The Reality of Being a Female Entrepreneur

Updated on 29 July 2019

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Nwabisa Mayema, an entrepreneur and public speaker is the executive director of nnfinity. She is also a course facilitator at DreamGirls Academy. She wrote her experience as a female entrepreneur in celebration of Women’s Month, which is celebrated in August.

The real truth about women entrepreneurs is that many of us are frightened and sometimes struggling to make sense of our place in the world. On one hand, we believe in our ability to generate ideas, put teams of people together and to execute our plans. Why else would we have gone into business?

On the other hand, this life is filled with self-doubt, people who see you as a risky option and (you experience) fatigue. Oh, the fatigue! The thing that is most tiring about being an entrepreneur – and a woman who tends to emote her experiences – is that some days are the darkest you’ve ever lived and some days are just so incredibly exhilarating.

The reality for women entrepreneurs is that this is a lonely journey for many of us.

Some days are the darkest you’ve ever lived and some days are just so incredibly exhilarating

The two women I work with, Maca (living and working in Uruguay) and Zoja (living and working in Serbia) and I talk about the “superwomen complex” and how it drives the loneliness and can paralyse us with fear.

The superwomen complex seems to stem from the current tendency of viewing entrepreneurs as rock stars, influencers and brands within themselves. Suddenly, the female entrepreneur finds herself having to grow her business exponentially in a short space of time; she must be beautiful, sexy and in a fulfilled relationship. This cannot be a state that any female entrepreneur should aspire towards.

Creating a community

With these two friends of mine, we are creating a platform, She Rocks Global, which seeks to create a community of perfectly imperfect women who want to enjoy their place in the world.

Our first project is a podcast and we are currently interviewing women from our three regions and learning so much about how women who are embracing their perfectly imperfect lives are rocking. She Rocks Global is teaching us that it’s not just about networking but it’s about having a squad that mirrors your experience and is a contrast to your experience. What we are learning is that we are actually all the same but different!

The difference between a squad and a network is that a network is created to drive value within a community. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that so please arm yourselves with your elevator pitches and your business cards.
A squad exists to allow its community to “let it all hang” – laugh together, cry together, high five each other and simply shine the light on each person.

At She Rocks Global, we encourage everyone in our community to spend time curating their personal board of advisors and to commune often with that board. Choose your squad according to the things that matter to you (work, love, health, spirit, mind…) and let your squad hold you up.

How my entrepreneurial journey started

I found myself in the space of wanting to create a platform like She Rocks throughout my journey as an entrepreneur. I started my first business in 2005. This was at a time when we didn’t even use the word “entrepreneur”. You were self-employed.

If I’m being honest, I started this business with my business partner, Abdullah Verachia, as a means of avoiding poverty as I’d decided that being a humanities graduate would render me unemployable. (How wrong I was! I am now a firm believer in the power of degrees from the faculty of humanities and if I had my way, I would compel any entrepreneur who wanted to pursue a tertiary qualification to go for this option but I digress…).

The heady days of starting a business as a young person were a rollercoaster and the folly of youth meant that I was almost indefatigable and indestructible. Abdullah and I grew the business and in the decade of working together, we acquired a third equity partner and generated employment for a large number of young South Africans. I eventually negotiated a cash buyout and it was then I realised that I’d lived the life of an entrepreneur: started a business, grew the business, pivoted the business and exited the business.

Upon reflecting on my first business I realised that when it comes to how women think about growing their businesses and themselves as entrepreneurs, they do it as individuals.

I started my second business with business partner, Nicci Stewart, with the purpose of using the power of social capital to enable women-owned businesses. In other words, the question we started off with was: how can we enable the growth of women-owned businesses by leveraging the power of relationships and networks?

The business, nnfinity, delivers training and consulting services whilst connecting its clients to each other and to global opportunities. Starting a business in 2017 versus starting a business in 2005 meant that I was just as green as a first time entrepreneur. Things are moving fast! My mentor, Lesley, often reminds me that it is now so easy to stand up, as entrepreneur, but really difficult to stand out.

Why anxiety hits women entrepreneurs harder

The South African economy is sluggish and this is worrying many entrepreneurs. I have been wondering why this anxiety around the economy seems to hit female entrepreneurs harder than their male counterparts. I have landed on the notion that I am moving in circles where the women are in the mid-to-late thirties.

This means that many of us are dealing with aging parents and the universal experience is that the responsibility of parenting one’s parents falls on the girl-child. Any unpleasant shocks to the economy translate into unpleasant shocks in a small business. Those unpleasant shocks hit the bottom line and women business owners are anxious.

I realised that when it comes to how women think about growing their businesses and themselves as entrepreneurs, they do it as individuals

Broadening my network globally

I insulate myself from some of the shocks by globalising my existence and how I go about growing my business and myself as an entrepreneur. I actively seek out connections with women from all corners of the world. This global sisterhood means that I am exposed to opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. My South African experience is seen as a valuable asset when it comes to collaborating and co-creating with colleagues from abroad.

Sometimes, it helps to simply change the scenery when feeling a bit overwhelmed and time and time again, I prove to myself that the ability to plug into communities abroad provides me with an amazing perspective in terms of any challenges I am facing and opportunities that I might be missing.

True to my humanities heart, I am realising that we are all made up of stories and women are fabulous storytellers. The real truth is that I thrive in the world by knowing my story and by telling my story with pride.

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