To make the most of networking, the horizons of network need to be broadened
In this column, last month, you had read the story of Rita (name changed), a woman entrepreneur, who had earlier worked as an employee. Here are some more details of her practical experiences in networking.
When in a senior role in a large corporate, Rita noticed that key business decisions were sometimes taken in informal settings; outside official works hours or during coffee breaks, etc. Often, women were not present in these informal gatherings. The key management, perhaps unintentionally, had created an environment where it was difficult for women to participate in decision making.
A little disenchanted with what she observed, Rita decided that she would attempt to set up her own company, instead of seeking a career in an organisation that failed to understand her true worth. Different persons are motivated to become entrepreneurs for different reasons. Rita was motivated by an urge to grow to her full potential rather than being satisfied with roles assigned to her.
Rita spoke to some of her friends and former colleagues as well as close family members before taking the plunge. She realised that being an entrepreneur would not be easy. The initial energy to prove herself could only take her to a certain stage. Beyond this, other capabilities and skills would be needed. Further, she would have to forego the benefits and perks she got as a salaried employee; she would have to play multiple roles in her new venture, from CEO to clerk. She would need to have emotional maturity to face the ups and downs in the course of running her business.
While speaking with her friends, some of whom were entrepreneurs, Rita realised that life as an entrepreneur also meant being a loner of sorts. As an employee, she had colleagues whom she could speak with regarding work. In her venture, Rita had to take all decisions herself. She realised that joining a network of entrepreneurs would help her connect with other like-minded women and men. Listening to them could perhaps help her face challenges and also give her some practical insights. It could even connect her to resources, such as investors and potential partners.
Rita tried to identify networks for entrepreneurs in her city. She found out which groups could be relevant to her. She also looked for groups that encouraged women entrepreneurs and addressed issues unique to them. She was lucky to be in a city where such groups were available. A friend of hers in a small town had to create a network of entrepreneurs and provide a place for them to meet once a month. Rita also realised that there were a lot of forums online. However, at this point, she consciously decided to join networks where people periodically met face-to-face.
For the first few months of starting her business, Rita worked with an initial set of clients who had come to her because of their knowledge of her work and capabilities. As she tried to expand, she found that she was hitting a barrier; it was becoming difficult to get additional business. She decided to relook at her networking strategy and marketing plan. Rita realized that while she was meeting many persons and was getting entrepreneurial inputs, she needed to do more. She then decided to look at a membership of industry association where she could get more visibility, as people would get to know the kind of products she was offering. She in turn would get to know more about the industry ecosystem and perhaps could even think of working in partnership with firms that were complimentary and supplementary to her business. Rita realised that the benefits from networking would not be immediate. But over time, she thought that she could establish her credibility and reach. She decided that she had to invest her time in such meetings, in addition to just operations, manufacture and sales.
Rita then again did her homework; she studied various business and industry networks, in addition to entrepreneurial networks. She put aside time to attend meetings on a periodic basis. In her focus on running the day-to-day operations of business, she did not want to leave the success of her business to chance. She wanted to take charge of her work and her life with structured time management. This was important, not just to manage her long-term and short-term business goals but also to manage her family responsibilities.
While the first couple of years were not easy, Rita slowly started seeing the benefits of her planning and connecting with people. In time, she started getting recognition for the quality of her products. Clients started looking beyond her gender. That was when Rita felt truly empowered.
Next: How Rita leveraged on the power of the internet.
Anjana Vivek is the founder of VentureBean Consulting and a guest faculty at IIM Bangalore.
To write to the author, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'Anjana Vivek'.aThe views expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the magazine's.
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