It’s a business axiom that people do business with people they know, like and trust.
So when I started my own business (almost 15 years ago), I was inspired by and took advice from my many friends and connections already in the trenches of entrepreneurship. And I found many of those friends and forged connections by networking at numerous events. So whether I was speaking at conferences, covering events as a journalist, or attending to soak up as much knowledge as possible, meeting people was a significant benefit of putting myself out there.
If the word “networking” conjures up visions of massive amounts of people competing to give elevator pitches and exchanging business cards, then you’re stuck in the past. Today’s networking opportunities include small community-based volunteering, live webinars, international gatherings of top industry experts, and more. There can be a networking opportunity anywhere people gather—if you keep your eyes open.
In-Person Events are back
Although in-person networking took a hit during the pandemic, according to recent data in the MarTech Event Participation Index, more than half of survey responders indicated they were “extremely likely” to attend in-person events this year.
Networking is an intelligent way to connect with potential partners, customers, and experts. More than likely, if someone can’t help you with your question, that person knows someone who can. One reason events are so important is that most attendees share a common goal—meeting new people and building core relationships. Imagine yourself surrounded by successful business owners all in one space–exchanging new ideas, sharing best practices, and discussing how to overcome business challenges.
Keep the following tips in mind to make the most of networking opportunities.
- Set flexible goals. I’ve attended many networking events thinking I would meet a particular person or cinch a specific partnership, only to meet different people and make surprising connections. No event is a waste of time. While you might not reach the goals you set to achieve at that meeting, you may still make beneficial connections.
- Mix it up. Attending industry networking events is critical for business owners, but they’re not the only game in town. Volunteer your services or your time to a local community project, or offer to speak to a college entrepreneurship club. Every opportunity is a networking opportunity, so don’t limit yourself to business-only events.
- Take a class. Educating yourself about a new technology or learning a new management strategy is another way to make powerful connections. You never know if someone in your class has the exact skill you’re looking for or can connect you to a valuable partner.
- Be bold. It’s never advantageous to be a wallflower when you network. Check out the attendance list beforehand, and then make it a point to introduce yourself to the right people. In many cases, there isn’t enough time to get to the point of the conversation, so be bold and ask to meet later for coffee or lunch. You can do the same when attending online networking events—ask to meet up IRL (in real life) to continue the conversation or for a one-on-one call.
- Follow up. My best advice for networking is to follow up. Make sure you stay “front of mind” right after the event. Make an appointment to talk again, or if you promised to pass their name on to one of your contacts do it immediately. If you don’t feel the connection needs to go any further, say you don’t think you can help but you’ll keep their contact information in case something arises. The wider you grow your network, the more support you’ll receive while growing your business.
Like many successful women leaders, while you’re eager to grow your network you may be unsure where to start. Check out these networking resources. First, let’s start with social media groups.
Social Media Groups
- Women in Leadership Learning Group - LinkedIn Learning: For women interested in topics of Leadership Strategies for Women and want to connect, share, collaborate, learn, and teach.
- Women & Minority: Startups, Founders, CEOs, CXOs, Business Owners & Entrepreneurs: Interests include startup, business development, client growth, management strategy, and opportunities.
- HerBusiness: A membership community that provides mentoring, networking, business training, free resources, and support for women.
- The Lit Up & Loaded Entrepreneur: For women startup entrepreneurs. The group shares regular content, training, challenges, and weekly live streams.
- BossMomGroup: With almost 73,000 members, they support moms raising a family and growing a business.
- Women Helping Women: The group’s goal is to provide women with the resources, tools, and skills they need to prosper and succeed.
Women's Networking Groups
- Accounting and Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA): Networking and learning opportunities for women in accounting and finance. All AFWA Members are encouraged to join Coast to Coast Connection (Virtual Chapter) to expand their networks across the country.
- American Business Women’s Association (ABWA): Over 5,000 business/networking meetings are hosted annually in hundreds of cities nationwide.
- Association for Women in Communication (AWC): With more than 1,100 members, AWC’s goal is to elevate the role of women in communications through empowering learning opportunities and making connections.
- Association of Women Business Centers: Provides training, mentoring, business development, and financing opportunities across a national network of 150 Women’s Business Centers.
- Chief: Group for top women business leaders.
- Dames Collective: Open to all women. The mission: to break down stereotypes of age and gender in the workforce.
- Ellevate Network: Holds networking events nationwide for women in the workforce.
- eWomenNetwork: Offers “Accelerated Networking” at over 2,000 online and in-person events.
- Financial Women’s Association: Provides workshops, events, and networking for women in the financial industry.
- Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association: Its mission is to further the advancement and impact of women in healthcare.
- Latinas in Business: Membership program celebrating and connecting Latina women in business.
- Lean In Circles: Small networking groups that meet regularly for peer mentorship, skill building, and inspiration.
- National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO): With nearly 60 chapters and 5,000 members, NAWBO represents women entrepreneurs across all industries.
- Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT): OWIT Chapters host programs and events enabling members to learn, network, and forge professional relationships in their business communities.
- She Runs It: Networking and educational in-person and virtual events for all professional women.
- Women Presidents Organization (WPO): Membership organization offering networking and learning opportunities within 137 chapters across the U.S., Canada, and other countries.
- The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): WBENC is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S. and a leading advocate for women entrepreneurs.
Networking for All Entrepreneurs
- Alignable: A referral network connecting small business owners so they can share advice and refer customers.
- Business Networking International (BNI): The professional referral marketing program helps members create long-term, meaningful professional relationships. New members can find a local chapter and attend meetings.
- Chambers of Commerce: Contact your local Chamber for their events and programs.
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization: Peer-to-peer networking group for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization has over 16,500 members in over 60 countries.
- Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN): GEN offers programs and resources to enhance collaboration among entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, researchers, and startup community leaders.
- LeTip: Business referral network enabling entrepreneurs to build powerful strategic relationships within their industries.
- MeetUp: Platform for connecting people with similar interests.
- Rotary: Offers networking and professional development. Rotary unites leaders from all continents, cultures, and occupations to exchange ideas and take action in communities worldwide.
- SCORE: Local chapters with events, networking, mentoring, and learning opportunities. Also, visit SCORE’s Women Business Leaders’ Resource Center.
- U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): Find your local SBA office to find networking and learning opportunities.
Still, looking for the perfect networking community? Why not start your own? Meet with a SCORE mentor in your city to get help creating a new networking group.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.