The age of The Female Entrepreneur is upon us. Women in business are continuously breaking glass ceilings every day. In fact, there are over 114% more women owned businesses today than 20 years ago.
What is one of the biggest aspect all successful female entrepreneurs will agree on? The power and necessity of networking. More specifically, networking the right way. Read on to discover how to become confident with your networking message, reach out of your comfort zone, utilize a wider variety of demographics, set networking objectives, and cultivate comfortable follow-up techniques.
Female focused networking resources
The accelerated rise in female entrepreneurship since 2007 has opened up a considerable amount of new resources and networking opportunities designed specifically for women. Organizations like Connect W, host member-only networking events where women can meet like-minded women and share their connections. There are also Female only co-working spaces like The Wing in downtown New York City that promote a culture of support, empowerment and mentorship. Female focused networks are an amazing asset. They provide a great way to build confidence in creating business relationships and establishing your message.
In a general sense women tend to be more nurturing and compassionate therefore creating new relationships is often less intimidating. Use your networking peers to explore different approaches in striking up meaningful conversation. Figure out which of your techniques are cultivating useful business relationships, and which simply add up to small talk. It's okay to establish and reestablish your message. Know where your passion lies and what your goals are. Have a clear message in mind and then lean on the women around you to help perfect it.
Becoming confident in what you have to say and knowing how to get the attention of who you want to say it to is incredibly empowering. It takes a lot of trial and error, practice and repetition. Female focused networks are an amazing place to gain this valuable business confidence. Once you become comfortable in your networking abilities, it's time to reach outside of that comfort zone and include additional platforms with wider demographics. Women are continuously doing remarkable things in the world of business but we have to face the facts; A lot of men hold senior level positions as well. Excluding them from your network leaves unopened doors and potentially missed opportunities.
* Tip: If you are just dipping your feet into the networking world, start with a group geared towards female networkers. As you practice and start perfecting your art, branch out into networks that include more demographics, and possibly more opportunities. Remember you are GROWING your network, not changing it.
Socializing v.s. Networking
Understanding the difference between socializing and networking is a valuable concept a lot of female entrepreneurs have yet to master. Socialization is an integral part of day to day life and goes a long way in business. Most of us have been learning how to navigate social situations since grade school, probably even before. Learning how to best communicate with different groups of people in a range of situations is an extremely useful tool. When the conversation is light, social, or has no future purpose past an introduction it's safe to say you're purely socializing. Sharing family photos and recipes are great ways to obtain new friends, friends don't always equal business connections.
When the conversation is purpose driven with a target objective then you are crossing over into networking. The goal is to support your aspirations through connections. These connections you are making need to be laid out with focus and intention, having a set outcome for each in mind. Always remember advancing your business through this relationship is the main goal. Now you must also remember no one likes a user, which is easier to spot in networking circles than you might imagine. Expecting all of the connections, mentorship and business benefits without returning any value is a quick and surefire way to devalue your network. Those that mutually share their business advice and resources tend to get the most out of networking as a whole.
* Tip to distinguishing the difference: Networking is an on the clock event, socializing is
something you do in your free time. If you have trouble separating the two ask yourself when entering a conversation, is this something my business would pay me for?
Although women are typically seen as more "social" than men overall, according to a Women in the Workplace report women actually network a considerable amount less than men. And when we are networking, it's usually in our comfort zone with other women.
Hour long events, workshops, or a social cocktail hour top the list in ways which women are found networking. We are busy creatures after all, running a household, building our empire, caring for children... Many of us understand the importance of networking but also feel there aren't enough hours in our day. The result: We try to forge as many connections as we can in a short period of time. Remember quantity doesn't always equal quality when it comes to your network.
How often do you hear about men taking potential clients and network connections out for a round of golf? With an average 18-holes taking 4+ hours one thing is for sure, you have a captive audience and plenty of time to get past the small talk. It's not that men aren't busy or have somehow cracked the code through sports, it's the realization that when networking is done successfully time equals future money. Creating new connections through relationships takes time and effort.
This doesn't mean every time you network it has to be an all day event. Instead of making time for networking before or after work, try scheduling some networking appointments into your work day. This provides a less structured environment where it is easier to build an authentic relationship. You control the place, activity, and amount of time. In addition it motivates you to be more selective with whom you lend your time to in these situations. Designating a piece of your work day to meeting with someone helps keep your mind focused on networking instead of socializing with an "one the clock" mentality.
* Tip: when scheduling networking appointment always ask yourself if this is someone you'd invest in a game of golf with, even if you have no intentions of actually golfing.
Make connections but keep clear objectives
Imagine you just signed up for a weekend networking seminar. Multiple C-suite executives from companies you admire are registered to attend. It's the perfect networking opportunity for you and you're so excited to make some amazing connections. I would propose a little bit of homework before you attend. It's a great way to up the odds on quality and quantity of these future connections.
Make an agenda before you go. Include the event's schedule, and your networking message for this event (your message may change slightly based on your audience and circumstance) in writing in the very front. Next write out why you are attending this event and who you are attending in hopes to meet. Write their names and why meeting them in particular could be beneficial. Finally, google away! Chances are, if these execs have made such a name for themselves they are bound to have some kind of web presence. They may have done an interview somewhere, written an article, have social media accounts, or possibly even have a wikipedia page. Do a little digging and you're bound to find something to help break the ice with a meaningful introduction. Think about it, if you have aspirations to meet Mr. Jones because of his successes you can bet a lot of other attendees do as well. I hate to say it but, introductions are a dime a dozen in this setting. Wait... you found Mr. Jones' interview from a few years back where he mentions his love for Football and the Greenbay Packers. It just so happens you're also a huge fan! Weaving commonalities into your conversations can really help you stand out from the crowd.
Maybe carrying a journal or notepad around while networking isn't your style. Make a notes page in your phone, it doesn't have to be super formal just having the information there with you to reference and make notes on is very beneficial. Making sure the connection is meaningful but that you also relay your message and accomplish your objectives can be a fine line to walk sometimes. Especially if you only have a very short window of time to talk. A networking event of great size with many attendees is a great way to practice your approach, see what seems to work and what doesn't. When you perfect it though, following up with this connection is much easier to do. You have already told them what you aim to achieve now you're just making good on your word.
* Tip: As always, don't forget plenty of business cards and to ask for a business card from everyone you make contact with at this event. You can also use the back of these business cards to jot down notes and important information about the person you are talking to.
Don't neglect the follow-up
Neglecting to follow-up leaves money on the table. If you are successfully networking you have not only started creating a relationship with this person but you have also shared your objectives with each other. Following up in this situation is so much more comfortable. You told them what you plan to achieve already and somewhere along the line you decided they could assist you in meeting your goals. After all, that's why you're reaching out now, isn't it? If they shared objectives with you that you may be able to help with, a follow-up providing potential resources is always a great way to go. If not, don't sweat it. Your follow-up should show some personality and reference to your connection. You are trying to avoid sounding like a generic copy and paste document. Don't be shy to ask for what you want. The answer is always no if you never ask. Plus, you've already told them what your objectives are they won't be surprised when you ask for help achieving them.
* Tip: Think of the follow-up not as asking for a favor, but proving that you follow through on your word. You told them what you want when you laid out your objectives, now you're just doing what you said you would and getting it.
Not every connection is going to pan out. Some might just be wrong timing, others might not have the resources that you are looking for... Don't discard so quickly! Chances are you will still value this connection when the time is right. Just because someone isn't directly in a position to help you themselves, doesn't mean they don't know someone who is, or know someone, who knows someone who is. Create a networking database. It is extremely helpful to have all of your clients and connections organized in one place. This will serve as a reminder where you last left off with each person, connections they have suggested, contact information, when it's time to follow-up again...the list goes on and on.
The world of networking can be tricky to finesse. As an entrepreneur it's a necessary evil. The sooner you master the art of making valuable business connections, relaying your message, and successful follow-up techniques, the better off you'll be. In today's world who you know can very well be the difference between make or break.
Happy networking hustlers!