What’s the best way to grow your service-based business as a female founder?

Networking tips for female founders who want quality connections

As a female founder, networking is one way to grow your service-based business via the connections made. Naturally, this is so others know what we do. But what is the best way to network, so you get the most out of your time you put into it?

Identifying people similar to you

Statistics share countless articles that female entrepreneurs tend to only network with who they’re comfortable with. Is this you?  Do you find yourself networking with people who are at the same phase in their business as you are?

When you think about networking, ask yourself this question—what’s more important, the quantity or quality of connections within your network?

The answer is neither.

I found an article that really hit home : 6 Barriers keeping women from high power networking.  I want to draw your attention to #6: People prefer networking with others who are similar to themselves. Especially women.

I have been facilitating networking groups for close to 20 years and I see so many women out there spending hours and hours at events so they can meet the people they seek.  I often wonder if they are really getting a return on their time invested in their networking activity.

It got me thinking about how I used to network back in the beginning when I was a sales rep for other companies compared to now as the owner of SmartCat Marketing. I definitely used to play it safe and hang out with people I thought were on a similar journey. I’ve certainly acquired better skills over the years. You see, I started my own group back in 2003.

When the pandemic hit, I had to pivot (yeah, I said that word) as not everyone wanted to embrace the online Zoom room.  Since then, this group has grown into mostly female founders who focus on building relationships, helping others and relish in ditching the pitch. There is power in a group that is more support based

Why do business owners network?

We network to generate business directly or through referrals.

Having other business professionals know about you, what you do, and what you have to offer is beneficial for sure. But awareness is only a starting point. And I believe this is where people stop. Going to a networking function and simply spreading your business cards around isn’t quite the idea of creating awareness.

Successful networking is not about the people you know. It’s about who knows YOU.

And I’m not just talking about who knows about you or who has heard of you. I mean people who really know you. And what you bring “to the table”. Someone who is familiar with your work ethic, values and philosophies.

The reason this is so important is because it’s the foundation on which effective word-of-mouth marketing is built.

You want your network to have brand ambassadors. People who are willing to affiliate their name with recommending you.

When I give a referral to someone, it means that my name goes along with that referral. If it goes bad, my name is attached to that outcome whether I like it or not. So, I’ve made it a solid practice to get to know networking connections as best I can, and really know who they are as individuals, before I go ahead and refer them to others.

So many successful people will tell you to network.

But only a few will actually explain to you HOW to network. We all do well at networking with people that are similar to us. It’s also important to networking UP. People who are years ahead of you, mentors or folks who have connections that could help you move forward in your business.

I was on a call with Tisha Parker Kemp from shiftED Academy and she said,” It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you“. She released a blog , after I mentioned the significance and important of this message, called : 3 practical tips for gaining visibility as an expert . It’s worth the read.

Here’s what not to do at a networking event

Go to an in-person event and pass out 50+ business cards, grab some food and not have any conversations. That will probably not get you any new clients.

Or try and sell someone your pots and pans as soon as they are in front of you.

Sleezy Selling

Make yourself the go-to person in your network for the service you offer.

Like most things, this may sound easier said than done. But trust me, there are very practical and concrete strategies for making this happen, and doing it in an authentic and sincere way. 

Show up with your best self

1. Show up with your best self. Authenticity really rings through, and female entrepreneurs have an instinctual red alarm that goes off when someone is being a phony. Giving this sort of impression will turn people off immediately from wanting to refer you to anyone. Let your true self shine through, as well as your values and good intentions, and others will be able to read that energy and trust it.

Be helpful and insightful rather than pitching

2. Be helpful and insightful rather than pitching your business: There’s a reason people are turned off almost immediately by door-to-door salesmen. It’s because it’s clear as day that they’re just looking to make a sale, and they look at a potential client as dollar signs rather than human beings. When you get back to a foundation of wanting to sincerely be helpful to others in your network, that makes people more likely to want to work with you. You can do this by:

  • Sharing resources if possible 
  • Letting people talk—no one likes a conversational monopoliser
  • Being a leader—no one wants to hang out with a know-it-all bossy person

Reach out to connections who are willing to guide you

3. Reach out to connections who are willing to guide you. Networking UP is about connecting with people who can align your business with another for a new revenue stream, connect with the right investor , and/or break down barriers. 

Grow your service-based business by expanding your network with professionals who talk about you—and your business—in a positive way.

When they do this, they will likely promote your services to those that are looking for what you have to offer, even when you’re not in the room. A true ambassador.

It’s not easy to build these sorts of strong connections within your network. If it was, everyone would be excelling. These relationships take work, time investment, and putting your most well-intentioned foot forward. Remember, the people you’re connecting with are taking the time too , to get to know who you are, your values and what you bring to the table. Consider making this style of networking part of your growth strategy from here on out—make it part of your visibility strategy. 

Once you begin to grow your network you may find people you feel would be great clients. Before you send them an email or pop them something in their DM’s, make sure you’ve considered connection and consent.  This will help you bring authenticity to your outreach strategy.

Get out there, be curious, love what you do, love what others have to share, and happy networking. 

PS Thanks to Gillian S, Laura M and Alison K for contributing to this conversational blog.

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Nicole Gallant

Nicole Gallant is the lead marketing strategist and long-time sales professional connecting buyers to sellers for 20+ years. Buyer behaviour is definitely her jam. She helps you generate sales with content rich websites, crystal clear offers and effective social media plans. The trick is knowing which words trigger curiosity and interest with your brand and which words to avoid. She coaches entrepreneurs how to #ditchthepitch and stop using ego-centric content. Learn more about me »