Watch a group of women in any social situation and you’ll see that we are naturally wired to network.
Networking is in the female DNA. And thanks to the leverage of sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, in some ways it’s never been easier.
So what’s happening when women get to work?
Updating the research
Inga Carboni, a professor at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business has spent the past 15 years trying to find out.
After analysing the networking habits of 6,500 men and women in more than 30 organisations across a range of industries, she’s concluded there are 4 key characteristics that distinguish a “successful” networker; they are efficient, nimble, boundary-spanning and energy balanced. And you can read about the four qualities in depth here.
All of this led me to think about the networking habits of our female Flying Solo community – a group that makes up 60% of our total demographic.
Networking is essential to building a solo business and without a large corporation to leverage you have to a) find your networks and b) make time for them.
11 networking tips from successful female solo business owners
With that in mind I asked some of our female community to share their never-fail networking advice as a solo business owner.
Here’s what they said:
Attend events IRL
“When networking online you can get very comfortable just sending emails and messages but it’s important to remember there is a real human on the other side of the screen. Make sure you take the time to call, zoom or even meet in person if possible, to strengthen those networks and connections,” writes Samantha Meurant, host of The Rural Compass podcast & co-founder of Big Ideas Rural.
Be clear about WHY you’re going
“Before you attend any networking event it’s important to think about your goal. Do you want to people collect and stuff business cards down your bra like a crazy person? Or are you hoping for a meaningful connection with maybe one or two humans? I attend huge events where I ‘meet’ 100s of people. But honestly only come away with 2 or 3 genuine new people to add to my Christmas card list. Pick someone who looks a bit nervous (like you), say hi, ask if they’ve been before, ask what they do, tell them they have a nice top on. Just be yourself and don’t try to pitch or sell. If that fails, drink wine,” says Kate Toon, founder of Kate Toon.
“Network by yourself. If you take someone with you, it’s easier to stick with your friends and the whole point is to make new connections. Before going, think of some different questions to ask. Instead of ‘what do you do?’, try ‘what’s something that got you excited this week?’ or ‘what’s your favourite thing about what you do?. This creates a different dynamic and conversation,” says Annette Densham, founder of Publicity Genie.
“Be yourself, use your intuition when deciding who to speak with and what to speak about. We’re magical creatures, follow your heart,” says founder of Verve Super Zoe Lamont.
Don’t just talk about yourself!
“Be there for OTHERS, not yourself – as in, be interested in what others are saying, and not dying to just talk about yourself! Why? Because this makes the other person feel important, and will often result in people COMPLIMENTING you on your conversational skills – even though all you’ve done is asking them about THEMSELVES! It results in higher rapport and more likelihood that they will be interested in a second conversation,” says Catherine Bell, founder of the Bell Training Group.
Aim for meaningful connection
“I’ve realised over time that the best possible way to build your network is to genuinely think about how you can help people when you meet them. When I meet someone, my mind jumps to someone or something that could help. I try to always follow through with promises of connections,” says Jo Palmer, founder of Pointer Remote Roles.
Use LinkedIn to follow up!
“LinkedIn is a very helpful tool to continue in real life conversations online. Reach out and invite new connections you met at recent networking events to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t leave it too long after the event. Use it as an opportunity to send your new connection the details of that book or podcast (or Netflix series) you were recommending. Also reach out to the speakers who you heard from at the event and the organisers. Invite them to connect and thank them for their insights / event,” says Karen Hollenbach, founder of Think Bespoke.
Tap into your unconscious communication
“This is done by matching or mirroring a person’s physiology and/or tonality during the conversation. Here’s how it works: As you join the conversation notice how the person is standing or sitting. Are they leaning back? Or, are they sitting forward? Gently match the body language that you see, cross your legs or sit forward in your chair. Next, introduce yourself and get interested in the person by asking questions. Notice their tonality – how are they speaking? Are they softly spoken or loud? Do they speak fast, or at a slower pace? This is your opportunity to connect through matching an element of their tone of voice. If you are normally a loud and quick talker, then perhaps in your response take it down a notch and watch how the conversation flows. This type of unconscious communication is a skill and may take some time to hone your craft. However, it will help you to get into flow more easily and create great networking relationships,” says mindset coach Janel Briggs, founder of Janel Briggs coaching.
Go with a plan!
“When you have a networking function to attend, make a commitment plan and stick to that plan! eg I will see the host, speaker and other VIP and then meet 15 new people and stay overall for 40 minutes. Like many other female colleagues and business owners, I often over commit at networking functions – staying too long in conversations and staying too long at events! One CEO advised 15 minutes max at an event! Which leaves plenty of time to get home and put the kids to bed,” says Sarah Nelson, founder of Sarah Nelson Advisory.
Follow up within 24 hours
“Make sure you grab their card or contact details, and then send them a message within 24 hours saying how much you enjoyed speaking with them, and here’s a little more about your business with a link in the email….or send an article that is relevant to the conversation you were having with tips that might help them. Now they have your email address, and you have had a chance to show them your website, or if you sent an article, showing them that you have great resources. In short, be interesTED, not interesTING…remember, “Ted, not Ting, Ted not Ting…”! Catherine Bell, founder of the Bell Training Group.
Be real, even when you’re online
“I am an active “virtual” networker. I’m in several professional and freelance groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. I make sure I always engage with, congratulate, encourage, commiserate with or promote those contacts when an opportunity arises. The key is that the interaction needs to be genuine. I also support and encourage clients or colleagues I enjoyed working with, and remain in touch long after the professional relationship has finished,” says Fiona Hamann, founder of Hamann Communication.
Tune into your purpose
“When you’re in the infant stages of your business, attending a networking event can feel daunting. For some, myself included, networking mostly consisted of comparing apples to oranges – in other words, comparing a newborn startup or project with an established brand. I have found that the key to networking confidence is putting in the “self-work”. You may have noticed that the women who hold the room …they stand and everyone perks up to listen… you know the type! They know their purpose. They know “what they’re about.” Not necessarily what they’re doing (that often follows) but who they are – that’s what truly matters. By prioritising self discovery and really tuning in to your purpose you will build an unshakable path to networking success,” says Stephanie Wicker Campbell founder of Simply Kids.
Prepare your networking ‘dance card’
“For in real life #IRL events I come prepared with a dance card, of people I want to network with at the event. If available, I’ll review attendance lists, and contact people beforehand, to loosely arrange meeting them. I’m busy. And it’s far more efficient for me to reconnect with five people at a 90-minute event than it is to coordinate five coffee catch-ups. As most of my work is online, many of my networks end up being online. In areas where I recognise the need for support, I’ll actively nurture and participate in intimate networks. For example, for navigating the nuances of running an accounting practice, I’m in a private online forum, with four female practice owners. For writing support, I’m in Valerie Khoo’s Australian Writers’ Centre and of course, I participate in Flying Solo’s groups for my solo business networks,” says Heather Smith, founder of Heather Smith Consultancy