Networking to get your new business off the ground

When it comes to networking, women do it differently. It’s not all golf courses and steak dinners. Step one – as Carolyn noted – is being willing to sit down and talk with just about anyone who will listen. Step two is homing in on who in those informal sessions might be able to help you most and vice versa, then cementing the relationships with those women.

Pamela Ryckman noted the formation of these “Stiletto Networks” in “just about every major American city” and documented them in her recent book of the same title. She says that there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of groups of women across the country getting together because they needed each other. They tend to be cross industry, highly collaborative, and fairly small – even intimate.

Both Carolyn’s and Pamela Ryckman’s comments resonated with me as I have a Stiletto Network of my own. There are only four of us. One comes from sales, one from restaurants, one from the world of small business and then there’s me. And though it’s a relatively new thing in my life, I can’t tell you how helpful the advice from these successful women has been – and how I look forward to our conversations. So this week, some advice for building a Stiletto Network of your own.

  • Don’t invite men. I wanted to get this off my chest immediately. Yes, you know men who are brilliant and helpful. Some of my best bosses and mentors were men. But they don’t belong here. Here, you have to be able to let your hair down and to say anything. And, since even when we don’t want them to, our lizard brains (you know, the ones that want the best mate) sometimes rise to the occasion, you don’t want to invite that sort of competition anywhere near your interaction.
  • Think outside beyond your colleagues. Years ago, Ryckman explains, if you were in retail and your friend was in computers, you couldn’t have imagined that you’d ever been able to brew up a successful business together. Today, you have Gilt Group, One Kings Lane, the list goes on. “Industries are linked in incredible ways that we could not have imagined 10 years ago,” she says. “They’re starting new companies as a result.”
  • No idea is a dumb idea. When you get together, you have to feel free to throw all of your spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. “If I can’t afford a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) and you can’t afford a CMO, maybe we can share,” Ryckman says. But you have to attain a level of comfort with the members of your network so that you feel okay raising out-of-the-box ideas. If you’re not feeling it, you’re in the wrong place.
  • In this scenario, it’s okay to mix business with pleasure. Ryckman jokes that Stiletto Networks are love stories disguised as business stories. “Women say, ‘I don’t have golf trips. I don’t have shooting trips. I just wish I knew more people like us.’” Just be careful not to include too many. If someone’s in your group, you’re going to want to go out on a limb for her, you’re going to want to help her. And there are only so many people you can help. Ten is probably a good place to cut it off.
    How will these networks – and Carolyn’s networking strategies – fare long term? That remains to be seen. I, for one, am feeling pretty positive about it. But I’ll keep you posted.
Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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