How Female Business Owners Can Network Effectively During the Pandemic
For some, networking is an effortless and enjoyable part of the workweek. But for many others, it's a painful endeavor, with less than stellar results. And the coronavirus pandemic has made it even more challenging. However, it's incredibly important for female business owners to start or continue to network consistently during this time.
Networking is a key way to best position your businesses for future success. Female entrepreneurs who don't network risk losing out on opportunities, such as access to capital, as well as business incubators and accelerators. Of course, effective networking can also help you identify new sales opportunities, critical in this uncertain economic landscape.
A recent study found that women are less likely to network effectively due to:
Concerns about exploiting their social network for professional gains
Focus on networking with those they like, rather than those in positions of authority
Lack of confidence in their own abilities
Feeling excluded from traditionally male activities
COVID-19 may have compounded these internal and external barriers. But you can't let them stop you from building the right network to help you achieve your professional goals.
Make the Commitment
Start with a commitment to yourself to spend a fixed minimum amount of time each week networking. To make and stick to your commitment, you should develop a goal and put it in writing. Take a look at your own personal and professional goals and determine how networking can help you achieve them faster.
For example, say you have a part-time business whose sales you'd like to grow until you can work on it full-time. Your goal might then be to expand your list of professional contacts who can help you grow your sales. And so you might begin to reach out to friends, relatives, colleagues, and strangers with experience running successful small businesses, as well as those who might know potential clients.
Have you tried this before, but your own insecurities kept you from keeping at it? You're not alone. But you can overcome the voice inside your head that says you can't do this. Start by identifying what exactly you're insecure about and then develop a plan to address it. Perhaps you're not confident speaking with strangers or speaking about yourself. Consider practicing with a trusted family member or friend, taking a public speaking class, or joining Toastmasters.
But don't wait until you've completed the public speaking class to start contacting people. Practice your new skill and display your growing confidence during each networking opportunity to get better and better.
There's been a lot written about the downsides of videoconferencing. But there are some benefits too. And with the pandemic here for some time yet, it's better to embrace the benefits than lament the drawbacks.
While we're used to talking with others face-to-face — over coffee, at work, or at industry events, the truth is sometimes other responsibilities got in the way. Perhaps you could not find a sitter and missed the last couple of trade association receptions. Or maybe your planned lunch with your mentor kept getting preempted by last-minute requests from your boss. With the use of videoconferencing technology becoming more widely utilized, you have a bit more flexibility as to when you can network.
You also can reach out to a broader audience. Perhaps a few people with whom you'd like to connect live in another city or even another state. You can save yourself time and mileage by reaching out to them via videoconference. Don't let geographic boundaries limit your list of whom you'd like to contact.
Be a Resource
If you call your old college roommate out of the blue after a decade and start talking only about work, they may feel used. You want people to want to help you get to the next level — not see your number and wonder, "What does she want from me this time?"
Have something to offer, or find out what your potential contact might be looking for, as well. Perhaps there's a resource to which you have access that addresses a particular problem they have. Or maybe there is someone in your network they might benefit by knowing. People are more likely to want to help those who are helping them, so think about what you have to offer first before you begin the conversation.
Aim to contact at least one or two old classmates, former co-workers, or past business associates per week. Send them a line asking them how they're faring. See if they'd like to connect via videoconference, perhaps over a cup of coffee, and catch up. Not sure exactly how to start? Take a look at what they're sharing — on LinkedIn or Facebook. Maybe they've shared an article about a trend in their industry or celebrated a new addition to their family. Use this information to start or enrich your conversation.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
You may not be able to stop the kids from trying to pop into your videoconference. People tend to be forgiving of this, but in general, you want to try to minimize disruption and showcase your professionalism even if you're conversing with a friend. Before your video conference, make sure you've:
Conducted your due diligence on the person with whom you'll be speaking
Checked your Internet connection, speakers, and mic beforehand
Employed a professional filter
Set up a contingency in case of unexpected technical difficulties
Network Your Way
Much of the academic research and think pieces about networking are written by men and come from a male perspective. But there's evidence that successful women network differently than men — so you should too.
Many men in leadership positions have grown successful networks by connecting different people and groups in their network with each other. However, recent research holds that successful female leaders not only needed to play this role to develop strong professional networks. These leaders had also developed a small inner circle of established and trusted professional women, upon whom they could rely on to provide honest feedback and advice as they progressed.
It's great to be able to have a few people who have been where you are trying to go who can give you a gut check when you're planning your next move. Pailor cannot only help you find that inner circle, but also connect you with resources and expert support to help grow your business.
Our platform, which supports female entrepreneurs just like you, can help you network effectively even during these times. Take the first step towards your networking goals by joining Pailor today.