This post was originally published on March 19, 2019, and was updated on Feb. 19, 2020.
There is a big ugly misconception about women entrepreneurs, business owners and freelancers. It’s that women are more likely to compete with each other than support each other. As a female freelancer who works primarily with other female business owners, I’m here to tell you that is far from the truth. When it comes to networking for women, you can often count on other women to help.
Even if they are in the same industry or in competition for the same business, most women want to help other women succeed.
Whether it is by sharing stories and offering advice or referring clients and partnering up on projects, women are almost always eager to help each other.
Failing to recognize this can stunt your growth as a female freelancer or business owner as you might miss opportunities to tap into this networking for women, find support and grow your business.
7 ways to work your network for leads and clients
To make sure you get the most out of your network of women (and men, too), here are some tips for leveraging your network to get more clients and leads.
- Proudly let everyone know what you do.
- Don't be afraid to ask.
- Give to others — but don't be afraid to say "no."
- Make it easy for people to refer you.
- Offer a referral incentive.
- Send leads and clients to others.
- Join networking for women groups.
Let's look at each networking strategy in more detail.
1. Proudly let everyone know what you do
One of the biggest mistakes women freelancers and business owners can make is downplaying what you’re working on or what business you’re starting. Often — especially during the early stages of a new business endeavor — it’s nerve-wracking to talk about projects.
Don’t let fear, anxiety or even humility hold you back.
Talking about what you do is the best way to spread the word and let everyone in your network know what you do and what type of work you’re taking on so they can send relevant business your way.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
Another apprehension that often holds women back from getting more out of their network is the fear of asking. We often don’t want to feel needy or bothersome so we don’t ask for things that could help us. It might be an introduction to a possible client, an invitation to a meeting or a shot at pitching a proposal. Don’t let worry prevent you from asking for it.
People (especially women) are often more than willing to help when they can. But they can’t help unless they know what you need — so ask.
At the same time, be mindful of what you’re asking for. Don’t overextend your reach and ask for unreasonable or expensive requests (like a project that you didn’t earn or a meeting with a consultant who typically bills for their time).
A good rule is to never ask for something that you wouldn’t be willing to give back in return.
3. Give to others — but be OK with saying "no"
Asking goes both ways. As you establish your business, people are going to reach out and ask you for things, too.
Giving when you can is a great way to build relationships and goodwill with others.
Do it, but also set limits with your work. Don’t feel obligated to give away work for free or give more than you feel is fair.
Consider setting up monthly or annual limits for what you can give as mentorship sessions, free work and products, etc. to help you set boundaries that allow you to give without giving away too much.
4. Make it easy for people to refer you
If you want your network to send leads and clients your way, you need to make it easy for them. When someone asks me if I know a freelancer for a specific project, I always refer them to freelancers that have a great website and portfolio.
It’s easier to pass along a website URL than look up a phone number, and a website is much more likely to get the prospect interested in the freelancer.
After seeing the freelancer’s work, the prospect can get an idea if it’s a good fit before jumping on a phone call.
If you want people to refer business to you, you must have:
- Business cards. Yes, you still need these. Handing over a card is much better than writing a website URL on a piece of paper. Networking for women involves giving out multiple cards so other women can pass them out, too.
- Professional email address. Ditch your free email account and get a professional email address that includes your domain name.
- Branded domain and professional website. Have at least a simple business website that introduces who you are, what you do and the work you’ve done.
Editor’s note: Looking to set up that website before the next big networking event? No problem! With help from GoDaddy's Websites + Marketing you can create a website in under an hour, using industry-specific templates.
5. Offer a referral incentive to people who send you leads and clients
Referral incentives are another way that networking for women can lead to new business.
Encourage your network to refer business to you by giving them an actual incentive to do so.
Create a referral program that gives monetary compensation or gifts to people who refer business your way. The program doesn’t need to be formal. It could simply be taking the person out for coffee or dinner or sending a card depending on the size of the referral business.
6. Send leads and clients to others
Referrals also go both ways. To bring more leads and clients to your business, you should also send referrals to others. When you send business to another freelancer or business, they will be more likely to think of you if a strong lead for your business comes their way.
Take referrals one step further by building a partnership program.
Again, this doesn’t need to be a formal policy. It could just be a list of recommended vendors that you give to your clients or a page on your website with your favorite freelancers. Create a network around your referrals so each member can spread the word and share the love about each other’s work.
7. Join networking for women groups
Networking events can certainly be productive and help you make important connections. But as you attempt to grow your network and fill it with other women who will support you, try joining groups rather than going to one-off networking events.
Established groups, whether online in a Facebook group or in a regular meetup in your city, make it easier to create stronger, more beneficial relationships as you get to know people over multiple meetings.
Look for relevant groups in your area or online, and consider joining a women’s only group to increase your chances of finding like-minded female business owners.
Get more leads from your network of women
Many of the networking for women tips in this post can also apply to your male networks — but they will be most likely to help you gain the support of women.
Women want to see other women succeed, and many will go out of their way to support other female entrepreneurs, freelancers and business owners.
So don’t hold back from starting and building your network of professional women. Get out there, make connections, support others, and grow your business.