Networking is a lot like exercise, isn’t it? We know we should do it and that it will be good for us but we don’t always know where to start; and it can be hard to summon the energy when there are so many other demands on our time. We also know that when we do it, we’ll feel the benefits afterwards, but sometimes taking the first step is the hardest of all.
I am now a huge fan of networking (trust me it hasn’t always been that way) but to continue the exercise metaphor, it really does keep my business fit, my mind healthy and allows me to work muscles I didn’t even know I had.
I am well aware – mostly from experience and talking to other women in business – that, like exercise, networking can bring up a lot of feelings – both good and bad – before you get started. But, believe me, when done properly the benefits are life-changing.
The challenges of networking for women
Long before I set up the Unique Mumpreneur, I realised what a complex issue networking is, especially for women. So many of the female business owners I’ve spoken to – like the old me – have this daunting image of networking in their minds. They imagine stepping into a room full of strangers in suits and having to cold sell their products and services, while being spotted as a fraud by the ‘real’ business people in the room.
In my experience, women tend to feel uncomfortable about the idea of meeting someone at a networking event and then immediately looking to them for help, advice or contacts. It feels too calculating, pushy and impersonal – a means to an end. We don’t want to be seen as using people for their position or connections.
Women want their relationships to feel authentic and to nurture long-term working relationships so therefore worry and assume that networking may not be the right way to do this.
Finding the right network for you
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to forge long-lasting working relationships than through networking, whether online or face-to-face. It’s this desire for authentic relationships that makes women fantastic at networking.
You just have to find the right people to network with and the right kind of group or event.
I’ve tried all sorts of networking groups and events over the years. Although some weren’t the right fit for me, there have been some gems where I’ve had the opportunity to connect with inspirational people who are passionate about empowering others to succeed and have incredible stories to tell and learn from, all whilst allowing me to be true to myself.
The benefits of networking
“Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They are attached to people.”
I love this quote from entrepreneur, Rick Stromback. It’s a reminder that people are at the heart of every business opportunity and decision.
When done properly, networking is all about making connections, and building enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with other business owners.
They say that “People buy from people” and networking is built on this principle. Making connections with potential clients, suppliers and fellow business owners is potentially more powerful than any advertising or marketing campaign you could ever invest in.
Meeting someone in a networking group enables them to put a face to your name and to get a sense of who you are as a person. And once they’ve done that, they’re more likely to buy from you. Think about it – I bet you feel more comfortable making referrals for or buying from people you know. Most of us do.
The stats back this up. In a recent article on LinkedIn, Lou Adler – a consultant in performance-based hiring – reported the results of a survey into how people found their latest job. A staggering 85% of hires came about as a direct result of networking!
Networking when you work alone
Many self-employed people work from home and spend the vast majority of their working day alone. Although this has many benefits, one thing you may miss is having a team to talk to, I know I certainly do.
Networking lets you connect with like-minded people and become part of a wider business community. It’s so liberating to find a tribe where you can sound out your ideas, ask for advice, learn from other experiences and draw inspiration that will help you grow your business.
Networking for mumpreneurs
In April 2016, research by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) found that 17% of all freelancers are mothers. This figure has increased by 70% since 2008 as more and more women are seeing self-employment as the best option for balancing work with the needs of their families.
Networking gives you the chance to connect with this community, to reach out to other female entrepreneurs who ‘get it’, who know exactly what it’s like to run a business around a family. There’s something so reassuring about talking to another mum who’s spent the day typing emails on her smartphone with one hand while she cuddles a poorly toddler with the other. Suddenly, challenges seem easier to overcome when you realise you’re not the only one facing them.
I also love chatting to women who have slightly older children than mine because they have the benefit of hindsight and I can see that they’ve come through my stage in the journey relatively unscathed! Have you ever noticed that the path is always easier to travel when you know someone else has already walked it?
Online or offline?
Although I’m an advocate for face-to-face networking, I’m also part of some thriving online networking groups.
In addition to all of the benefits of networking I’ve talked about above, online networking can give you an avenue to tap into advice and guidance from other people 24 hours a day. You’re also not restricted by your location, your availability during specific times or issues such as accessibility if you have childcare issues, a disability or health condition that can make it hard to network to a schedule or at a specific venue.
Online networking through platforms such as LinkedIn or groups such as The Unique Mumpreneur’s Facebook community can give you access to a worldwide community. If you think face-to-face networking isn’t for you – or even if it is but you want to extend your connections – then, done correctly, online networking can transform your business.
Be a part of The Unique Mumpreneur Networking Group
I’m so excited to be launching the Unique Mumpreneur Networking Group for women who run their own business and want to grow it, or who want to start their own business with support to get it right from day one.
I’ve created the group because I want you to have the opportunity to meet with like-minded women and build relationships with others who are on a similar journey to you and who totally ‘get’ you.
The networking group will allow you to put your business in front of many other women. You’ll be able to share your experiences, ask for and offer support, build your confidence, and decrease the feelings of isolation and overwhelm that often come with being a self-employed mum.
During the first event at 10am on Wednesday 29th March, I will be sharing my story, my vision for the Unique Mumpreneur, and my top tips for running a successful business.
At future events, there’ll be guest speakers offering their knowledge and advice, as well as women talking about their own story or journey to motivate and inspire you.
The atmosphere promises to be warm, welcoming and relaxed. Forget hard selling or having to pitch the room. Instead, enjoy the experience of being around like-minded women who want to lift each other up and celebrate every success, big or small.
The £15 ticket includes all of the above, as well as refreshments and a lunch buffet. More than 50% of the tickets have been sold already, so it is proving to be a popular and much-needed event in Peterborough.
I’m really looking forward to meeting you,
How do you feel about networking? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Look out for my next blog for my ten top tips for networking like a pro.
Have you got your ticket for the first Unique Mumpreneur Networking Group event yet? They’re selling fast, so please don’t leave it to the last minute to purchase your ticket and miss out completely. Click here to buy your ticket today.