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Salima Manji set up her own matchmaking business and is now moving on to her next, a business networking group.
Salima Manji has an entrepreneurial spirit. A few years ago, she set up the London Dinner Club, an upmarket dining club for single professionals looking for a relationship, after spotting a gap in the market among her City friends who were working long hours and didn’t have much time for socialising.
She has built the business up and now she’s selling it to one of the members of her club and setting up another business – this time focusing on business networking. It’s risky starting a new venture, but she finds the challenge exciting.
Salima, a former accountant in investment banking, turned to entrepreneurialism when she went down to four days a week after taking time out to have her two children. She found that work was not the same as it had been before. She felt torn between work and family, her marriage was breaking up and she wanted to find something where she was more able to work around her children. Salima says she had the business networking idea at the back of her mind at the time, but all her energies had to go into the London Dinner Club.
“People were telling me it was so hard to network in London,” she says. “There were plenty of events, but most seemed to be held in bars in the City where people were crammed in.” She felt there was a need for networking events covering West London – in particular the wealthy districts of Mayfair, Chelsea and Knightsbridge which would take place in relaxed, upmarket surroundings.
Salima lives in Fulham so it is also easier for her to host events which are nearer home. She says the business is her “new baby” and she felt it was time to move on from the Dinner Club. “I feel you have to have passion for a business. After three years I thought it was time for someone new to take over with new ideas,” she says.
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She is publicising City Networking Events in the same way as the London Dinner Club, using social media, Google ad words and PR. She sent an email to her London Dinner Club database of 500 members saying she was leaving and setting up a new venture, but she does not feel it is professional to use her database in her new business. That means she has to start from scratch again.
Her first event was a small dinner party in Mayfair last week. Next week she is holding a drinks party in Chelsea. “I have to be a bit brave and take risks,” she says. “Entrepreneurs cannot play it safe.”
Her role in the events is to act as a broker. She introduces people when they arrive and the ticket price includes a drink which they get handed as soon as they come in.That makes it easier for them to start conversations straight away, says Salima. She doesn’t believe in structuring the events too much, saying that doing so often doesn’t bring the desired outcome. People from different professional backgrounds often have interesting conversations, she says. Her aim is to get people circulating so that, by the end of the evening, everyone has met everyone else.
Salima admits she has had to put in long hours to build the new business. Since she has had to start from scratch, she has used new website and logo designers to give the business a fresh look. She found them by putting out a call on Twitter for recommendations. She has spent the evenings after putting her children to bed going through designs and logos and emailing her friends asking for their views.
To host the events she has to have good childcare arrangements. Salima admits that it has been hard in the past to fit her business around her children. “I had to build up a database to help me with childcare in the evenings. You can’t rely on one babysitter, You need five or six people you can call on. I have an army of people I can now text,” she says.
She is excited about the future and says she also wants to inspire other women to become entrepreneurs. “It would be great to inspire other mums,” she says, “because it is possible to do it if you have the right infrastructure in place.”