Women’s networking for beginners – what you need to know

Pink women's shoes of different styles

Women’s networking – what type are you?

Networking is to small business owners what adultery is to French presidents – without it they would be totally forgettable – it saves them from obscurity.

As the owner of your own business, you better be prepared to polish your elevator pitch, work the room and shuffle your business cards like a pro gambler or you might as well close up shop and return to the coffee morning circuit. No-one will notice your business and your client list will shrink faster than you can say: referrals.

Putting your best foot forward

As a journalist I’ve interviewed presidents (and their lovers for that matter), reported on groundbreaking conferences and interrogated people about everything from gardening to terrorism, but the thought of standing up in front of a group of power dressed women to talk about my business for one minute, makes me shake in my sensible shoes. I also don’t like to gush or smile too much and can be rather direct and honest, bordering on blunt, none of which really qualifies me as a great networker.

Women’s networking types and tips for dealing with them For any networking virgins out there – I thought I’ d identify some of the typical personalities you’re likely to encounter at a women’s networking meeting – and share tips for dealing with them.

The spiritualist – she appears to be on a different planet from the rest of the group. Dressed in flowing clothes with a spaced out look on her face, she’ll be flogging mind mappings, hypnosis or some Eastern-inspired therapy.
Favourite terms: Holistically and healing. 
Top Tip: Don’t ask open-ended questions unless you have lots of time and patience and whatever you do don’t tell her anything personal about yourself.

The image consultant – she will be the boldest, brightest and loudest person in the room, often sporting clashing neon colours that will be repeated from her eyelids down to her toenails – to strengthen the look. She will be positively bubbling over with confidence, tinkling with laughter while all the time glancing you up and down with a pitiful expression. Expect some ‘helpful’ suggestions for ‘image improvements’.
Favourite terms: First impressions count and capsule wardrobe.
Top Tip: Compliment her on her great taste and she’ll be your best friend forever.

The financial or legal expert – she is my ideal potential customer. Conservatively dressed with a no-nonsense hairstyle, she has more to say than the whole room put together, but she’s either too reserved, modest or boring to make anyone listen to her. And even when she thinks she’s doing brilliantly and everyone is enthralled, more than 70% of the room usually don’t have a clue what she’s on about. As a writer, I know how to turn what she says into the kind of stuff that people like you and me can understand. 
Favourite term: Cost analysis and economy of scale.
Top Tip: If you find one of these stumbling around helplessly on the networking circuit- give them my card.

The neurotic bully:  At first glance she’ll appear to be the kindest person in the room, caring and interested. But beware – those beady eyes are watching your every step to suss out if by any stretch of the imagination you could be competition and every ‘innocent’ question is carefully calculated to extract intelligence – to be used against you. She would pretend to be looking out for you, offer to work with you, buy you drinks and keep you a seat during meetings, just so you don’t speak to anyone else.
Favourite questions: So, how’s business?
Top tip: Don’t make eye contact. If she’s taking networking that seriously, imagine what doing business with her will be like.

The know-it-all: this one is equally hard to stomach and is usually a marketer or coach of some kind. She loves the sound of her own voice, never shuts up and knows more about every subject and industry than anyone else, including yours.
Favourite terms: “Personally” and “in my opinion”.
Top tip:  Don’t be afraid to interrupt and disagree. Most people in the group will secretly thank you for it.

The wild card: Apart from the typical profiles, every group usually has one wild card – someone who offers something completely off the wall – such as a pole dancing instructor, a foot clinician or a tarrot reader.
Favourite term: Special offer or voucher 
Top tip: Keep a straight face. Just because you can’t see why anyone in their right mind would need this type of service, doesn’t mean she can’t offer it.

Do you network for business? which type are you? Can you add some other types?   Any tips on how to get ahead in networking are most welcome…

Why it is good to spend time with your bum in the air

Snoopy

Snoopy needs inspiration too

I spent most of the week upside down.

No, I’m not referring to some severely disturbed emotional state, although that probably also applies, I mean physically bottoms up.

This entailed bending over and looking through my legs, in-between school runs, checking Facebook and dusting the skirting boards. You’d be relieved to know I only assumed this position in my own home with the blinds drawn. (So far, anyway)

Why, you may well ask. Have I gone mad? Did I forget to take my tablets? Have I put my back out?

Nope. The answer is simple: I needed a fresh perspective – new horizons, a different way of looking at things.

Inverted tea pot

I also tried balancing on my head in the inverted teapot or whatever that yoga stand is called – as that’s meant to let the blood rush to your head infusing your brain with fresh ideas.  I quickly realised a flurry of new ideas would not be of much use if I broke my neck.

Actually, what inspired me to imitate a supersized bat was an instruction from the lecturer on my creative writing course: Describe an upside down scene in 500 words.

How hard can it be, you’d think. Well, it’s damn hard, nigh impossible. I felt like a dried out prune with every last bit of creative juice squeezed out of me.  I didn’t know where to start. My rational brain refused to flip my world, probably rightly thinking that things were hard enough the right way up.  So, I took to drastic measures, physically inverting myself in search of creativity.

Creative writing course

“Let’s get this straight,” my husband had said when I first informed him that I was finally going to do the creative writing course I’d always wanted to do but never got round to.

“You’re going to spend a fortune on a course that has no guarantee of ever bringing in any money.”

The voice of reason, the rational, responsible one… my lord and master.

Needless to say – I ignored him.

And at first it went really well. I loved being out in London, thrived on discussions about characterisation and finding your voice over free coffee and biscuits.

Until I had to actually write something…

And read it out to the class.

Carnage

The bunch of sweet and innocent looking young people – apart from one other fellow journalist and jaded soul – turned into a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, setting upon my carefully crafted words with sharpened teeth and drawn-out nails, tearing my work apart sentence by sentence, chewing and spitting, shredding my hopes of ever being on the bestseller list.

That was a week ago. Meanwhile, I’ve band-aided my ego with yoga sessions, lots of chocolate and pep talks from girl friends, who relate to the crossroads faced by a 43-year-old mother trying to find her way back to herself.

I have also purposefully avoided the kind of people – men and women – who will sell their souls as long as they got a good price for it.  The kind of people who measure self-fulfillment by the number of zeros on their pay cheque or John Lewis labels in their living room.

Needless to say, I didn’t mention my little setback to my husband – and I didn’t think he’d take too kindly to me spending half the day upside down (unless of course there was money in it)

So what have I learned from spending time with my bum in the air?  And more importantly what can you learn from this – as apparently the whole point of blogging is to “give” people something.

Why YOU should spend time upside down:

Herewith my insights – for what they’re worth:

  • It’s never too late to pursue your dreams
  • It may not be easy at first – but persevere
  • Don’t feel guilty about going for something you want – you deserve it
  • Surround yourself with positive, nurturing friends
  • Avoid people who make you feel bad
  • Spend some time upside down – it really does give you a fresh perspective and if nothing else, you’ll be inspired to clean the skirting boards.

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The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Image

I’ve got two degrees and a few certificates to my name, most notably a South African law degree (useless anywhere else) and a journalism masters (useless everywhere).

The certificates enjoying pride of place among children’s artwork and the family weekly planner on my study wall, equip me with such sought after skills as reporting on AIDS and teaching English to foreigners.

These framed accolades are all that remain of the career aspirations I once had.

They also suggest that I once must have had a fully functioning brain with eager grey cells sparking excitedly like toddlers on a sugar rush every time they got to file away new information. Little did they know…

Those once animated cells have turned into bespectacled, slippered slouches, worn-out after 11 years of helping me function as a half-decent mum of three, while desperately clinging to the coat tails of my career.

In fact, my brain cells go on strike causing me to want a lie down every time I read an article about another superhero working mum telling women they can have it all.

The last such article was a review of Lean In, a new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which made me so fatigued I had to ask my husband to do his share of the domestic duties (one of Sandberg’s gems of advice). He got as far as picking up his underpants from the floor.

Mrs Sandberg, who at 43 is the same age as me but looks 10 years younger, wisely opted to study something slightly more useful than journalism – and was top of her class at Harvard Business School before filling high-powered jobs at the US Treasury, World Bank and Google.

The reason, she says, that my poor brain has all but seized up and my day is a survival struggle from when I stumble out of bed to make lunchboxes until I stumble towards my first glass of Chardonnay (in the evening I should point out), is because I didn’t LEAN into my career.

I’m really too exhausted after three bundles of washing, the weekly shop and homework duties to read her book but one of the ‘inspiring’ examples she apparently quotes, includes a super-efficient friend who puts her children to bed in school clothes to save time in the morning.

She probably also substitutes bedtime stories with a power point presentation for the next day and flosses her teeth while having sex, to squeeze in a few extra minutes.

Mrs Sandberg proudly reveals how she secretly pumped breast milk while on a teleconference, pretending the beeping of the breast milk machine was a fire engine.

I found swapping from one monstrous mastitis ridden boob to the other, attaching and reattaching the breast pump to extract a few more drops, painful, uncomfortable and stressful.

Doing this while discussing million dollar deals with Mark Zuckerberg-types on the other end of the line, inventing lies to cover unpleasant background noises sounds like a recipe for a stroke. This is progress for women?

It reminds me of a rather nasty incident when I was interviewing a male neuroscientist over the phone from home.  I was potty training my toddler at the time and he ran into the room announcing that he needed a poo and threatening to do it on the kitchen floor.

I failed womankind by ending up frazzled, with poo on the floor and a disgusted neuroscientist on the other end of the line

Sandberg’s book doesn’t inspire me to Lean In – it makes me want to Lean Away from the madness of telling women they can have it all.

It also makes me want to Lean ON something. This is not helping women – it’s making them feel even worse about not being perfect at everything.

More helpful titles from the likes of Sandberg, would be:

Trust me, you don’t want my life – it sucks

The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Do you think women can have it all? 

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