Networking for Success

Self-promotion and networking can feel uncomfortable, but they play a crucial role in entrepreneurial success.

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Ask any entrepreneur what the hardest part of their job is, and it most likely won’t be generating ideas or even keeping a budget, it will be—perhaps surprisingly—self-promotion. To be a successful entrepreneur, however, requires putting yourself out there, and networking is crucial for creating new ideas, and connecting with potential employees, partners, and investors.

Tina Wells is the CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group. She says that for the entrepreneur, opportunities to network are everywhere. “No matter where you are,” she says, “you are surrounded by opportunities.” Talking to the person sitting next to you at a conference may result in a business partnership down the road she points out so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and “maintain the best version of yourself whenever and wherever you can.”

Mindful Networking

The good news is that women are shown to be naturally successful at networking. In a study of 12,000 business associates from different countries and different genders by networking expert Ivan Misner, it was found that men were more transactional in their networking, while women were more relational—starting up a conversation rather than simply exchanging the “elevator pitch” and a business card before moving on. Misner says that the three-year study revealed that the relational approach to networking favored by women was more successful in creating referrals and leading to new business.

“No matter where you are, you are surrounded by opportunities.” – Tina Wells

One tip around networking is offered by Kate Northrup, who built a team of more than 3,000 wellness entrepreneurs in the network marketing industry, and is the best-selling author of Money: A Love Story. She suggests focusing on what you can offer rather than what you can get. “At networking events most people are looking to see how many people they can meet in how short of a time, and they have their pitch down,” says Kate. “They’re not thinking about the other people in the room as humans, they’re thinking about them as contacts.”

What they have forgotten is that everyone there is looking for something, she adds. “Everyone needs support, and if you can find out where they need support and then provide it, you’ve got a foundation for a really strong relationship,” she says. “Investing in people and relationships for the long haul, rather than in a transactional way, is how sustainable networks and businesses are built. People matter and if you start out knowing that you can’t go wrong.”

Misner’s study also suggests that attending diverse networking events bears the most fruit. As women, it’s tempting to stay within our comfort zone and attend female-only events, or events that focus on our particular sector, but in doing so we miss connecting to a whole new group of potential partners and peers.

Breaking Through Discomfort

Thanks to technology there are many ways that entrepreneurs can promote their business and make connections without leaving home. Wells points to the importance of creating a website, and then looking to leverage social media, and platforms such as LinkedIn or Levo.

But sometimes the best place to start is right in your own backyard, points out Northrup. “One of the things that people starting businesses forget is that social scientists have found that most of us know on average 2,000 people,” she says, “And you never know who those 2,000 people know.” When she was launching her blog, she says she emailed everyone she knew to ask them if they wanted to be on her distribution list. Some 400 people subscribed from that initial email, and her community has grown from there.

“If you’re not growing you’re dying. And growing is uncomfortable.” – Kate Northrup

The thought of reaching out to all those we know and asking them to take a chance on our new business can be incredibly uncomfortable. And for those who are naturally shy or introverted, self-promotion and networking can be the biggest hurdle to overcome along the road of entrepreneurship. While often there are going to be times when it’s better to focus on digging in, moving the company forward and letting the work speak for itself, says co-founder of FIGS Trina Spear, there are also simply times when self-promotion has to happen, and there is nothing else to do but practice.

“Try not to worry what other people think of you,” advises Heather Hasson, also co-founder of FIGS, which makes comfortable apparel for the professional medical community. “Over time it will feel more and more ‘normal’ to put yourself out there.” She points out that it’s important as an entrepreneur not to take things too personally, and to remember that you believe in what you’re doing.

This can be particularly difficult if you’re asking for help or advice from someone further along the path than you. Networking with very successful people can bring feelings of self-doubt. Ann Wang, co-founder of Enrou, says that the “key to self promotion is knowing how you can be valuable to those around you. I learned just how important it was to not only ask for help but to learn how you can be helpful to others, no matter how important or established they might seem,” says Ann. “You can always bring new perspective, energy, and guidance to anyone you meet.”

And as Northrup adds, the discomfort may never fully go away, but it’s all part of self-growth. “If you’re not growing you’re dying. And growing is uncomfortable. So just get used to feeling uncomfortable and you should be good to go.”