Most likely you’ve heard the saying “your net worth is your network” multiple times, but maybe you still have some questions.
What does it even mean?
How do you network effectively?
You already have so much on your plate, and now you should add networking to your long to-do list. Seriously?
You will find multiple perfect articles about the importance of networking and how to network better, many even written by AI, as ChatGPT your expert. This is not one of those articles.
This is my personal plead to you to pay more attention to professional communities and networking.
In many ways, you could call me an expert.
In the past 15 years, I’ve helped to build multiple communities. I was part of Walmart’s Eleven Moms (later Walmart Moms) community and helped to build one of the first large-scale influencer and consumer online community programs in the world. Later, as a marketing strategist, I helped multiple other brands to build their online communities. I was also one of the leaders of Lifetime TV channel’s Lifetime Moms community.
I’ve seen consumer brands invest hundreds of thousands and even millions into building communities where their customers can also network with each other. In one of my agency jobs, I was managing a community of freelancers and influencers.
I have seen networking and communities changing lives for hundreds of people, and it changed my life and career trajectory.
Later on, I also started my own entrepreneur community called Insider Society, and currently, I run (together with my business partner) Crush Movement, a women’s network with a mission to close the gender equality gap and increase equality in business. Crush Movement organizes annual conferences and smaller events, but it is still a side project.
I’ve spoken at events around the world about the importance of communities, networking, and building your personal brand, and these concepts all are very closely linked. My online community at its highest had over 120,000 followers (now a bit fewer because I don’t have my main X, formerly Twitter, account anymore).
Honestly, networking, building communities, and building my personal brand have been the trifecta for my career success, and
Networking is such an important topic, that we dedicated one full chapter about it in the Big Rich Money: How To Turn Your Business Intentions Into A Profitable Company book, which I wrote together with Candice Kilpatrick Brathwaite.
Here are some of the tips and stories from the book.
Build The Relationships First, Business Follows
Learning from others is only one of the benefits of being a member of business networks and communities.
Sharing your knowledge is an equally powerful way to grow your personal brand, attract the right customers, and gain opportunities for partnerships, media mentions, podcast interviews, and more. Remember, people do business with people. They want to feel they know you and can trust that you have the right solution for them. Helping others can be a powerful way to build that trust.
As your business network grows, you will experience that karma is a real thing.
The more you make your expertise visible, network, connect and help others, the more opportunities start magically coming your way.
Nah, it’s not really some mystical magic.
It’s you doing marketing right by telling your story, demonstrating your trustworthiness, helping people with their pain points, and supporting your fellow entrepreneurs by sharing about their products or services to your own networks. It really can be as simple as recommending a person you know and trust when someone in your network is looking for a graphic designer. Soon, others will start recommending you as well.
But I would much rather you think of the benefits of networking coming to your way more as karma or magic, instead of transactions.
I think when you think of networking and community building as transactional actions: input you put in and what you want out of it, you might be limiting some of the best benefits coming your way. The best results can happen very unexpectedly, and your help or customers might come from unexpected contacts.
Maybe we shy away from thinking about how to network effectively but maybe think instead about how to network with empathy.
Just recently, someone in my network was at a networking event and met a new person. The new person was not in the same industry, nor was a potential customer, but my friend regardless told her about the program she runs, and how she was recruiting team members. The new acquaintance realized the job and the position would be perfect for someone she knew, and a week later, my friend interviewed and hired that person for the job. Recruiting a new person can easily cost anywhere between $4000-15,000, so it is easy to calculate the return on investment, ROI, for this networking event.
15 minutes of networking ended up saving anywhere between $4000-15,000.
But it is also a lesson to network with people whom you might think you have nothing in common or might not be “useful” to network with. Your best return on the relationship can come from people who genuinely like you, and send people your way, even if they are not directly in your industry, or a potential client.
Online networking is great because you can easily find out so much information about people before you even enter a conversation, and the same goes with organized networking events, where you submit your professional bio and people can book short face-to-face meetings with you. All of this of course makes networking extremely effective, especially when you have a specific audience, a product you sell, and an outcome in mind.
But sometimes this transactional networking of “I offer you this, I want that from you” can be cold, and not end up bringing results, because it doesn’t actually answer the question “Is this even a person I could trust and like enough to do business with?”.
Another way of seeing it is that if you only focus on transactional relationships, they stop working immediately when you stop working. When you only help others when you gain something from it, most likely people are not lining up to help you without asking you a favor first either.
The same applies when only focusing on promoting yourself. When you only focus on self-promotion and marketing yourself without building a community, it is like pumping air into an air mattress that has a small hole in it. You have to keep pumping air constantly.
But when you focus on building communities, among your customers and among your peers, the community starts pushing you up and helping you to level up faster.
Look for people with the same focus as you have and who have a talent different than yours. Make friends in your industry, and even with competitors. You never know who will be working for whom next year. To keep your ideas fresh, and your mind sharp, you also need friends who are not in your industry, and who can give you unbiased opinions outside of your usual circles.
Make business friends, and be a good friend. Help others before asking for anything back.
And have fun! Even if it’s business, joy is contagious. People want to join in when it’s fun. Don’t take life – or your business – so seriously. When you are having a good time, you will start attracting people, without even trying too hard!
Invest in Networking
Just like social media marketing is not free even though using the platforms is, building communities and networking is not free, and you should see it as an investment. Your time has value.
There are plenty of networking possibilities online that are available without monetary cost, but there are also conferences, events and communities that are behind a paywall.
Some networking groups and events can be very expensive. Getting to know the right people is a worthy investment of your time and money, and quite frankly, can be life-changing. There is a lot you can do in free groups, but at some point you should invest in more exclusive and paid networking opportunities.
When Anna Pyykkö of Female Founders Finland and I decided to start Crush Movement, we wanted to create the most empowering business conference in Finland, we discussed a lot about the experience we wanted our annual conference to be, who we wanted to target, and how we would be able to accomplish it. We realized that the price of the event would help to determine the audience and what kind of people the event would attract. We are still an inexpensive or reasonably priced conference since we are new in town, but it is clear to us that we want people who take the event and the fellow attendees seriously, and see it as an investment. Our prices and the level of the experience will just go up, and thus also the benefit for people who are attending. We want people who are taking the community seriously to attend, and we want to offer the best experience for them. Then the price has to reflect on that.
Stories from the book Big Rich Money.
Candice’ Big Rich Money Story:
The first big investment I ever made in my business was to attend BlogHer conference in 2009 in Chicago, I was working and living in Asia at the time. My salary was very low. I had two young children and just to fly to the US was about $1600 USD. The price of the conference was also very expensive. I don’t remember how much it was but the expenses were going to be about $1200 after the conference ticket, flights within the US, and a shared hotel room.
I decided that I HAD to go to BlogHer. I started pitching companies to give me a few hundred dollars in exchange for small promotional tasks. I purchased my conference ticket, not fully having a plan for how I would pay for all of the associated costs, but knowing that I would. A few weeks before the conference, I was notified that I had won a full sponsorship from a huge national brand.
When I went to the conference, I had so much fun! I met amazing people who cared about internet marketing! I met Katja. I also met a brand rep named Betsy who lived in NYC. She became my very close friend and gave me my first job in NYC. If I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t have gotten that job and I wouldn’t have moved away from Asia to New York. I would have the corporate experience that would lead me to work with Katja. I wouldn’t have been living in Brooklyn to meet my husband and have our beautiful daughter Lucille. Betsy is Lucille’s godmother.
How different would my life be now if I hadn’t decided to go to Chicago in 2009, despite how impossible it looked on paper, or if I had waited to be invited?
Katja’s Big Rich Money Story:
I chose to invest in myself. Attending my first business conference changed the course of my life.
My first business conference was BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas in 2008. I desperately wanted to attend, but we had just done a big cross-country move from Colorado to New York, I was recovering from pulmonary embolism, and we were recovering from both of those things financially. I had already had success with my own company Skimbaco, but I knew I could offer my marketing ideas to other companies, I just needed to get to sit on the same table and do my pitch in a way that tweets could not deliver.
I lucked out and won a ticket to BlogWorldExpo from Darren Rowse’s blog called ProBlogger and scraped up the money for flights and a hotel.
At the conference I met John Andrews, who was leading the digital marketing at Walmart at the time. I started working with Walmart soon after, and a year later John started his own influencer and social media marketing agency called Collective Bias. I became the Director of Marketing and helped to build the company up. I recruited over 600 bloggers to work with us during the time of my employment, and I won 7 American Advertising Awards during my time at Collective Bias.
Oh, and I also returned to BlogWorld Expo in 2009 and multiple years after that – as a speaker.
It would be easy to say those experiences were just luck, but no – learning to carve your own path is something we both learned very early on, and we have been able to do so many times. In 2019, I flew to Italy to attend Salone del Mobile, the Milan Furniture Fair, held at the same time with Milan Design Week. Through a business friend, I got to know luxury rug designer Kristiina Lassus, who ended up becoming one of my clients a year later.
My tip: Buy the ticket. Show up.
People take you much more seriously after you’ve bought the flight ticket and flown across the country or the world to meet them.
Create Your Own Community
What if you can’t find a community around the topic you are looking for? What if none of the groups feel like your own?
You can start one on the spot!
If you have something to share that you can’t find an outlet for, create the outlet! Most likely you are not the only one who is interested in the same things, shares your frustrations and or has similar problems – and is looking for similar solutions.
Don’t talk yourself out of it by thinking you aren’t “expert” enough or whatever other baloney reason you try to give to let yourself off the hook of growing and being and shining bright like the diamond you are. It doesn’t matter in which part of your journey you are, you still have something to give others. Everyone does.