Networking Tips For Black Woman Entrepreneurs and Professionals
I don’t really like networking. I know how important it is, but I undercover despise it. Not only do I dislike networking, I dislike being networked with. So many people get it so wrong. It you’re a successful black woman entrepreneur or professional it’s important that you learn how to network effectively. Here’s my tips for how to do it right:
Ditch the Hidden Agenda
I received an instant message from a woman I participated in a mastermind group with. The message said, “Hi Charlene, I thought about you and wanted to check in with you to see how you are doing.”
It was a welcomed message from someone I built my business along side for six months. I thought how nice of her to check in. Sometimes we get so laser focused on what we’re doing we forget to stay in touch with others. So I’m in a feel good state. That was so sweet of her to reach out. I write back that I’m doing good. Chasing the dream. And then she writes back that she is trying to sell her product and wants me to promote it to my audience.
“Ugh, I should have known it was something.” Usually my hidden agenda radar is on high alert. I spot, “I’m pretending like I just thought of you, but I really want a favor from you” a mile away.
So I went from a feel good state that someone thought of me and took the time to reach out to an eye roll state.
When you’re tapping into your network you don’t want them to feel tricked or misled. Having a hidden agenda elicit those feelings. I said on the How to Be Powerful podcast episode that hidden agendas make you powerless. Ditch this networking method. It’s ineffective and you will watch the network that you do have slowly decrease in size. People do not want to be tricked or misled. They don’t want you pretending to care when you don’t.
What I would have rather her said is this, “Hey Charlene. Hope all is well. I know we haven’t touched base in a while. I’m knee deep in trying to get this business off the ground. I’m sure you can relate. I’m reaching out because I’m looking for JV partners to help……………..”
Being straightforward works best for me. Pretending or leading with hidden agendas turns me off faster than you can say “no hidden agendas”!
Ditch the hidden agenda. Tell people what it is you want from them upfront. Don’t insult their intelligence. Don’t make them roll their eyes at you. Be direct. And don’t put pressure on them. Be okay with them not being interested.
I think sometimes people are reluctant to directly state their intentions because they know that they haven’t maintained their network connections. They don’t want the appearance that they are only reaching out because they want something. But let’s be real. That is exactly what they are doing. By acknowledging that you haven’t stay in contact you circumvent the need to pretend like you’re just checking in. Simply be honest about it.
Ask For the Right Thing
When I first launched my corporate career I would go to networking events frequently. I’d meet people and exchange business cards. I worked for Continental Airlines so people always wanted me to help them land a job there. Here’s how it would generally work: I’d meet someone at an event and exchange business cards. The next day I’d get an email from them asking me to put them in touch with a hiring manager or HR. I’d decline, but would tell them to let me know if they have any questions about a particular job opening they see.
Here’s the thing: if I refer you to someone or help you promote your business I’m basically vouching for you. But why would I vouch for someone I don’t know? Let’s say I did give a hiring manager’s name and email. What would happen next? The job seeker would email them and mention me. The hiring manager would then come to me and say, “Hey Charlene, I received a note from your friend John Doe. Tell me about him. Do you think it’s a good fit?” And I would say, “I don’t know. I met him yesterday.” How effective would that be?
When you’re networking and meeting people that you hope to leverage in the short term you have to ask for the right thing. You haven’t had a chance to build solid rapport with them. They don’t care about you yet and in all honesty you don’t care about them either. At least not beyond a surface level “care”.
So don’t ask people to go to bat for you. Don’t ask them to vouch for you. Don’t ask them to give you contact details for hiring managers. Most people love to help out others, but in a way that makes sense to them.
Networking is most effective when you ask for the right thing. Don’t ask for too much too soon. I mentioned that I’d always offer to answer any specific questions, but job seekers NEVER took me up on that. But that was the most beneficial thing they could do. I’m not going to put you in touch will any hiring managers because I don’t know you, your skillset, or your work ethic. But I can tell you want the hiring manager is looking for. I can tell you why the position is empty. I can tell what the culture is like. In other words, I would be willing to share key insights that a job seeker could use to draft their resume or prepare for an interview. That would be much more valuable than telling you who the hiring manager is.
Ask for the right things. Things that will actually help you. Get clear on what you need. And no you don’t need someone to give you the hookup (which is basically what people think networking is). At the same time be willing and able to help the other person get something they need.
Stop Assuming People Care
Entrepreneurs often have the idea that people care about their business. Someone is always sending me a Facebook message to tell me about the webinar they’re having or the product their launching. Which for me (and I may very well be weird about this), but instant message is a more intimate, personal vehicle for connection. I instant message my mom and sister nearly everyday. I had a former business coach send me an instant message. She could have emailed me, but IM has a more personal touch to it.
I say that to say that I’m annoyed when people IM me about their business. It sounds kind of harsh, but I don’t really care about your webinar. I feel like some business coach somewhere is telling people to do this. I wish they would stop. If a business owner wants to promote their webinar or other services via social media they should post an update to their own page and let people who are interested respond. But to come inside of my sacred, private space to promote your business is egoistical. What makes you think I care? (I only slightly feel like a witch saying this).
I just don’t care. At least not beyond a surface level “care”. Do I want you to be successful? Of course. Will I support you? Sure, if there’s an opportunity to do so that feels right to me. Do I want you constantly messaging me about what you’re doing? No. I don’t.
One woman whom I’ve met one time in person and never really spoke to since sent me a message that said, “I’d love to have an excuse to visit your area.” She wanted my help booking speaking gigs in Houston. The problem is I don’t really care if you visit my area or not. I don’t even know you. What a silly message to send.
Stop assuming people care about what you’re doing to the point of visiting their inbox unannounced. Instead learn to care about people.
Care About People
You may have heard the saying, “It’s who you know.” And that evolved to, “It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.” Well, here’s my remix, “It’s not who you know. It’s not even who knows you. It’s who cares about you. And people care about people who care about them.”
That’s what this all boils down to. People who care about you will help you do anything. If I care about someone I will not only help them in their business. I’ll help them pack up the house if they were moving. I’d help them paint the baby’s room. Whatever they needed.
Networking isn’t really about what you’re doing. It’s not about what you need in your business or your career. People who care about you will help you do whatever you need help with within reason. If I had a genuine relationship with the woman who said she’d love an excuse to come to Houston I might have had a different response. I might have said, “Hey girlie! I’d love it if you made your way down Houston. It’s been so long since we’ve connected in person. I don’t know of anything personally, but let me ask around.” What I actually said was, “I don’t know of anything personally. I’ve found speaking gigs in the past by googling ‘call for speakers’. See how that works for you.”
It’s the difference between someone be willing to roll up their sleeves and get a little in your situation or business with you and someone who will help but minimally.
Someone who genuinely cares about you will be more willing to help you. Someone who doesn’t will be of the mindset that you need to find your own speaking gigs or webinar participants like the rest of us.
You want people to care about you and that starts with you caring about them. Don’t be selfish in your networking. Care about people as much as you can. Show them as often as possible. Build genuine relationships with them. And when you need them they will be much more likely to respond advantageously.