For many Business Owners, particularly women, the term ‘networking’ can be stressful, evoking a superficial, soulless exchange of business cards that rarely leads to genuine new connections — or business. Yet, being an entrepreneur or business owner can be lonely, and we all know getting out there with other people is crucial to the growth and success of your business.
What started off as a reason to catch up for social drink for She Means Business Today facilitators Kristy Vallely and Renee Dembowski is now a North Queensland women’s business networking group with almost 4000 members.
“Kristy rang me one day and said, ‘I’ve got an idea, let’s go get a drink’, Renee says. “It was in the lead up to Christmas, and we thought it would be a good idea to have a low-key Christmas ‘event for women in business, particularly those who work solo, who might not get that opportunity. We thought we might get twenty or thirty people along, catch up for a wine…”
“… it just exploded”, finishes Kristy. “We had a line-up of about 400 people around the street. We got a phone call from the venue beforehand – they had seen the event online and said ‘We need to know about this!’. It was definitely unexpected!”
The duo have tapped into a growing need among female entrepreneurs, business owners and sole traders for more casual networking groups that were held after hours. “There’s lots of groups that already exist, the Cairns Business Women’s Club being an amazing one”, Kristy says. “Renee and I are both a part of those groups. However, we found that those monthly lunches, as amazing as they are, do take up a lot of time in the middle of the day. We wanted something that was outside working hours and less like a networking event, more like a catch up with friends, but one where genuine connections were made, especially where using each other’s businesses was the outcome .”
Kristy Vallely is the founder of The Imperfect Mum, an online forum for women to discuss issues and problems, guilt and judgement free. A previous winner of the Ausmumpreneur Award for ‘Making A Difference’, Kristy’s Imperfect Mum blog has been ranked as one Australia’s most-viewed blogs in the women’s support field. Renee Dembowski of Social Butterfly Marketing is no stranger to social networking, having made a very successful business out of social media marketing and training, and Queensland Ambassador of the Social Media Marketing Institute.
“The whole ethos behind She Means Business Today was to take the eye-rolling out of networking, keeping it relaxed, and removing the ‘one-minute pitch’ that so often occurs in networking functions”, Kristy says. “If members come to an event but don’t get the chance to speak to the person they want or need to, then the group offers that opportunity for connection as well.”
“Sometimes you go to a panel or hear speakers, and you may not even speak to the person sitting next to you”, says Renee. “Our goal is to bring people together to retain the ability for members to talk to each other, not just listen to a speaker.
SMBT is operated through a closed Facebook group alongside a small number of social ‘networking’ events designed to strengthen connectivity. Online members discuss business issues from everything including looking for accountancy software specialists through to navigating legal matters in employment contracts or competitor management.
“Women simply network differently,” Kristy says. “I believe we can be more open when we feel a sense of like mindedness. I believe the issues facing women are different, as much as we like to think they are not. Having the desire for sharing vulnerably across business and personal matters is a very female quality to be very real.”
Kristy says women’s business events should help rather than hinder women if they also network more broadly. “It’s not about being against men,” she says. “Being in business is a unique place, and women commonly have this voice of self-doubt on their shoulder which makes us all question whether we can do things. All of us, even entrepreneurs, have a screaming voice of self-doubt and imposter syndrome that men don’t seem to openly have. These groups and events help remind that it’s not a unique thing, and that other people are there to help.”
“Women’s business groups are just different to events with men – I go to a lot of those as well,” Renee says. “It’s a different vibe, as if you can speak more openly. However, keeping circles wide to incorporate all types of networking and connection-creating groups and events is very important. “In these groups, we simply see a very strong collaborative approach where people are helping each other.”
Membership to She Means Business Today is free, and events have a small fee to cover costs.