreneurs,” Danielle says.
“A good number of networking events take place in the evening in a bar setting, which isn’t a natural environment for many women, especially if they are running a household.”
Afri-love Connection Club’s idea is to bring women at all levels of entrepreneurship together on a regular basis to share ideas about business and support one another for personal and financial growth.
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The club, which has been running in Nairobi since April this year, has expanded to Mombasa. Members pay a commitment fee of Sh22,000 to attend and participate in club events over three months.
Danielle spoke to Hustle about what entrepreneurs stand to gain from healthy networks.
1. You find a safe space for the support you need
“Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. You get a lot of criticism, a lot of negativity and people close to you may not believe in you. It can be very frustrating when these people don’t get it, as much as they love you. Only your fellow entrepreneurs who have walked a similar path before you and overcome the challenges will get it,” Danielle says.
She adds that female business founders’ networks give women a safe space where they can be vulnerable, share their struggles and ask for help without feeling intimidated.
2. You get an opportunity to learn
Business networks offer company owners a chance to learn from the pool of experience other entrepreneurs offer.
In one of Afri-love Connection Club’s talking lunches, for instance, the women addressed the topic of burnout in business.
“When you’re running your own business, you don’t have the same structure you do when you’re working for another person. You are unlikely to say no to any opportunity that brings in more money. Sometimes you don’t realise that you need a break from the business to also look after yourself,” says Danielle.
“When such a topic is presented to, say, 15 women who run different businesses, you hear different experiences and different perspectives, and learn how people deal with different challenges.”
3. You find out who people know
People in your network can be a link to business clients elsewhere. “Although the people in the room you’re in may not be your ideal client, they may have access to your potential client,” Danielle says.
However, she notes that getting links to the ideal client through a network doesn’t happen after a single interaction. You have to develop personal relationships, which is why Afri-love requires members to commit to at least three months of club activities.
4. You tap into new markets
Danielle says she found one of her highest-paying clients at a conference she attended.
“I really didn’t want to go because I was struggling financially just after I quit employment, and I also didn’t know anyone who was attending the conference. I attended anyway and thereafter spoke to a lady who said her organisation was in need of a business coach. I ended up landing one of my best clients who I still work with today.”
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5. You get the chance to forge partnerships
Networking isn’t just about finding customers but also forging collaborations.
At a business network, the odds are high of meeting someone with whom you share a passion that you can transform into a business idea.
Danielle and Lulu were part of the same networking club, and that’s where they discovered they shared a passion for supporting female entrepreneurs. “By being part of a network, you may find someone with a skill that’s necessary to get your business going.”