Networking for professional growth is inarguably one of the most important practices for entrepreneurs. Whether your goal is to learn about a specific topic by spending time with industry thought leaders, seek out business-related resources or simply strengthen the professional community/communities you belong to, networking is key to your professional growth and your personal well-being. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place, and building up a network of people who understand that lifestyle can provide much-needed community and friendship.
That being said, professional networking as a young female entrepreneur can also be perilous. As a young female entrepreneur, I have come to realize that effective networking for myself requires many nuances in order to avoid certain pitfalls that make networking less effective.
Note that this is not to say that women and men of any age don’t experience the following challenges; I’m simply speaking from my personal experiences and those of my female peers.
Networking Pitfalls For Female Entrepreneurs
The overarching challenge of being an active networker as a young female is that while you’re focused on your business, others may use the opportunity to get to know you personally with nonprofessional intentions. Although there is nothing wrong with men or women expressing personal interest in one another, it becomes unprofessional when business interests are used to disguise personal interest. That not only wastes valuable time for your business, but also creates distrust between professionals.
Here are two very common pitfalls to keep an eye out for:
1. The Distraction: Professional Discussions Turned Personal
While attending a networking event, it’s not uncommon to discuss your personal life among other professionals. After all, that’s an important aspect of building trusted relationships with other businesspeople. However, listen to your gut if you’re beginning to feel that the conversation has turned too personal.
If you find yourself in this situation, it doesn’t have to end awkwardly. Simply mention that you’re uncomfortable discussing such matters in a professional environment and prefer to stay on a business-related topic.
2. The Bait And Switch: The Business Meeting That Is Actually A Date
You’ve booked a meeting with a potential partner, client or investor, only to realize that they aren’t actually interested in your business. Well, this is a bummer since you not only took the time to book the meeting, but perhaps a proposal was created, your team helped you prepare, etc.
Once you’ve realized what’s going on, you’ll have to find a way to diplomatically express your disinterest in personal matters and determine whether it would be conducive to revert back to a business discussion or move on.
How To Avoid The Pitfalls
To make the most of your networking experiences, it’s best to develop habits in the way you present yourself and communicate with others. Here are three ways to avoid those uncomfortable pitfalls:
1. Present Yourself In A Professional Manner
It’s easy to feel self-conscious when you have less experience than everyone else in the room. It’s understandable when you’re a young entrepreneur or just starting out. However, the way in which you carry yourself plays a huge role in how others approach you and, therefore, how effective your networking will be.
Be confident in yourself and the reasons you are there; although deep down you may not feel entirely confident, it’s OK to practice “faking it.” It will all come naturally as you build your business and gain more experience.
2. Be Clear On Your Intentions
When you’re interacting with others at networking events, it’s important that you establish your intentions for being there or speaking to them. For example, leading a conversation with “I’m here to learn more about local digital marketing services for small businesses” points the conversation in a productive direction. You’ve established a goal for the event and provided a chance for the people you speak with to help you with your goal.
3. Always Have An Agenda
If and when you do take a follow-up call or meeting with someone you met at a networking event, be sure to establish an agenda before the meeting. When scheduling the meeting, state your goals, and provide what you’d like to include on the agenda.
Of course, networking is a two-way street, so be sure to ask the person or people you are meeting with their goals and suggested agenda topics for the meeting as well. Effective networking all comes down to building mutually beneficial business relationships.