As we navigate lockdown after lockdown, it has been difficult to maintain social contact and our community. The pandemic has led to new communities being established online, where folks go to find connections and learn from others. Emily and Lucy O’Connor are two sisters that set up an online community for female entrepreneurs in Ireland, Boss Ladies. Ireland currently has the highest gender gap in self-employment in the EU according to figures from Enterprise Ireland. Women are underrepresented in the field of entrepreneurship and account for only 10% of total Venture Capital funding in Ireland. Through their Boss Ladies community, which has grown to over 8,000 followers on Instagram, Emily and Lucy hope to help women to grow their businesses and network. I sat down with them to find out more.
Q. How do you go about building a community online?
Community building is not easy, but a lot of people think it’s pretty simple. Put up some content, people like, people share. It’s great but it’s definitely not that easy. When building a community, you have to define what your value prop is. What value are you going to bring to your community? Defining your niche. Obviously, we picked female entrepreneurs. Picking a community, a niche that you can get into and one that you have experience in. That’s where you can bring the most value as well as your expertise and your interests.
It’s continuous, it’s not like you set up the Instagram account and suddenly you have 10,000 followers. It’s sharing content, checking in with people and replying to messages. When we first started Boss Ladies, the amount of messages we were getting was crazy. Having to reply to them, coming up with content ideas, scheduling those posts, engaging and liking posts. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that folks don’t see. We’d say to anyone looking to build an online community, start at the start. Take it step by step, don’t be thinking I’m going to have 30,000 followers in six months. Start by thinking about what community you want to build and the reason why you want to build it. You have to know why you want to do it. That helps keep you going when things get a bit difficult.
Q. What are the challenges of running an online community?
Covid-19 has driven more people online. There are no in-person events, so people are spending more time on Instagram looking for a sense of community. It’s a great time to start an online community but make sure you’re ready for chaos at the start. You’re not going to have all your systems in place for replying to people, engaging people or even the criteria. We decided to promote female entrepreneurs, but we had to further define our purpose and get some systems in place so we weren’t working on it 24 hours a day.
Q. How do you go about creating content for your community, identifying what they want?
We ask our community, it’s a two-way conversation. We often run surveys on Instagram to discover what they’re looking for or are struggling with. A lot of businesses have had to move online and many companies struggle with it. We measure the results from Instagram and talk to people to figure out what they need from us. Then we go and create that content. We conduct social listening and our own research as well. As curators of an online community, we also look to other communities that are inspirational and shaking things up in the online world.
Here’s some of the communities that inspire us:
Q. What are your plans for your online community?
At the moment, we’re creating an online directory for female owned businesses. There isn’t a platform dedicated to supporting Irish female entrepreneurs. We’ve just launched our directory for 2021. We aim to bring people together and get exposure for companies owned by females in Ireland. We’re also going to be providing Instagram support for businesses. We want to help people build their strategies, content and branding for social media. Our private Facebook group exists for those on our directory. It’s a place where if people need help, they’re able to ask questions and learn from one another in a safe space.
Our community is about sharing, not competing with others. We want to see everyone’s businesses succeed. Growing and scaling female businesses in Ireland is important. There is a real lack of representation of women in entrepreneurship in Ireland. We want to get as many female entrepreneurs to build up their companies.
Q. If somebody wants to join your online community and become an active member how would they go about it?
You can sign up on our website www.bossladiesireland.ie and if you add a listing you will have two options there. Once your listing is approved, you appear on our directory and you’ll be entitled to a share on our Instagram page. For anyone looking to buy from or support Irish female entrepreneurs, visit our website and take a look at the amazing Irish businesses listed on the directory.