Years ago, I participated in a sales training event. The trainer was presenting “sales through networking”. He showed a picture of a scary looking shark and said, “when you network, you need to be a shark!”
The next slide was a shark biting a piece of meat, there was blood all over his face (straight out of Jaws movie). Thank God, he said, “But you don’t need to be that bad.” He laughed. He had a big sharky laugh!
That scared me. It made me literally hate networking. I am not a shark. I can be, and anyone can be. It is not difficult to be opportunistic, fake and see your clients as pieces of meat. I choose not to be like that. As a result, I decided that networking was not for me.
In 2018, as a returning mother, with a massive career change, I came across Samantha Lawton’s profile on LinkedIn: it said ‘the NETWORKING QUEEN’.
“Wow, the queen shark… interesting, she has a very genuine smile,” I said to myself.
After a bit of research, I decided to go to one of her WIBN (Women in Business Network) events. To my huge surprise, neither Sam nor the other women there were sharks.
They were open, accepting, welcoming, warm. They were doing business from the heart. The Networking Queen and all the other ladies stole my heart like no other sharks could! So, I began to network regularly.
In fact, when we launched AWE, our first 100+ members all came directly from my own networking efforts.
The EU commission’s women entrepreneurship initiative WEGATE reports that “lack of access to networks” is one of the biggest barriers to business growth for women entrepreneurs.
Even for employees, one oft-cited reason why more female executives don’t advance to top management jobs is their lack of access to informal organisational and industry networks.
Now I’m not a highly experienced networker but through my last few years of networking experience, combined with some research, I came up with some rules.
Some rules for networking like a queen
1. Don’t be a shark!
Be yourself, be authentic… people smell sharks from miles away and they don’t like them. Especially in women networking environment, authenticity, vulnerability and sincerity are what work best.
2. Every “yes” means a “no” but women connect through helping each other.
In a HBR article, they mention that women tend to help and ‘care’ for others more than men, which makes them say ‘yes’ too much which means they often have to compromise on more important things.
I agree that we, as women solopreneurs and micro-business owners, need to learn to set boundaries, say no more often and prioritise what is truly important.
However, I have a little caveat to this statement. Women micro-businesses that operate in slow growth sectors usually serve women… And women see value in support and helping. So, my key takeaway message is: be efficient but still bring value to the relationship.
3. Spread your wings.
Studies show that women tend to build stronger relationships within their network, which prevents them from enlarging their network and trying other networks. I will follow Samantha’s advice on this one: “Networking is not about collecting contacts; it’s about growing relationships. Think farming not hunting.”
Now we need to farm in different fields and we need to also be able to assess when the network is mature enough for you to move on, but still keep your relationships tight. Again, Sam gives fantastic advice about this in her training.
Networking is a strong marketing tool: that is a fact. What you may not know is that networking is a way of social actualisation for women solopreneurs and micro-business owners.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely so connecting with like-minded people and varying your connections will not only allow you to grow your business, but also help you build a stronger mindset.
I know we’re all zoomed-out and no longer want to spend our days in front of a camera… but during this second lock-down, if you want to keep your business sanity and feel like you are connected, make sure to join those meet-ups, workshops and events.
To learn how to bring value while remaining efficient in your networking, you need to check out our fantastic training module in collaboration with Samantha Lawton “Networking like a Queen”.