When I started out in business I did A LOT of networking, I followed all of the advice and armed with a stack of business cards I attended business breakfasts, women’s lunches and business brunches. I gave elevator pitches, 10-minute spotlight talks and did the business card shuffles.
These days I stick to networking in a more organic way, developing relationships online and being discerning about the groups and meetings I attend.
Whatever stage of business you are at, you can always find new ways to meet people and develop your business. Networking groups online and in person are always springing up so keep an open mind and find what suits you and your business – even if you had a bad experience at one, it doesn’t mean you should blanket avoid all networking!
This week, I thought I’d speak to a range of women with distinctly different businesses, all at different stages of their career journey. They’ve shared with me some of their experiences and tips to help reinforce your networking strategy or give you new ways to approach it:
I’ve met some amazing people whilst networking; people who have taught me new things, given me new insights and opportunities which have helped me to develop my business. Meeting new people has also helped me to share ideas, help others and find new ways to give back to fellow businesses and society as a whole.
“My networking has enriched my life personally and professionally. I learn so much from meeting other women forging new careers and it has made me more confident and assured in my business, too.” Lizzie Darcy, Mama.Do
“Networking for me is crucial when it comes to discovering new brands and opportunities for my business - as well as finding guests for our podcast. [It] is important for business building, building a support network and I have made good friends who started off as business connections.” Janet Oganah, Janet’s List & Making Money Moves
I believe that to some degree every business interaction you have is a form of networking. From the online engagement on social media or interaction in a Facebook group to a face-to-face meeting. How you show up represents your business and will lead to collaboration, referral and ongoing relationships.
“If you go in with a heart to help and not just seeking out new clients or trying to sell something, you may meet new friends and get pulled into interesting projects along the way.” Joy Foster, Tech Pixies
“My networking consists of attending events, catching up with business contacts one-to-one and speaking at events. When I started in business a few years ago, I attended 2-3 events a week, for three weeks in a month. It sounds like a lot but it was a really useful exercise in building and deepening my network and keeping the pipeline of work going. Now, I will only attend a networking event if I am speaking, if I am supporting a friend/business connection or if I am learning something new that I cannot learn elsewhere. Those are my three criteria and the best events for me tick all those boxes.” Janet Oganah, Janet’s List & Making Money Moves
“I run www.southwoodsocialhub.co.uk which is a modern online networking community for female entrepreneurs. I used to find networking pretty awkward and the women I met at all the local groups just didn't understand my business model at all. A few years ago I decided there must of been other women who felt like me. And oh my goodness there was loads of women who felt exactly the same!” Hayley Southwood, Southwood Social Hub
You choose what networking feels right for you and is right for your business, this will evolve over time depending on what you want to achieve. There are no hard and fast rules; I firmly believe that the best relationships are formed when you feel most comfortable, so do what feel right for you.
“Building 1-to-1 relationships; they tend to start online and then I move them offline. I don't attend as many events to network as I used to.” Ronke Lawal Ariatu PR
“I’m involved in a couple of online groups on Facebook - the two I most participate in are Careering into Motherhood and School for Mothers. I think networking has changed a bit for me as the nature of the business has changed. When we were trying to get local contracts, I would attend local meetings. But as the business focus shifted to a more national approach, I find myself in London more and also networking with other women who own and run nationally focused businesses. It is definitely important to stay focused on the right networking for your size of business and perfect customer type…specialising does help.” Joy Foster, Tech Pixies
“I use my personal network and rather 1-to-1 coffees and the wonderful ‘gram for forging new connections and relationships” Lizzie Darcy, Mama.Do
As with anything there will be some challenges but these needn’t deter you…
“Not knowing whether people are genuine - obviously it takes time to build trust as some people network simply to "take take take", as opposed to learn and grow.” Ronke Lawal, Ariatu PR
“You can network too much and lose track of why you are doing it. I've limited myself to 2-4 per month and am much more selective about what I choose now.” Joy Foster, Tech Pixies
“You could spend all your time doing it and get no work done! Also I sometimes find it hard to say no to collaborations! Or coffees with people, too!” Lizzie Darcy, Mama.Do
“You have to kiss a few frogs to find your ideal networking space. I have attended a few networking events which were just not right for me. I believe in the saying ‘if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” Jenny Garrett, Jenny Garrett Global
There are some very clear benefits to developing your business network, not least as a really good way to organically spread the word about your business but also as a way to learn more about different ways of developing your business and meeting people from all walks of life.
“Most of my business comes from word of mouth, even those who are already in your network can forget you if you are not visible online or in person. Networking has meant that I am first to be recommended when opportunities arise for my particular talents in keynote speaking, coaching and leadership training.” Jenny Garrett, Jenny Garrett Global
“Word of mouth referrals and new business are the advantages for me.” Ronke Lawal, Ariatu PR
“I used to think I needed investment when I first launched my business, but fast forward and it was definitely contacts and connections that I needed.” Hayley Southwood, Southwood Social Hub
It was great to hear about different perspectives and tips on networking. I hope reading this you’ve found information that resonates and also some new ways you can approach your own networking.