Californian-turned-New Zealand social media strategist Francesca Alexander is using Hollywood-style Meetups to help empower female entrepreneurs.
By Johanna Bennett
Francesca Alexander ran a successful business in Hollywood and San Francisco teaching start-ups how to use social media to grow their business. Two years ago, love – in the shape of her Kiwi husband – brought her to New Zealand.
Her online social-media training school still teaches newbie entrepreneurs how to use social media effectively – a testament to her expertise is her 56,000 Twitter followers. But she also uses the online-offline mix that is Meetups to great effect.
An outgrowth of the social media world, Meetups allow people of like interests to meet in the real world but are supported with online communications.
They are increasingly popular among Auckland entrepreneurs as a way of fast-tracking networks. But Alexander’s Meetup has a twist. Called ‘Women Who #AMP’, her Meetup group not only aims to build a network of women entrepreneurs but to empower them by boosting their confidence. AMP stands for Advanced Mentorship Program, which is also the name of Alexander’s online social media course.
Now living in Auckland, Alexander has taken AMP offline too, expanding its scope using Meetups. She wants to break down the isolation women entrepreneurs tend to suffer from and teach them some of the business ropes.
“Meetups not only introduce female entrepreneurs to each other but allow them to familiarise themselves with other women who are either already successful or are starting out in business,” says Alexander.
“It’s very important to meet people who are going through the same things as you, and Meetups bring like-minded people together and open up the conversation.”
She believes this type of female bonding is essential for women in business. “We’ve not been in the world of work for long, and we haven’t supported each other because we’ve been fighting for our place. So, finding your space in business and sharing it with other females is a new idea for women. Men have always been good at bringing in colleagues while still being competitive, and they have strong networks. My Meetups are about creating this for women.”
Alexander has obviously hit a real hot spot as her ‘Women Who #AMP’ Meetup list currently numbers 500-plus.
The ‘give back’ model
Meetups work on the social media ‘give back’ model, explains Alexander. She models hers as mini seminars, but injects a little fun too as she believes enjoyment is important in business and makes for greater success.
This fun is often music breaks – something she advocates women working on their own indulge in regularly, to keep themselves fresh and motivated.
Clearly, not all Meetups are organised this way. Alexander’s Meetup has a two-part meaty bit too. In the first part, she imparts strategic and tactical knowledge, to help grow participants’ business. Sometimes this is about social media, but not always. A recent popular topic was ‘Closing the deal’. Something many people struggle with.
Part two is about building networks and confidence – which go together for women.
“Networking is daunting for women. They want community and instinctively know how it should be done, because they have girlfriends; but business networking is new to them.”
Alexander believes women need networks badly – so they can share talents and help get each other in front of clients. “Having no networks leads to isolation and the feeling that you need to grab any client just so you can pay the bills.”
The entrepreneurial world is very new to women and Alexander sees Meetups as a good source of support as well as education.
“Meetups are about this. I wanted to create this type of support. I believe it’s important to cheer people on, both when they’re successful and when they blunder and fail miserably.”
Nor is failure a big problem, she says.
“It’s important to fail because it allows you to go to the next step, so you can refine your product. The more you fail, and are comfortable with it, the more you can go on and succeed.”
If Meetups are so powerful, how do you run a successful one? Alexander has a few tips. The biggest one is to communicate regularly.
Alexander treats her Meetup as part of a whole communications package. She sends out regular emails and e-newsletters, and may tweet or write a blog post about a Meetup topic. Curiously, one of her most popular posts, the ‘Bad Girl’s Guide to Invoicing’, ran the other way and inspired her ‘Closing the Deal’ Meetup topic.
Alexander typically gets 15 to 20 people coming to her Meetups. The perfect number, she says. “To do this, you need to show a genuine reason why you are gathering. Which involves sharing why you are doing what you are doing. If you can bring this to the fore, you are going to get a following,” she promises.
Alexander’s own form of marketing is a little unusual. She calls it non-marketing. “My way to connect with people is to be transparent – to talk about my failures not my successes. And if I do talk about my successes I will talk about how a client valued what I had given her.”
Story behind the vision
Meetups around entrepreneurship may be springing up fast, but many still focus on young male start-ups. As 40 percent of small business owners in New Zealand are women there is obviously a need for a range of support for different types of entrepreneurs. This is clear from the fast growth of ‘Women Who #AMP’.
But AMP is doubly different in the way it seeks to empower female entrepreneurs as well as create networks. It’s not just about business, and it is also aimed at women from all walks of life. Alexander puts this passion for empowering women down to her background.
“When I was young I didn’t get the breaks; I just wasn’t included. This used to anger me, but it then became an internal revolution – a desire to break through and create possibilities.
“If I can this for other women too then I will have done my job in life.”