Business is about many things, and means different things to different business owners, but at the centre of it has to be sales. Without sales there is no business. Taking my profession, the legal industry, as an example, the way we historically generated sales was through lunches, coffees, attending events and producing articles.
The point of all those activities? Making and maintaining contacts and showing off your expertise or your USPs. Times have changed and now our starting point should be: how can women use today’s technology and tools to the greatest effect when it comes to making contacts, maintaining contacts and demonstrating their expertise?
If business is all about sales and sales are generated through contacts, then women seem to be at a disadvantage. Networks are vital to making contacts, securing investment and finding opportunities. If women do not, or cannot, network, it seems obvious that their business aspirations would suffer.
Lack of connections?
I am reluctant to make any generalisations about the differences between men and women in networking. Assumptions that men are somehow better at networking than women, or that women lack the necessary confidence to network effectively, are in my experience just too simplistic and in most cases untrue.
That said, there are perhaps a number of societal factors and pressures that mean women do suffer from a lack of connections. For example, the ‘old boy’ networks that still prevail in a number of industries naturally favour men over women and even in the enlightened times we live in, women generally take on more responsibility than men when it comes to looking after their children.
This means that many of those late networking events after work, lunches, and coffees outside of working hours are impossible for the majority of women to attend.
A further aspect to consider is the impact of maternity leave. Women (and of course now men) who take parental leave often find themselves ‘out of the loop’ of industry developments, and losing contact with colleagues and other important business relationships.
Staying in touch
Although it is essential for parents to take time off during such leave, technology and social media offers women and men simple and effective ways to stay in touch. For women who return to work after maternity leave and are limited by hours of operation, two platforms in particular offer a number of advantages: LinkedIn and Twitter.
Let’s start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is all encompassing in the business world and on a basic level it provides an easy way to keep in touch with key contacts – old, new, domestic and international – and track them wherever they move to: an electronic rolodex of business cards which has an inbuilt function where your contacts can virtually introduce you to new ones.
However, to gain real value from LinkedIn you need to engage on other levels: share news and content, get involved in debates in groups, trial the premium service. Engage in it consistently and regularly and you will start to see tangible benefits and a wealth of opportunities.
For me, Twitter has opened up a whole new world. I only started to use Twitter earlier this year and it has completely revolutionised the way I work and view my market. I used to think Twitter was just noise and for personal use – I was wrong.
As a working parent of three young children, with a business in London but residing part of the time in LA, Twitter has been central in me being more effective in not only networking, but also allowing me to keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world and following news and views that matters to me and my business.
Unlike any other platform, Twitter provides you with a way to stay updated in the ever changing world of business. You hear about client and recruitment opportunities, developments and general moves within the market as they happen – as well as what others are saying about such changes.
It enables you to engage with contacts and targets on an informal level, often resulting in a dialogue much more quickly than traditional methods of networking and marketing like email. And if used properly and consistently, it will make you more efficient in BD and marketing.
Social media use for any business woman is highly recommended. Anyone who has a smartphone can check Twitter and LinkedIn on the go and even if you have to skip that Wednesday night industry talk and gathering, you can still participate and make and maintain connections from wherever your family life might take you – a swimming lesson, parents’ evening or even the train on the way home.
Social media has become my business life line and it can be yours.