In light of the recent Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, I thought of sharing some of my experience as a woman entrepreneur on networking. At the start of my entrepreneurship journey, the thoughts like how can I land my first client, which segments should I target (SMEs or large corporates), how do I differentiate for the seas of competitors etc. etc. etc. were keeping me awake at night. Without the backing of a well-known brand, I braved myself to network extensively for the first 6 months and pitched to as many of my target audience as possible.
Two of my biggest takeaways from these networking sessions were:
- Validation of my Business Model. Building on the views exchanged during those networking sessions, I came to realize that I needed to pivot my business model from sales & marketing academy to sales management consulting practice specializing in digital sales transformation to address emerging sales and marketing related challenges in this increasingly competitive landscape. From the ground up, I was able to validate my assumptions made on my business model to avoid the syndrome ‘don’t fall in love with my idea’.
- Fine-tune my Sales Pitch. Networking has also given me the opportunity to fine tune my sales pitch to match the audience and their business challenges while maintaining my company’s vision. At many networking forums, I also listened and learned from the experienced entrepreneurs and their pitches. Through testing, fine-tuning and iterating my sales pitches, this has helped me to open up more opportunities, accelerate opportunities and improve win rate.
However, once we have built up a good network, it is important for us to adopt a strategy to develop and nurture the relationships. After investing time in building a large network, I came to a point that I felt I was only storing contacts into my phone. I would not be surprised if some of my contacts would not remember me. At that juncture, I knew that I have to be more strategic by segmenting my contacts into 3 categories. In each of these categories, I set the frequency of touch points and defined the purpose and value we can bring to my contacts based on the conversations taken place before. One of my successful cases involved someone who was well connected and she was willing to help me make the introduction to a Business Leader for a reasonably sized company. I kept in touch with this new contact by connecting every 1-2 months, checked in and showed that we care by sharing some information to the point they realized that they needed to seek help and reached out to us to leverage our expertise to transform their sales and marketing engine to drive growth across Asia Pacific.
By now, you must be wondering what are the important elements of networking effectively. So far, the 5 secret sauce of networking effectively which have helped me as an entrepreneur:
- Have a Clear Purpose. Think about what would you like to achieve from the next networking session. Would it be building out business relationships, improve sales pitches, validate assumptions, seeking out partnership etc.?
- Be Strategic. Review, segment and prioritize your current contacts per my earlier recommendation shared.
- Create a Networking Plan. If you are at the growth stage of your business, my advice is to identify online and offline networks which can help with your outreach.
- Be an Active Listener. Express genuine interest in the person whom you’re networking, find out the challenges they are facing and offer solutions.
- Track your Engagements. As I developed my networks into business opportunities, I capture and track the opportunities in CRM in terms of 3Vs (value, volume, and velocity) to reach our business goals.
In most of the networking forums, I have found that women entrepreneurs are still the minority, hence, networking was intimidating for me at the beginning. Bearing in mind that only 17% of startups have a female founder according to a recent Techcrunch report, by sharing my journey hopefully will help women gain some insights and courage on networking.
What does your networking plan look like today? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below or you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org directly if you would like to learn more about this topic or click ‘Follow’ to hear more on sales & marketing in the near future.