When I came back from France, I visited my alma mater and then stayed in New York for a few weeks. While there, I caught up with friends, re-evaluated my life and sought out opportunities that would align with my life goals. That is how I got to be a representative for Miss Kabi, and volunteer as a brand ambassador for She Leads Africa in their She Hive NYC, a bootcamp for professional and entrepreneurial African women. Doing so required me to stay an extra few days in New York than I had planned and was one of the best decisions I’ve made since leaving Paris.
She Leads Africa, a social enterprise dedicated to helping “young African women achieve their professional dreams,” recently held a four day conference in New York City.
Ofunneamaka, founder of Cocoa Swatches was one of the attendees.
Day One of She Hive NYC opened up with attendees introducing themselves and talking about why they chose to come for the conference. Students, aspiring, new and seasoned entrepreneurs and professionals from across the spectrum echoed their excitement and interest in learning from the speakers, networking with other women present and making lasting connections with like-minded individuals. “I’m here to be inspired,” said many of the attendees. And inspired they were.
The weekend was filled with amazing women from across the diaspora. Entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals, and career coaches were just a sampling of the knowledge and talent that the speakers brought to the event.
The speakers were interspersed with activities for the attendees to get to know each other and flex their business and creative muscles. Some of the activities had the women creating motherland mogul raps, introducing their neighbor, giving a brief overview of themselves and what they do, putting together a pitch to encourage other women to attend She Hive and other activities that got them up, moving and networking.
As I listened to the speakers at the She Hive, here are some of the biggest pieces of advice that stuck with me:
1. Be strategic in who and how you reach out to people
When you are growing your business or trying to advance in your career, who you know and the connections you can make are incredibly important. Reaching out to the people in the right places is key, and how you do it is just as important. Yasmin Belo-Osagie, co-founder of She Leads Africa, encouraged participants to look within their networks. Ask your friends and family who they might know in certain businesses. See who in your university’s alumni base works at certain organizations and reach out to them.
When reaching out to these busy people, ensure that you respect their time and follow up with your request. Respecting their time means being concise and direct with your request. In addition, if you are at a networking event, ensure that you have your pitch ready and concise. Remember to think outside the box about companies that would be interested in what you are doing.
2. Build a support team and lean on them through the good & the bad
Finding sponsors and investors is critical to growing your business, but so is having a supportive circle of family and friends. Bisila Bokoko, a Spanish American international businesswoman, encouraged the group to travel and make friends and connections from around the world. The best way to do this is by learning a new language, because it gives you access to more parts of the world and deeper connections with the people that live there.
Cherae Robinson, founder of Tastemakers Africa, reminded attendees to not only call their supporters when it’s time to celebrate, but to also lean on them when times are rough. Other speakers also reiterated the importance of asking for help and how no man – or woman, is an island. One great way to have powerful people in your support team is to keep in touch with people from internships, like Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief of Essence magazine, pointed out.
3. Brand yourself by living your purpose & using your authentic voice
Yetunde Shorters, a cheerleader for women entrepreneurs, walked attendees through finding their passions, values and the benefits and skills they bring to the world. Together these attributes helped those present pinpoint their purpose and they brainstormed how they could then bring it to the people who needed it the most. When you do find your passion and your purpose, it’s important to chase it with all you’ve got. While doing that, branding yourself or your business is of utmost importance. The branding has to be purposeful, authentic and concise.
Several speakers, including Sharon Beason, founder of Womeneur, and Afua Osei, co-founder of She Leads Africa, walked attendees through key points in creating a brand around their business. Adiat Disu, founder of Adiree and a number of other startups, reminded everyone to “Boss up before they brand up,” meaning that you should worry about cash flow, product and customers before worrying about fonts, graphics and logos.
4. Be specific about who your customers are and what their needs are
With Afua, Sharon, and Yetunde, attendees got a chance to really think through who their potential customers would be and getting to the root causes of the problems they were trying to fix for these customers. Attendees made customer profiles in which they gave their customers names, hobbies and issues that had to be solved. Yetunde reminded them that they should be that bridge between their customers and their customers’ goals. In addition, when marketing, be very clear who your customers are. If you try to be for everyone, then your business will be for no one.
Maame Adjei of An African City, one of my favorite shows!
5. Be willing to start for free
Building your business can feel like an uphill battle, especially when first starting. One way to begin overcoming this hill is by being willing to do a few things for free to gain momentum and name recognition. Maame Adjei of an African City, gave the example of how An African City was a passion project and so they broadcast their first season on YouTube for free. Now, well into season 2, they have moved An African City to a pay-to-watch series. While there was a lot of push back from fans, they still made money more in their first month of Season 2, than they made in their two years on YouTube.
Similarly, when Yetunde was starting her PR firm, she offered to work for her first client for free for the first three months and if they were satisfied she would retain them for a year. The client ended up staying with her up until she retired from the music industry. That said, once you gain momentum, you have to charge what you are worth.
An attendee speaking with co-founder Afua and Clarissa of This Afropolitan Life who was there representing Reel African.
6. Be a cultural ambassador
A conference for young African women would not be complete without talking about the history and shared similar cultures that bring us all together. A lot of camaraderie and jokes were shared about the struggles of growing up African in America or the continent. The conversation also got serious about how to champion Africa’s growth and image around the world – no matter your heritage or industry. Almost all speakers spoke to this, particularly Lola Ogunnaike, Maame Adjei, and Cherae Robinson. “There is not enough premium associated with the continent,” said Cherae Robinson.
Thelma Golden, director of Studio Museum Harlem, gave attendees important and actionable steps on how to act as cultural ambassadors by supporting the arts and artists, particularly when it comes to African and Black contemporary artists. Lola, a well-known journalist, also reminded the audience that while championing African culture and working towards changing the image of Africa in the West, they also shouldn’t feel the need to become the voice of Africa and only cover topics expected of them. They should feel free to contribute to whatever industry they are passionate about.
Asmau Ahmed of Plum Perfect
7. Advocate for yourself and be willing to put in the work
Finally, building a business and/or a cosmopolitan professional career is very hard work. Remember to take initiative, remain dedicated and continually find places to learn, network and advance your goals. Asmau Ahmed, founder of Plum Perfect, knew that being a black woman in tech was an uphill battle but she did not let that discourage her. “Let you resume speak for itself,” she said. All the speakers were very candid about their own obstacles, mistakes, and of course successful moments. They reminded attendees that when it gets tough is the most important time to stick it through. By creating good habits, remembering why they are doing what they are doing, ambitious young women can turn their dreams into reality.
Over all the She Leads Africa team did such an amazing job getting inspiring women to come speak and creating a fun and energetic vibe of camaraderie and growth. It was just what I needed in my ‘time off.’
She Leads Africa is taking the She Hive to four more countries before the end of the year. Check out if there is one coming near you. The next She Hive will be held in Nairobi from June 30th to July 3rd.
Have you attended a She Hive? What were your biggest take-aways?
And how do you choose to spend your time when you’re between stints?