HOW TO NETWORK + FIND YOUR TRIBE
by Maria Fuller
When I first became an Entrepreneur more than 10 years ago the biggest piece of advice I received over and over again was, “Networking is the key to your business success”. What they failed to tell me was that women and men network very differently and their needs are very different.
I remember walking into my first networking event, practicing my elevator pitch in my head over and over again, my palms sweaty, grasping my new business cards and feeling sick in my stomach. You see, I never meant to be an entrepreneur, I went to school for medicine, I saved lives, I could run a cardiac arrest with my eyes blindfolded and ear plugs in. I was use to high pressure and intense situations; yet throwing me into a room of business people made me sick.
My life journey and an accident on the job lead me to starting my own business, my first “pivot” point in life. I had all of these ideas in my head of what a business woman looked like. She had education and training in business practices or marketing or maybe she loved math. She wore high heels and those cute pencil skirts that my size 18 body would never look good in. When she walked into a room, people would stop and look at her and she commanded a presence that was unstoppable and everyone wanted to meet her and her business soared. This “story” I created in my mind held me back for many years because I was NONE of those and therefor I thought I wasn't good at business.
I would walk into networking events and my stomach would start to turn, bubbling and churning like a pot of soup on the stove. My mouth would get dry, my hands would sweat and I would find the closest corner and stand back and observe. A few people would come up and introduce themselves, shove a business card or two or three in my hand and proceed to tell me ALL about THEM and their business and how they could help me. Rarely they would ask what I do or do anything to get to know me and when they did they quickly found a way to circle back to them and why they were great and why I should work with them. I would leave these meetings drained, exhausted and with my skin crawling. I would walk into my house that looked like a tornado had hit it, the product of two hard working parents and one spirited toddler and I would look at my husband who had years of experience in corporate sales and say, “I'm not cut out for business, I can't do this, it feel so gross and in-authentic”. With great intention he would say, “that's business” that's just how the business world is and in my mind that meant I would never be a good business woman.
Fast forward a few years later, not much had changed in my business, I was successful but nothing to write home about. I had stopped going to networking events because it just didn't work for me and in the process I secluded myself from other entrepreneurs. The pressure and “comparisonitis” was too much for me and made me feel worse about myself and my business. I was lonely, being and entrepreneur, a mom to two young girls with a husband who traveled a lot led me to have days were I only spoke to kids and it began to take a toll on me emotionally and my business.
At some point a friend of mine, also an entrepreneur invited me to a women's networking event. “Yeah, no thanks, totally not my thing!” “Pleeeeeaseeeee she asked?” And so I went for her. I remember cursing in my head getting dressed that night, exhausted, my hands already starting to sweat and my stomach beginning to fester. “I hate networking I thought, It doesn't work” but I sucked it up and went.
What happened that night transformed my life, my business and my entire philosophy on networking. I walked into the room and I was immediately greeted with smiles from a woman who checked me in, gave me my name tag and said, “Hi, tell me about your business and what you do”. I blinked, “ummmm...” so I gave her my elevator speech, totally out of practice filled with speech crutches and she smiled and said, “tell me more” and proceeded to ask really thoughtful questions about me, my business, my family and more. Not ONCE did she tell me what she did UNTIL I asked. There was no standing in the corner at that event, when I was done talking to one person someone else would come up and ask the same thoughtful questions about me and my business. Slowly my shoulders started to relax, my hands stopped sweating, I
grabbed a glass of wine and I started to enjoy the event. I answered the questions and started modeling back the same process of reciprocating and asking the same questions back and really getting to know the other woman. That night, the meaning of networking changed for me forever. I left that event feeling excited, empowered, with new connections, ideas and more. I started going to other networking events and applying the same concepts I had learned that night in that room to all the events I went and then it trickled down not just to networking events but any event I went both personal and business.
So let me share with you the POWER of networking, what people are doing wrong, how to do it correctly and the power it has to RADICALLY transform your business and your life!
Meriam Webster Defines Networking as:
Definition of networking
1: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
That last bit right there, “specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business-” That is what is typically lacking when people go to networking events. Networking events are meant to be a place of introduction to another person and/or business; it is YOUR job to cultivate a relationship. In order to cultivate a relationship it can't start out with it being all about you, you need to focus on finding out all about them.
My goal when I walk into any networking event is to find out and connect with other women in business and see how I can serve and help them in their business and in order to do that I need to get to know them and their business better and ask really thoughtful questions. My intention is to genuinely help them and this means either connecting them to someone I think they should meet, giving them an idea on something to help them with their business, marketing or more or continuing to foster a relationship and continue to get to know them. When I pass a business card I will only do it one of two ways. One, if someone asks for a card I will gladly give it, two if I have an idea, connection or want to get to know the person better I will take out my business card and write on it WHY they need to follow up with me. So I'll write, contact me about a connection I want to make or to setup a virtual zoom or coffee date. It is then on the other person to make the next move.
Successful networking is about building relationships, not about making a quick sale and this is where people screw it up. Over the last few years my business has EXPLODED not just financially but in terms of model, design and reward back. I'm happier than ever in the work I do because it is fun. I work with amazing women every day all over the world because of the relationships I have. Networking can happen anywhere, online in the grocery store, chamber of commerce, PTA meeting and the online space. When I'm looking for an idea, lead or connection I have a community of incredible women entrepreneurs eager to help me with my business and that is what is so powerful.
If you stick to the concept of “give first, share always” when connecting with other women, your return back on your time and energy will be ten-fold.
It is true what they say, your business is only as strong as your network, but instead of network lets sub in the word community. “Your business is only as strong as your community of women”. So find your community, your tribe of women in business that are looking to foster real relationships. Find women who are looking to build you up and will celebrate with you as you soar. Look for them, because they are there and if you can find them, then you can always contact me!
Maria Fuller is the Founder and thought leader behind Raising a Powerful Girl an online education and community platform that connects professionals from all over the world to parents raising girls. Maria has spent nearly a decade working with women of all ages to help shed unhealthy beliefs and breakdown stereotypes. She lives with her husband and two girls on a little river in Southbury CT. She and her girls can be found listening and singing to “Fight Song” in the car on the way to school.