This week ISB speaks to Alison Valenti and Sophie Musumeci, co-founders of the Real Entrepreneur Mums. Alison and Sophie have created a community where women in business get to support one another and help each other to grow their businesses.
ISB: What are your business backgrounds?
AV: I trained as an insurance underwriter but after having my kids I started working as a small-business coach, helping women with hobby businesses turn them into viable commercial enterprises.
SM: I am a change-management consultant and work with large corporations to improve their corporate culture. At the moment I am still doing that two days a week but I plan to phase that out completely as The Real Entrepreneur Mums is going from strength to strength.
ISB: How did The Real Entrepreneur Mums come about?
AV: We met at a networking event three years ago, and while chatting we identified a real dearth of opportunities for women to make long-term, trustworthy relationships with others in the same boat. So, we decided to create a business that offers women the opportunity to be the best they can be via worthwhile networking and referrals, without them having to compete with each other.
SM: We devised a structure that involved creating small communities of businesswomen in each area – we spoke to 20 in our local district and 19 of them signed up straight away, and the 20th is now also a member. We opened our first community in Sydney’s Hills district in August 2016. We are opening our 11th community, and first outside Sydney, in early November in Adelaide.
ISB: How did you fund the enterprise?
AV: We invested the income from the first memberships – each community has a minimum of 10 members and a maximum of 30, and members pay an annual fee – on room-hire, branding, logos and our website. We gave the balance of that first income to charity. Today we commit to give 10 per cent of our annual profit to charity and encourage our communities’ members to involve themselves in their local charities.
ISB: How have you sourced your members?
SM: We allow female entrepreneurs to come along to community meetings as a member’s guest. We also do open days twice a year in each area in which we have a community, until such as time as we have the maximum number of members in that area. We only allow one person from any given profession to join each community to avoid our members having to compete with each other.
AV: We don’t exclude women who aren’t mums from joining but we do specifically target mothers in our marketing. So many women think they’re going to have to give away their dream when they become a mother, so a huge priority for us is showing them that they can still reach for the stars.
ISB: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in growing the business?
AV: Expanding interstate, where we’re not able to host the meetings in person. We’re opening in Adelaide because we were approached by somebody we know and trust there to get things moving. In the other states we are going to travel to host open days. By the end of 2018 we plan to have added 20 new communities with a representation in Victoria, the ACT, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and New Zealand. By 2021 we aim to have 100 communities globally. We recently launched an online magazine that features stories written by our members, and we create an annual planner for our members to help them set goals for the year ahead.
ISB: Finally, what was the best piece of advice you have received you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?
SM: There’s a saying that “you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with” – make sure you spend time with people who believe in you and support what you are doing as that will mean you’re far more likely to succeed.