I couldn’t agree more with a statement I once heard, “Your network is your net worth!”
As an entrepreneur who primarily dealt with customers who either called or came into our shop to place an order, I would hardly speak about my business to anyone outside of my immediate family. After locking up for the day, our family would always share stories around the dinner table, but it just stayed there. They were my board of advisors.
When I entered the business in my mid-20s, I knew there was a chance to grow, but it would be very gradual. It was more of a lifestyle, and my family was my main focus. And while I was always around successful people, I was too shy to ask questions that would allow me to grow.
In 2013, right after New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy, our business was interrupted, and my dad asked me to look into a small business loan. After receiving a microloan from a CDFI, I was introduced to a networking group through the Tory Burch Foundation, where I was advised to enroll in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
My cohort consisted of 30 beautiful, ambitious women from the Tri-State metropolitan area. I remember that first class where our instructor encouraged us to share our challenges and identify some of the roadblocks we set up ourselves. Then we were asked to type six pages, front and back, in 12-point font, single-spaced. Mind you — of all the people we knew that would be in our network, I could not wrap my head around this assignment. Unlike in high school, I actually listened to my professors this time around. I was stuck on page two. I questioned my advisor: “Why six pages? I don’t know so many people.”
He insisted I list everyone I knew; no excuses. I continued to ask him why, and he sat me down and explained that everyone I knew had a connection that could help me achieve my goals. All I had to do was ask — everything from then on made sense.
“The Azra that entered the class in September of 2013, who was clueless on how to network, could basically teach a class on networking a year later,” said one of my advisors.
So, what does networking mean?
Networking means moving out of your typical circle. As a woman who is easily identified as different, I usually have to take the initiative. Since then, I have made some really good friends, and I use my unique style to my advantage. People tend to remember me, so it is really easy to get a follow-up meeting.
Where to network
I have been asked by women in particular where they can go for networking. There are tons of initiatives for women business owners, and both men and women can take advantage of the opportunities from local chambers of commerce. Have you looked into your alma mater? That’s a great place to try as well as industry-specific events. In my honest opinion, online networking has really increased due to the ongoing pandemic. It is absolutely not the same, but it is a great place to start.
And finally, my friends and family can attest to this: every time I get invited to an exclusive event, I ask for two tickets. The second ticket is offered to anyone in my network who could use the treat. My friends have done that for me, so why not pay it forward?