3 Networking Lessons I Learned from African Entrepreneurs

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I really love it when we get guest writers with different life experiences on the blog. We sometimes tend to speak of this freelancing thing in terms of absolutes – here is what you SHOULD do to be a successful freelancer.

But that’s hardly the case. Freelancing and entrepreneurship can have so many different faces – it’s a no-brainer then to keep our eyes peeled for lessons in the most unusual places.

For example, Emily McGee our guest writer today, is the perfect example of such curiosity. She shares three networking lessons that she learned by observing how business is conducted in Africa. Take it away Emily!

I live in Mozambique, a country in Africa.

It’s common here for solo entrepreneurs who sell the same goods to cluster together. There is one area of town where you go to buy tires. There is another area of town where you buy seafood. If you want to buy carpets on the side of the road, you can do that, but only on one street.

On the surface, I thought it was a bad business strategy for these roadside sellers to work so closely with their competition.

Shouldn’t they sell in an area with no competitors nearby? Wouldn’t it be better for business to be the only seafood vendor in one part of town?

Over time, I realized why African solo entrepreneurs work so closely with their competition:

  • They support each other by sharing resources.
  • They draw more customers, because customers know where to find them.
  • They know that their relationships with customers set them apart from the competition.

Here’s how you can apply these three lessons to your own work as a freelancer.

1. Your Competition Can Share Their Resources

African solo entrepreneurs have limited resources.

I’ve literally tried to buy two pints of strawberries from a man on the side of the road, and he only had a single pint of strawberries available. Luckily, three other strawberry vendors stand on this street corner. My strawberry guy simply borrowed a pint of berries from his competition. He closed the sale, and I walked away happy.

As a freelance writer, I’ve used this strategy to help other writers in my niche find jobs. A previous client had a major project that required several freelancers. I helped two writers in my niche get hired for the project. Being generous with my competition benefited me later, when one of these writers helped me get a full-time job with another education company.

Just like the strawberry vendors, your resources are limited.

You only have so much time to find prospects, pitch and do the work. Networking with your competition can help you make the most of your time. This network will help us all find more leads and more work.

3 Networking Lessons I Learned from African Entrepreneurs and how that's helping my freelance business2.Customers Will Find You More Easily if You’re Part of a Group

When I want to buy flowers, I always go to the informal flower market here in Mozambique’s capital city.

I’ve seen a few flower vendors in other locations, but I never seek them out. It’s just easier to go to the street corner where a dozen flower vendors work. I know that someone there will have what I need.

Similarly, as a freelancer, you know your customers and clients are busy.

They don’t want to waste time searching the vast corners of the internet to find a blog writer or web designer. Hang out with your “competitors,“so potential clients can find you easily.

Join Facebook groups, Twitter chats and Pinterest boards with other people in your niche. Write guest blog posts on their blogs. And allow them to do the same. Promote each other’s content.

Make it easy for clients to find you by staying close to others in your niche.

3. Focus on Clients, NOT the Competition

People come back to the businesses they trust.

In Maputo, Mozambique, there are more than thirty fish stalls at the Fish Market, but I always buy my fish from Laila. She gives me the honest price, throws in a bunch of extras (bonus shrimp!) and often texts me after I’ve left to make sure I’m happy with the seafood.

In fact, everyone I know in Maputo has a favorite fish stall, and they are fiercely loyal. It doesn’t matter that there are 30 other people offering the same product as Laila, her relationship with me keeps me coming back.

Even when competition is fierce in your niche you can stand out and make a living by building your relationships with your customers. Deliver excellent products or services. Go above and beyond your client’s expectations.

Give them a little freebie. Treat them like they are your top priority.

You will not make a living or attract great clients if your business strategy involves underpricing your competition or talking trash about them. Focus on your client and don’t worry about anyone else.

What’s your best strategy for networking with other freelancers in your niche?

EmilyMcGee_Freelance writerEmily McGee is a freelance education writer living in Mozambique. Like every country, Mozambique has charms and challenges. The power cuts out at least twice a day. Grocery shopping requires a stop at four different markets, and the three mile drive to preschool drop-off can take an hour. Each way. Living in a developing country takes up a lot of time, so Emily writes about creating a freelance career that fits her lifestyle at My Adaptable Career. Follow Emily on Twitter @MyAdaptCareer

11 thoughts on “3 Networking Lessons I Learned from African Entrepreneurs”

  1. I am an African from Nigeria and I completely get what you’re saying. Everything you said was true. African solo entrepreneurs have a very close network that can’t be broken by competition.

    I couldn’t agree more with your application with freelance writers and solo entrepreneurs .

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m heading to your blog right away.

    • Hey Promise, I agree with you. In my experience, community and relationships are so much more valued in Mozambique than they are in the U.S. People succeed together, including those that Westerners view as “competitors.” Thanks for checking out my blog too, I look forward to talking to you more!

  2. I love this post Emily! It’s a reminder of one of my favorite parts about getting into the online freelancing business.

    I used to have the impression that things were so much more cutthroat and you were constantly competing with others in your niche but it really, truly is a community.

    Point #3 is my favorite…I think that it’s definitely the way you set yourself apart. Thank you for the share!

  3. Hey Chad, thanks for stopping by! We live in such a competition-driven world that it can be easy to forget that we’re all in this together. I think that’s one of my favorite parts of living overseas: I get to see how other cultures work, which helps me see my own culture in a new light. Cheers to the freelancing community!

  4. Great post Emily! I lived and worked in Tanzania for 5 years and plan to go back next year as a freelancer. I also experienced the African way of doing business…it’s all about relationships first. Not only is it great customer service but it makes us more human…and we can always use more of that!

    • Hey Lori, thank you! You’re right, relationships are paramount to business in Africa, and should be everywhere. I’m often amazed at the complex systems of reciprocity that I see here. What kind of freelance work will you be doing in Tanzania– writing? I’ll be your neighbor to the south, and who knows, maybe we will get a chance to meet up someday. It’s a small world!

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