Businesswomen know that they need to build contacts to build their businesses. But where do you find like-minded women? Sometimes the best contacts are found online.
The advantage of online networking over face-to-face networking, of course, is that you can do it at home, in the middle of the night, generally for free. You don’t need to risk several hours and a parking bill on a networking event that may or may not do you any good.
Here are some ideas for finding other businesswomen online – and building a powerful network to help your business grow.
First off, of course, your networking will not be restricted to just women. Your network should include plenty of men, who after all, make up half the business world (and, depending on your business area, maybe more than half your clients, partners and supporters). So we’ll take a look at some women-focused and co-ed online networking spots in this article.
The big kahuna of online business networking sites is LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). More than a Friendster or MySpace for business, it’s a way to create contacts (and reinforce existing ones) that will help you move your business ahead. After two-and-a-half-years using this site, I’m really amazed by the power of the relationships I’ve found there. Here’s how it works.
You go to www.linkedin.com, become a member (the basic membership is free) and set up a profile for yourself. Then, invite your friends to join LinkedIn (if they’re not already members) and become part of your network – of course, you’ll also become part of theirs. If your friends are already on LinkedIn, it’s easy to find them by downloading your Outlook address book (LinkedIn has a tool for that) and spotting the matches. Invite these friends to link up with you, and you’ll be off and running on building your LinkedIn network.
So now you’ve got a budding network – what good does it do you? Well, for starters, you can see the people to whom your friends are connected. Some of them may be possible collaborators, vendors or clients. You can send a LinkedIn contact request – a sort of message in a bottle, through the LinkedIn website – via whichever friend of yours is connected to the person you want to reach. It’s a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon sort of thing.
Now let’s talk about a totally different kind of network – an online community just for professional women, where the focus is on sharing ideas rather than making person-to-person connections. This network is called WorldWIT, and I started it back in 1999 because I believed that smart women should know one another. The WorldWIT community is organized in local chapters, like MassWIT in Boston and RockyWIT in Colorado – there are 82 of them, the newest addition being NepalWIT in Nepal. Members join one of these local chapters online (it’s free) and then they can send messages to all their fellow chapter-mates – or to members of any WorldWIT group in the world – asking for advice on business strategy, marketing, technology, finance, funding, you name it. “Life” topics are welcome too, from breastfeeding to Cape Cod rentals. The members are resourceful and friendly – we see the incredible interaction every day.
Another way that women can connect online is through a Yahoogroup, associated with the LinkedIn networking site, called LinkedInPowerWomen. You can subscribe to the group for free by sending a blank email message to email@example.com. Topics range from low-cost small-business marketing to hiring interns.
Get connected right now – it could help you out in your business by the end of the week!