At this point in history, men entrepreneurs (on average) are more successful than women entrepreneurs (on average) at growing their businesses. To be as successful as the boys, you don't have to grow a pair. But you do have to do something you can do but that many women entrepreneurs don’t: Build your network. If the thought of mingling brings back bad memories of being a wallflower at the senior prom, get over it. That was then, this is business.
In case you doubt the importance and value of networking, the proof is in the research. Entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks, and whose networks include professional advisers, such as accountants and lawyers, tend to grow bigger companies, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor: 2010 Women’s Report.
The analysis showed that, in many economies, women entrepreneurs and business owners tended to have smaller networks than their male counterparts...Both women and men entrepreneurs and business owners tended to seek advice most often from those with whom they had personal relationships—their private environment. Women were more inclined to seek guidance from family and spouses in particular. On the other hand, men tended to draw more heavily on the advice of friends. Men were also more likely to use other network sources, such as their work environment or professional advisers.
Overall, the men and women entrepreneurs who had larger and more diverse networks, and those who emphasized non-private advisers (business, professional, etc.) also tended to report greater levels of innovation, internationalization and growth-expectations. Yet compared to men, women may be at a disadvantage because their networks were overall smaller and less diverse and they emphasized private sources of advice.
In other words, women: You must get out there and network. You must build up your contacts among peers and professionals. If you don’t, you are stunting your growth.
Even Jazmin Hupp who organizes Women 2.0 Founder Friday events in New York City admitted “I don’t like networking events,” but warned, “You don’t have a choice. As an entrepreneur, you have to do a lot of things you don’t like and this is one of them … You can’t do it alone [be a successful entrepreneur]. Networking is one of the ways to find those other people.”
Connections open doors, doors to money, markets and qualified managers and employees.
- Pick your venue. There are plenty to choose from. If you don’t like the vibe of one organization’s events, try another. You can choose gender-specific hosted events such as Women 2.0 Founder Friday or the National Association of Women Business Owners, industry specific organizations, such as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or general business groups such as Chambers of Commerce.
- Know your elevator pitch. You are not here to make a sale, so you don’t need to close the deal. You do need to let people know who you are and what you do in a way that makes them want to hear more.
- Ask questions. Women are great at building closeness and connections through conversation. By asking questions you’ll engage the person and really get to know what they do. Still not comfortable? Pretend you are interviewing people for an article about the event; get the who, what, and why. Make the task less personal.
- Speak to lots of people. To network well, Hupp advises that you have a brief conversation with one person and move on to the next. Make it a game: How many business cards can you collect in one hour? Work with a friend: the one with the most gets a free lunch.
- Go ready to give. Hupp also cautions people not to come with the goal of getting something. Give something first. Don’t worry about the quid pro quo. In her experience, the benefit of helping may not come immediately, but it will in six months to a year.
- Follow up afterwards. If you want to get to know someone better, follow up after the meeting with a phone call, a one-on-one meeting or connect with them on LinkedIn. Hupp mentioned that follow-up is the step most commonly skipped.
- Take the pressure off. You aren't establishing a long-term relationship yet. You are just opening the door to possible relationships. If someone seems interesting, contact them later to get started on that relationship.
All of these ideas serve one purpose, to take the focus off you—nerve-wracking!—and put it on the other people—interesting! Look past the crowd of strangers and see the individuals, some of whom can help you and some of whom you can help.