Author: Lenka Lutonska
Successful entrepreneurship doesn’t come without overcoming obstacles along the way. I’ve dealt with quite a few: leaving my loved ones in my home country of Slovakia at the age of only 19 to move to the U.K. in pursuit of my dream to “change the world,” selling my house and all my possessions to finance my startup, even bringing my established business to the ground several years later because of one big mistake.
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And I’m not going to lie. On many occasions, I felt the sense of loneliness on this journey.
When I first came to the U.K., I needed to make money quickly. So, I got a job cleaning tables at McDonalds. I stayed with the company for six years. I worked my way up quickly, to become an award-winning business manager. But, all along I had a desire to start my own business.
In Slovakia we’re taught you have to work hard to get where you want to be, so I wasn’t afraid of putting in the work, but I knew I wanted more than just a job. I wanted to make a difference. So, despite my worries that my accent was too strong, and that no one would take this Slovakian immigrant seriously, I trained as an accredited Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Trainer and set up my own business, training people in confidence-building and communication skills.
I found out very quickly that entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. I was living far from my home country, with no family around me. And at the time, I was building my business from my then boyfriend’s kitchen table, and I spent most of my days in front of the computer. It quickly became my only companion.
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But, I was determined to confront the issue head-on. Initially, I joined a few local in-person networking groups. It’s a great way to get to know like-minded people and form meaningful relationships, even valuable friendships. I certainly did. Ten years on, and I am still good friends with women I met during business networking events during the early stages of my business.
I also decided to introduce coworking days to my work schedule, by “buddying” with a like-minded woman entrepreneur who ran a similar business to mine. We would “hot desk” at each other’s places, and even though technically we were each other’s competition we would exchange concepts, give meaningful feedback and even partnered up on some of our business projects. Working became more enjoyable as I wasn’t confined to my ideas and the experience allowed for me to grow as an entrepreneur.
Six years into my business, I had a partnership that turned sour, causing me to lose my business and all that I had grown. It was a humbling experience, which led me back to local business networking with an aim of rebuilding my confidence and my business.
Very quickly I discovered that I was wearing a “mask” when attending these events. I would be talking to others as this successful woman entrepreneur, while deep inside I was feeling like a failure. I didn’t see how it was possible to be authentic and meet new entrepreneurs in a professional capacity.
As such, I decided it was time to set up my own local support group for entrepreneurs where we could openly be honest with each other on how we felt on both a professional and personal level (as opposed to all of these traditional networking groups). The group thrived as we created an environment of honesty, extraordinary support for one another and fun. There is massive value in women entrepreneurs being able to connect on a deeper, emotional level. It can feel a little scary to start with, but the level of relationships, advice and support is 100 percent worth it.
The format and intention were part of the power of it and what brought the group its successes. We had three-hour long, monthly meetings, which I limited to 25 women so that there would be space for every woman to open up and grow. We each shared our successes with each other, no matter how big or small, but also our challenges, so the rest of the group could help us to overcome them. I called these sessions “hot seats” and yes, sometimes these sessions felt a bit uncomfortable for women (typically it is not natural for us to ask but rather to give and nurture), but it was very useful. There was also a space for creating a plan for the next month, partnering up in terms of accountability and forming deeper relationships.