02 Sep Networking While Black: Building a Cross-Cultural Power Network
Make the Commitment.
Building a power network is about making a name for yourself and building a community of people who know and support you and your brand, who are willing to do business and enter partnerships with you, and who send business your way. Oftentimes, building this kind of power network this means that stepping outside of the Black community is not only necessary but lucrative. A cross-cultural networking and marketing effort is a great way to broaden your business’s reach, but you need to be committed to authentic relationship-building, collaboration, and follow-up.
This might sound easy, but we have to recognize that our country’s history (and even some current day realities) have created walls and barriers to cross-cultural business success. If you’re someone who does not currently have a diverse power network, and you find that your strongest network is within the Black community, then be prepared to put some intentionality and effort into the endeavor of building this network.
To begin with, set aside a specific number of hours for event attendance and follow-up, coffee or golf outings, and engagement in online communities. This will ensure that you make the most of your networking and see it through to tangible business outcomes. If you gravitate toward your own community to network, make the commitment to step out of your comfort zone and play in more diverse spaces. More bluntly, make an intentional effort to network outside of your race.
Design Your Dream Network.
After committing to building a power network, start designing it by deciding what types of people you want to partner with, call on for guidance, and leverage when having sales conversations. Make a list that describes the types of people who are good for your business and what value they will bring to your business ventures. Brainstorm a vision for how you will interact with them and what types of successes you’ll have in your network. Then scope out events where these groups socialize and network there.
Find a Diverse Tribe (Or Two).
Do some research to find local incubators, accelerators, chambers of commerce, leads groups, startup networks, and more. Check out their programs, social media communities, membership terms, membership pricing, and event calendars. After finding some that fit your unique business needs, invest the time and money needed to become part of a growing and vibrant startup community – your new business tribe. Make sure that you’re choosing a tribe whose members can become or refer customers. You may also want to scope out an industry association in order to find partners, training, and other growth resources for your specific business type. Either way, don’t join a tribe if you can’t participate. Set time aside to attend meetings, help out where needed, and build relationships with other members.
Scout for a Mentor Who Rocks.
When you’re at conferences and events, watching tv or on social media, take note of people who have been where you want to be, business-wise, and are well connected. Then pursue mentorship possibilities with them. Introduce yourself, even if just briefly, and try to schedule time with them. You can ask for formal mentorship with a timeline and goals, or you can just ask for a mentorship that is an occasional informal check-in. Often successful entrepreneurs are busy running their empires, so don’t request too much time too often. Depending on the person, a quarterly or biannual check-in is probably reasonable. You can also use mentorship programs at local incubators to find a good mentor.
Fill Your Calendar With Events.
Years ago, my friend who is a financial planner always told me to keep my pipeline full. He said your calendar should book out with dates for events and coffee meetings with people you want to know or sell to. Be intentional about your selection of events, matching the potential crowd with your network needs. Then invite people to go with you that you also want to continue to build relationship and network with. Choose a mix of social and professional events because it’s no lie that the biggest deals are often started or sealed on the golf course, at the game, the opera or at someone’s house party. Be sure to leave every event with a routine that night or the next morning for follow up. See below for more on that.
Set Up a Follow-Up System.
It’s a waste of time to network, meet new leads and then never work to deepen those new connections. Set up a system for follow-up. This can be a formal CRM system for tracking leads, or it can be a simple routine of blocking 30 minutes in the morning following an event to send out thank-you notes and schedule requests to people whose business cards you’ve collected. In addition, you can build scripts and templates so that these follow-up emails are quick and easy to send, and you can also set weekly or monthly follow-up reminders in Google, your calendar, or your CRM system of choice.
Invest Deeply in a Few Choice Relationships.
Consider finding 1-2 people who you’d like to deepen your relationships with through joint ventures, business socializing, and maybe even a social friendship. To find someone, start by identifying a commonality with someone – maybe you both are avid dog lovers or hikers. Perhaps you’re both mothers of multiple kids and married. This more casual commonality can open the door to an invitation to the dog park, a Sunday morning hike, or a playdate with the kids. Or maybe the commonality is more business-related, so that you both are going through the government certification process or are looking to place your products in retail stores. This kind of commonality is a great way to start a business besties relationship in which you share resources and give each other feedback on business plans and strategies.
After you establish a way to connect and meet up, just be intentional about meeting frequently and nurturing the relationship. If your schedule is busy, send “Hey Girl” notes or share information and news via email when you can so that you can stay on each other’s radar. If you have a business bestie already, use my business besties planner to map out ways to support each other.
Track Your Leads and Referrals.
Make sure you track the referrals and leads that come from your newfound friends and power network. If you’re not getting many referrals, then perhaps it’s time redesign the network and choose new groups. Relationships with family and friends are about your personal fulfilment and joy, while business networks are about the success of your business. If you aren’t learning, building, and growing as a business, then adjust your networking targets and strategy.
Invest in Racial Healing Therapy.
Given that our online village is designed for the success of Black women entrepreneurs, I’d be remiss to ignore the reality that power networking often means networking outside of the Black community and so it can come with its fair share of cross-cultural challenges. Some of those challenges are deep-seated in the racist traditions and systems of our country, and others are connected to very personal experiences with racism. Working in mainstream, non-Black spaces may trigger some of the traumas from either. It’s important not to run from this possibility, but to instead be attentive to it. Your sense of confidence in the boardroom or communications in a sales call can be impacted by these traumas. You may find yourself weary from code-switching, managing micro-aggressions or white fragility. It’s real. Be aware, have safe spaces where you can talk, release frustrations, be understood and heal, and nurture yourself.