8 Tips on How to Network Better as a Female Founder

November 7, 2022

Early on in my career, I struggled with the concept of networking. To me, I felt as if I had nothing of value to talk about. Not enough knowledge. Not enough advice. Not enough experience. Our favorite enemy, imposter syndrome, was gnawing away at my confidence when it came to networking.

It all boiled down to generally being scared. I was afraid to talk to anyone with an executive title because they’re so much more experienced than me. They won’t find it worth their time to speak with me. What took me a bit to realize was that even if they didn’t find value in talking to me, I most likely will. If I can just ask an intelligent question or a relevant question, it’s worth it for me.

Based off of my experiences over the past few years, here are 8 tips on how to better network as a female founder.

1. Get Out of Your Head: As an introvert, this was the hardest for me. I like to be comfortable and the tiny voice inside my head was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of putting myself out there. Step one is about finding the courage to speak up, ask questions, and talk to new people. It was scary, but I was never going to be able to network without actually doing any of this. I know it’s easier said than done, trust me! But once I got out of my head, the remaining steps went a lot smoother.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice: Before you go into any conference, make sure to get a practice run in. You may be thinking now, “Afra, but I don’t have time to practice!” And to that I say, I get it. I really do! Being a female founder is a lot of work. We’re out here running entire companies ourselves. But what I found works for me is to practice networking in my personal life. Living in San Francisco, I’m always going to events in my Muslim community and meeting new people. I decided to use this time to “practice” by going up to different people and starting conversations. All it took was a simple, “Hi, I’m Afra,” to get the ball rolling.

3. Ease Into It: A common mistake people make when first attending a conference is diving straight in. That may work for others, but some of us need to really ease into it. Take it step by step. Talk to someone in line. Compliment someone’s outfit. My favorite: walk around the expo booths, make eye contact, and smile. 9 times out of 10, that hooks people in and they’re the ones trying to talk to you now! Works like a charm!

4. Have a Personal Pitch: Having a quick elevator pitch ready to go is key when attending networking events. It’s the most efficient way of making connections. But remember, the objective is to be memorable, especially as a female founder. You don’t always need to start off with, “My name is… and this is what I do…” That can be so boring and hard to remember later on. Everyone’s talking to so many people so the more catchy your intro is, the more likely they are to remember you. I like saying something quirky or relatable to grab their attention before diving into my more rehearsed pitch.

5. Nail Down Your Selling Points: As a founder just starting out, it’s imperative to bounce on any opportunity to talk about the startup and secure potential clients. The best way to do that is to integrate your selling points naturally into a conversation. Have a list, rehearse it, and find unique ways to slip those selling points into the conversation. Remember, no one wants to be aggressively sold or talk to a robot. Be natural. And the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to be smooth with your delivery as opposed to sounding too rehearsed.

6. Take a Break: Not every conversation has to be about the business or a sales opportunity. Sometimes you need a break and just need to communicate as a regular person, not a female founder. Being “on” can be draining and mentally taxing, so make sure you’re sprinkling around some genuine and fun conversations that don’t always need to align with the startup.

7. Have Fun: You’ll be surprised just how many people don’t laugh during these types of networking events. But don’t let that stop you. Have fun! Tell jokes! Live a little! I promise you, you’ll be way more memorable as being a fun person to talk to than being a super serious, buttoned-up professional who can’t crack a smile. As women in this space, we often think that we need to always have a front to be taken seriously. And though that may be true in certain circumstances, it will also serve you well to humanize yourself during networking opportunities. I promise it works!

8. Don’t Be too Hard on Yourself: A common experience of being woman in the startup space is being too harsh on yourself. Being a female founder is no joke. It’s one of the hard jobs in the world. You’re going to amazing, great days. But sometimes you’re going to have bad ones too. Those bad days might involve some rejection. It’s important to keep in. mind though that if someone isn’t giving you the time of day, it’s THEIR LOSS! Don’t let rejection cripple you, which is something I’ve seen many early-stage female founders go through. Instead, develop a ruthless attitude. In a couple years, those who rejected you will see an article about your wild success and it will all be worth it!

So, those are my tips! Hopefully these are helpful and make an impact as you navigate networking as a female founder. Share with us your favorite networking tips, or bullet-proof tips to guarantee a better networking experience!

Written by: 
Afra Nehal