I vividly remember the time when I was sitting in my sunroom with my borrowed computer trying to figure out how to find clients for my fledgling business. I turned to networking to connect with people I could do business with.
Not realiZing at the time, but when I turned up to my first networking function with my newly printed business cards, that it was going to be the most fundamental tactic in both the growth of my business but also my wellbeing as a female entrepreneur.
Fast forward nearly 15 years, I now travel across the country and the world to network and present to women entrepreneurs.
For instance, last year I spent three days in Austin, Texas at the DELL Women's Entrepreneurs Network (DWEN) annual conference where 150 hand-picked women from 12 countries forged new connections and inspired each other.
The majority of networking I do is with women only groups. So what's so great about networking with women?
The 'old girl's network'
Most business women are familiar with the term 'old boy's club,' an exclusive network of business men who can call in a favor from their exclusive group to help close a deal, get new business or progress in their career.
There is no reason why women can't do the same. And in fact, that is what most business women networks are doing. Networking with women assists the exchange of ideas, the ignition of trade through the development of strategic business contacts along with enhancing entrepreneurial skills for business success.
It's a very clever career strategy to join networking groups that can further your career or connect with the right business people.
It's very rare you'll walk into a room full of women who are there just to hand out business cards. In my experience, the majority of women network to build relationships they can use both personally and professionally. They get that business networking isn't about business, it's about life.
I believe that networking isn't about collecting as many business cards as possible; it is about surrounding yourself with a support network for your life in general.
How can I help you?
Mostly women aim to create connections or friendships for the long haul. The style of networking that is 'give-and-then-take' builds long-lasting relationships.
Often you hear the words: how can I help you? Before we think, 'What can this person do for me?' we ask, 'What can I do for her in order to get what I need?'
Even if she can't help me, maybe she knows somebody who can or will think of me at some point in the future when she needs somebody. In other words, the connection is not wasted, even if there's no immediate transaction.
Getting out of your house clothes
Many women start their businesses from home and often they are looking after children. Working from home and spending your time talking to kids not adults can be isolating and stressful.
Getting changed out of your house clothes (and often your pajamas!), and having the opportunity to have intelligent conversations with women in a similar situation is hugely powerful. When networking you learn so much about what is happening in the business world, people's experiences, career opportunities, plus it gives you the opportunity to share your experiences.
At DWEN, women from all over the world very openly shared their failures and successes. This level of honestly is life changing when you're an entrepreneur. Finding a trusted group of people who are not your colleagues or staff, where you can share advice and mentor each other is critical.
More specifically, so is finding people who are going through similar situations as you, or have experienced similar failures and can give advice that can get you through the hurdle. Women are great at seeking out empathy and stories of people who have gone through a certain situation.
There are plenty of opportunities and groups for women entrepreneurs to network. And when you think about it, the world can only be a better place when women inspire and support each other.
About the author
Catriona Pollard is the author of 'From Unknown To Expert', a step by step framework designed to help entrepreneurs develop effective PR and social media strategies to become recognised as thought leaders and influencers in their field. www.UnknownToExpert.com. Catriona is also the director of CP Communications, which merges traditional PR tactics with cutting-edge social media strategies that engage consumers as well as business.