Women entrepreneurs should capitalise on networks to progress

Networking is finding and establishing relationships with business professionals. [iStockphoto]

When you begin thinking about your new and exciting entrepreneurial venture, you may feel somewhat like the citizens of Key West (an island city that's the southernmost point in the US) did many years ago - isolated.

No matter which way you turn, you eventually come to the end of your limited community, and what you have is not enough.

For an entrepreneur, networking is finding and establishing relationships with business professionals with whom you can exchange information, ideas, and products; more importantly, you can claim these networks as trusted business colleagues. Networking is about building bridges not about collecting tolls.

You can either sit on the beach and dream about what could be or commence working on building personal and professional connections to broaden your scope and improve the depth of relationships with those individuals who will assist you in becoming a successful entrepreneur

A lot of successful businesses have tied business networking to their entrepreneurial success, demonstrating that networking is an important way to validate opportunities, connect to resources, and access information.

Networking involves engaging with people by meeting and knowing them, with the potential to help you with ideas and opportunities on how to scale your business.

Build your she-network and knowledge

While any woman can, in theory, become an entrepreneur, not everyone is equipped to do so. Being successful in business requires several qualities and competencies, not all of which can be acquired at school. Female entrepreneurs are often proof of this, exuding a strong personality that helps them overcome the various challenges and difficulties they face daily. This is the very essence of the African woman: hope, courage and perseverance, values that are now making them an integral part of the economic, social and sustainable development of the continent.

According to the 2020/21 Women's Entrepreneurship Report, in Africa more than 50 per cent of entrepreneurs are women with 70 per cent of them from the informal sector, with limited access to financial services. So how exactly have female business leaders managed to stay focused and determined to build their companies even when the odds seem stacked against them?

One of the outstanding basis for their continued success is banking on networks.

Networking and leveraging your female communities are especially important in an entrepreneur's early growth stages. Building these strong networks can not only lead to business growth but also increased confidence which is something female leaders often lack.

According to Harvard Business Review, focusing on a higher level of centrality and connecting with people who are connected to multiple networks should be vital in your business success strategy.

In entrepreneurship, you rarely succeed if you work alone. Sensitive ears and razor-sharp eyes to business opportunities take the day. Networking exposes you to opportunities you that you were unaware existed before. The opportunity can be a business idea or market for your goods and services. The wider your network, the higher the likelihood of hitting the right business opportunities to spur your growth.

It is against this background that KCB Bank has unveiled an agenda for women entrepreneurs. The KCB Female-Led and Made Enterprises - FLME is a Sh250 billion programme for women entrepreneurs, geared towards breaking the barriers to financial access and providing complementary services to women entrepreneurs who are considered better vision careers.

As an organization, we have been intentional in ensuring diversity and inclusion by focusing on internal and external programmes, in this case, to support the women's agenda in line with the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goals No 1, 8, 10 and 17 which focus on No Poverty, Decent Work & Economic Growth, Reduced Inequality and Partnerships respectively. We see these four as critical in fostering an enabling environment in which women can meaningfully participate and thrive in the economy.

If you can't see it, you can't be it

One of the primary roles of networking is to find the right people or stakeholders for your business. Networking exposes you to different people, and you can randomly fall into those who match your business. When you meet such people, grab the opportunity and let them know about your business. They may give you referrals or become your much-needed customers. Any chance to be in the same room with other business owners can help you keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on locally and who are looking for something you could help with.

Networking also helps improve your confidence as an entrepreneur: By incessantly interacting with people with similar mindsets and business profiles, you are not only efficiently stepping outside your comfort zone but also creating and boosting irreplaceable social skills and self-confidence that you can implement anywhere.

The more you get involved with the network, the more you'll grow professionally and learn how to make ever-lasting connections.

Closely linked to the critical of networks are role models and mentors, especially for female business owners where there aren't as many female leaders as possible to look up to. Every bit of advice, and guidance is essential on your business journey, but role models you resonate with, give you that extra boost of confidence to reach your goals.

Tips on how to stand out from your competitors, how to put together an innovative business plan that investors can't resist, or simply how to get people to buy into your product - are all valuable questions best answered by people who have walked a similar path to yourself

All said and done, the constant factor to remember is that networking is a two-way street and just as often as you receive word-of-mouth referrals through your networks, you should also dedicate time to issuing them in return.

-The writer is the KCB Group CEO.