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The importance of finding your small business community

July 25, 2023

Ed’s note: This is a guest post from outside xneelo.  

Being part of a community enables you as a small business owner to create meaningful connections, access valuable resources and knowledge, and build a strong foundation for your business. The benefits are considerable – it enhances visibility, credibility, and long-term viability, contributing to overall success.

Easier said than done, right? One of the biggest challenges for South African small e-commerce entrepreneurs is to come together to form groups where they can learn from each other. According to the Entrepreneur Education Report, 71% claim to have limited access to networking opportunities.

We asked someone who works “on the ground” with business owners daily, founder and CEO of Heavy Chef, Fred Roed, to talk to us about the importance of community and networking building for South African entrepreneurs and small business owners both online and offline – and to share some advice on how to find your own community.

Over to Fred. 

We’ve all been through a lot

These are strange and unusual times.

In pop culture, a recent episode of South Park was written by ChatGPT – to surprisingly good effect. In July, Meta released a new ‘Twitter-killer’ called Threads. Subsequently, the leaders of Meta and Twitter have challenged each other to a fight, in real life. And then in March this year, a poor-quality deepfake of President Biden threatening nuclear war sent a concerning ripple across the globe.

All this digital trickery, combativeness and resulting societal instability have a price. 

On the one hand, there are clear benefits and efficiencies. On the other, we’re starting to see research from around the world reveal scary signals of our mental health decline.

The following graph really bothered me, particularly given it’s South African Women’s Month a few days from now. Take a look at the following rates of suicide, self-harm, major depressive episodes and depressive symptoms among US women.

As famed founder of Y-Combinator Paul Graham quipped, “It’s so obvious that something changed, and we all know what it is.”

The US Financial Times shared a similar graph of US teens who only met up with friends, ‘Once a month or less’. They superimposed it with another graph showing the rise of people saying that it ‘Does not feel good to be alive’. The two lines have tracked neck and neck since 2010.

To be direct: this is the era of smartphones and the apps that live on them. These include Instagram, WhatsApp, Discord, Twitch, YouTube and Reddit.

Things are pretty dire here in South Africa too. Heavy Chef’s research report on mental health in 2022 (in collaboration with Xero, xneelo and other partners) showed an alarming rise in mental health challenges in entrepreneurs. Depression is through the roof. South Africa has entered the top ten countries in the world for suicide. Loneliness is an epidemic worse than COVID.

Even when we’re not alone, we’re alone. 

Walk around Cape Town’s beautiful Waterfront today and you’ll notice something odd. People are strolling with phones in their hands, scrolling through the latest apps, oblivious to the scenery around them.

Face-to-face interactions are extremely motivating

So, what is the antidote to all of this?

The solution to humanity’s woes is a multifactoral one. However, there is a clue in a tactic as old as our own species. 

Every Monday from 8 am to 9 am, I meet with Louis and Mike, my business partners and entrepreneur brothers-in-arms. We’ve been meeting for years, like clockwork. These meetings are lifesavers for the three of us. Sometimes we talk about serious stuff, life issues and work crises. Mostly we cover family updates and ‘yo mama’ jokes.

In a meeting earlier this year, Louis shared, “Guys, I just gotta tell you, this hour is the most valuable hour of my work week.” He said it with such sincerity that we all felt emotional. “I’m not crying. You’re crying,” said Louis, before ending the meeting. Mike and I both had to wipe away a tear.

In June 2023, I visited one of our entrepreneur groups in Khayelitsha. We met in a small tavern run by Pumla, a local community leader. The group included two food entrepreneurs, three artisans, a video editor, a social media manager, a property agent and an event manager. 

In a year that has been marked by crime, power cuts and infrastructure failure, the businesses represented in the room have been devastated. 

A charismatic youngster named Minimac serves burgers to Lwandle commuters from a small kitchen outside Strand. He lamented to the group, “How can I make food when loadshedding lasts four hours – sometimes more?” 

I asked the circle, “How is everyone staying positive?” 

Siyabonga, who is the Heavy Chef Community Manager in the area, said immediately, “Tribe.” 

“We look after each other,” Siya explained. “This is our entrepreneur tribe.” 

I realised that, in the darkest times, it’s not just financial support we’re looking for. Emotional support is as important – and at times more important. 

We thrive in group environments 

Social Psychology professor at New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt outlined compelling research on what he calls ‘the groupish gene’. This is in contrast to the widely held belief in a ‘selfish gene’, popularised in Richard Dawkins’ 1976 bestselling book

In essence, he explains that Homo Sapiens survived over our less fortunate cousins on the basis of our ability to work together. Through language, empathy and compassion, our species has been able to forge meaningful connections with each other. This has been true for three hundred thousand years. 

It is also true for entrepreneurs as Heavy Chef’s research team discovered in a recent survey led by Louis Janse van Rensburg and Lukhanyo Neer: 

The strongest predictor of entrepreneur success is the quality and quantity of interactions with other entrepreneurs. 

Crazy, right? 

Community. Collaboration. Communication.  More than investment, credentials or location.  We need humans around us. 

We need tribes

If we’re going to survive in this strange new world, we have to go back to our roots, roaming in packs that have each other’s backs. 

How to find your community

If we’re struggling in silo, fortunately we now have the means to connect through digital channels such as Heavy Chef. It is free to sign up and start connecting. Heavy Chef’s monthly events, thanks to sponsors such as xneelo, are free to all Heavy Chef members. 

There are dozens of other opportunities to connect as entrepreneurs. A cursory Google search will reveal a host in your area. Local neighbourhood groups. Business book clubs. BNI. EO. YPO and others. It’s imperative that we all take advantage of these.

LinkedIn is another great channel for networking with other entrepreneurs and industry peers, and finding the right groups to join to form valuable relationships.   

Fred’s challenge to you

Who is your tribe?

Who can you cry with?

Look after yourselves out there folks.

Keep connecting with each other.

Peace. 

NOTE: Heavy Chef and xneelo encourages anyone experiencing anxiety, mental illness or any emotional challenges to speak to a GP for referrals to local mental health support providers. The South African Suicide Hotline is 0800 567 567. 

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