The power of networking – I have stumbled upon so many books about this topic and tried to read them. But I usually stopped after a few pages. I found them superficial and artificial. I cannot stop myself from rolling my eyes when I read about workshops for career women on how to network. My biggest issue is the term “networking”. It is actually less the term itself. It is rather its notion of establishing relationships merely for the sake of getting ahead. To me, networking means building up long-lasting relationships with people who I enjoy spending time with, something which I do naturally.
By at the age of 25, I had built up a network involving entrepreneurs, board members of DAX-listed companies, representatives from academia. I had built it up myself. Like so many people in their teens, I got my first internships because of introductions by my family. I was an extremely ambitious student – apart from trying my best in terms of academics, I also wanted to turn my CV into one of the best. I knew I needed to go abroad, manage to get certain jobs at certain companies. My parents wanted to help me with introductions. However, they could not because they work in completely different fields. Therefore, I started using every opportunity to network – I participated in competitions for mentors and I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. When I landed a job, I gave 200% effort. I knew that introductions were the base, my performance was my ticket for the next step.
For me it never worked out to go to a conference, ask for business cards and then develop a relationship from that. My network developed in a more natural way. It did not happen because I did it for the sake of networking. I see every relationship as an opportunity – to learn from others, gain new perspectives. I also always aim at building a long-lasting relationship – in the best case a friendship – with people I am dealing with professionally also. A lot of my network came together because I travelled, because I partied and had fun with others. Life is not always about hardcore business. In the end, we work with people with whom we enjoy spending time and who we trust.
When I left my job to found my start-up, I moved to Hong Kong. Even though I already had an existing network in the city, I knew I needed to develop it. However, the risk of running your own business is that you get isolated. I had phases where I thought I do not have time for lunches, coffee meetings or parties. I obsessed about work, put in countless hours and completely forgot about the benefits of getting out of your work zone – not only in terms of your network but also just to take a break for an hour. I did not treat social gatherings as an opportunity anymore.
Soon enough I realised that I dug a big hole for myself. Not only did I become more lonely, I also lacked the opportunities to ask people for advice, get new introductions for work and just get a different perspective on things. The good thing if you dig a hole for yourself, you will also be able to climb out of it again. I started to actively get out there again. I went to events, made sure to schedule meetings and I have been reconnecting with a lot of people. I think the most important thing to remind ourselves (especially as women) is that competence, effort and hard work are the base. But if there is nobody around us who notices all of that, we will be stuck.
The areas I work in are male-dominated – tech, factories, trading, etc. It may sound crazy but as a woman, I sometimes ask myself whether the guy at the other end of the table is only interested in a work relationship. Even if there is zero evidence that there may be other motivations. I guess as women we have conditioned ourselves – or at least let society condition us – in a certain way of thinking. Nevertheless, I try to forget about this thought. I will never be able to control other people’s motivations but I can control my reaction to it. Furthermore, I do not get out there and network with men, I simply will not be successful. Our world is, unfortunately, mostly run by men, they still make the majority of the decisions. And you know what, most of the time, the paranoia is completely unjustified – because it ends up being about business in the end.
As women, we cannot hold ourselves back because we are worried about something or because we are scared. And I learned along the way that there are a lot of men who actually do not care if you are a man or a woman. They want to do business. And there are plenty of men who also want to actively support women. Therefore, get out there and show everyone what you are capable of. Hard work is the base, but if we isolate ourselves, it is very hard to promote our business, develop it further and keep the positive energy. And last but not least, we also need to enjoy the time with those who support us.