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Getting ahead in business, especially when you’re a start-up entrepreneur, is a matter of networking as much as hard working. But sometimes the best way to make it to the top, is to put one foot ahead of the other on an invigorating hike up a mountain.
By Liziwe Ndalana
I’ll never forget the first time I hiked up Table Mountain. I didn’t have proper hiking shoes or gear, but I felt excited at the prospect of climbing a mountain I had seen daily, as I walked to campus at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
I packed my snack and put on the closest shoes I had to sneakers. The climb was long and strenuous, but my spirit was elated. I was even leading on our way up.
In hindsight, I realise it was not the first time I had hiked. Back in the rural Eastern Cape, we would climb small hills while fetching wood or dry cow dung to make fire. It’s just that we didn’t call it ‘hiking’.
The great thing about that hike on Table Mountain was meeting my former classmate, whom I hadn’t seen since our university days. She was a common friend with the friend who invited me to the hike.
We had a catch-up session, reminiscing about our varsity life. We had more than two hours in each other’s space, and that was an opportunity to truly connect. Chances of this happening at a social event were highly unlikely.
Last year, when I started my laundry business, I attended every networking event I could. Since leaving the corporate world, I had lost the networks and support structure I had through my colleagues. I quickly learned that entrepreneurship can be lonely, but with the right social networks, it doesn’t have to.
I went to these events not only to meet and greet people, but to build social circles I can belong to and turn to for comfort when the going gets tough. An entrepreneur friend of mine calls them “tribes”.
However, what I found was that people did the same old way of networking, dishing out business cards with a smile and a nod, and then moving on to the next person, without making a real connection.
Successful entrepreneurs or leaders in various fields came and almost read their resumes to us, without giving us insights into the real hard stuff most entrepreneurs go through at the start-up of a business.
They didn’t tell us how they dealt with the lack of support from family, or the lack of resources, which can lead to stress and depression. The more I attended these events, the lonelier this journey felt.
There must be something else to this entrepreneurship thing, I thought. It can’t be all doom and gloom. I wondered what humans need and value the most. The answer came easily to me. I want a connection, and I love connecting people.
Not just any people, but people who understand my struggle, and who can guide me on where to get information and help to make my business a success. That’s when the idea of a hiking club was born.
I met my hiking club co-founder at a networking event. We connected because I chose to speak to her even though she was sitting behind me.
Now we hike on the first Saturday of each month, doing different routes. Each hiking route is different in length and the strength it requires. We started with Lion’s Head, which I found easy to walk. It’s good for building that first connection.
The follow-up hikes were challenging, not only physically, but also because we invited other people and had to be patient as they were not as fit. We learned the importance of walking as a team, an important lesson for business.
Each climb, however difficult it may be, teaches me that soon I’ll be reaching the summit. That keeps me going. This lesson is valuable for my entrepreneurship journey. Each day in business is different. Some days are good and some are tough.
My co-founder is an entrepreneur who recently went back into full-time employment. She hasn’t given up her business, but she’s grateful for the employment. She told me that going back to full-time employment, after running her business for two years, taught her to have full autonomy over herself. She’s not afraid to walk away from a job if needs be.
We are also different in personality. She’s calm, practical and a planner, while I’m mostly emotional and go with the flow. She picks the routes and I organise the people.
Having new people joining us on each hike teaches me not to hoard connections, but to be generous in all aspects, including sharing information or contacts. We share our business goals and hold each other accountable to ensure we achieve them.
This teaches me that when you are running a business, you don’t have to do everything. You can outsource or collaborate. And when you finally make it all the way to the top, just like on a hike, you’ll have the whole world at your feet.
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