Definition of Networking
Lauren Neilson, in "8 Tips to Help You Become a Networking Guru!", defines networking as "...the bringing together of like minded individuals who, through relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another."
Networking is one the most important skills you can develop to help your business succeed. Business networking should be reciprocal, that is, expect to give something if you want to get something. Through the art of networking you can exchange resources, contacts, ideas, information, job and sales leads, strategies - all things that can lead to revenue.
Women business owners should strive to make contacts across gender lines but it is especially important for women to network with other women because when it comes to business men and women generally think differently. And, since women own the majority of businesses in the service, hospitality and health industries you are most likely to successfully network among women peer business owners.
Networking at Professional Gatherings
If you are invited to a professional gathering, award ceremony, or other business-sponsored social event, consider going. As long as you are not rude or pushy, networking at social events is usually acceptable.
Online networks are an effective and easy way to connect with other professionals. It is fast becoming a popular tool for recruiting staff, investors, even volunteers but should not be your only source of networking.
Using Blogs to Network
If you do not have a website at least consider starting a blog. Advantages to having a blog over a website is that they are easy to manage and your readers can post comments.
Co-Ops - Designed to Network!
A co-op is where people join together and share responsibilities and rewards for a common purpose. Because of the reciprocal nature of co-ops they are a great place to make contacts.
Overlooked Networking Sources
Women businesses owners often have inspiring stories to share. If you are successful it is because you have excelled in something that will be of interest to others. Giving a speech is a wonderful way to let your community know about your business.
A local newspaper once contacted me to do an article about the nonprofit organization I founded. After the article ran I received a call from a small, women's church-based organization that wanted to hear my personal business story. I gave a 15-minute speech, handed out marketing materials, thanked my audience and left.
Within two weeks the nonprofit received more than $10,000 in cash and in-kind donations from various local contributors. The interesting thing is that only one small donation actually came from the church group - all the other donations came by word-of-mouth. That is, the women I spoke to had relayed my story to others who then made contributions.
Contact local churches, community groups, associations, and organizations, Rotary clubs, and trade associations -- even schools and colleges to see if they are interested in having you as a volunteer guest speaker.