‘Community’ is this year’s biggest brand trend…
And it’s no surprise when you consider that a huge four out of five consumers believe society is more divided today than ever before. Naturally, people want to connect. 91% of consumers believe that social can connect people, and 78% want brands to use social to bring them together. In other words, connection is very much the new currency, and it reflects a broader shift happening across the board (room).
While it’s easy to assume that competition might be the default response in the midst of high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, the business community appears to be stronger, more supportive and collaborative than ever. As a new agency owner, it’s been incredibly refreshing to feel a real sense of connection and community from fellow industry and business owners.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. Getting out there is crucial to your company’s growth and success. However, women, in particular, are less likely than men to know other entrepreneurs or have access to sponsors, mentors or professional support networks. Interestingly, a study of female entrepreneurship found that 31% of women highlighted the importance of networking as a business skill, compared to 21% of men. Yet, only 30% of women said they already knew an entrepreneur versus 38% of men. Traditional networking methods can pose a real challenge, and a lack of professional networks was perceived as a significant barrier by newer female entrepreneurs.
This is even more pertinent when you consider that research has also found that women benefit from collaboration over competition. Study after study shows women who support women are more successful in business. The reason? Women trying to rise into leadership face cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder for them to advance. A way to overcome some of these hurdles is to form close attachments and share experiences with others who have been there — from how to ask for what you’re worth to bringing your unique talents to leadership. Nothing beats being able to connect with someone who speaks your language, understands what you’re going through, can support you and share experiences of their own that speak to you.
The art of finding your tribe
Brilliant networks exist that enable enormous opportunities for personal development and agency progression. Agency Hackers, BIMA and DBA events have provided unbelievable genuine and transparent support. It’s an opportunity to speak honestly without judgement with people who ‘get it’ and will be equally open and honest with you in return. It’s a great way to grow as a leader and simply to be reassured that you’re doing OK.
Running an agency is challenging. Even when you have a team around, you (and your team) can often feel alone in your agency bubble — networks such as these offer up an engaging community where you can trade war stories and gain new ideas. You’re not walking this road alone; you are together with a community. ‘Your net worth is your network’ really does carry weight.
Take the ‘work’ out of networking
My advice is to reframe what “networking” is and find a way to network that is authentic to you. The fact alone that the word has “work” in it creates pressure to feel that you have to do it. But simply putting yourself in an environment that allows you to meet with peers and get to know each other is a game changer, even if there is no direct ‘value exchange’. It might not feel it at the time, but vulnerability is strength. It opens up opportunities, conversations and connections.
Be willing to get a little uncomfortable. Participate wherever and however you can. The only way to make positive change and achieve growth is to put yourself out there, and from my own experience, you’ll likely be surprised by how welcoming and warm the response is. After a recent conference, I took action, following up with a highly respected and influential titan in the industry — someone that I have admired for a while. Not only was she keen to offer advice, but she engaged and made introductions to open even more doors. Instead of stacking competitors up against one another to vie for the top spot, businesses that collaborate by linking professional circles can create a more extensive network than they could on their own.
It really is about coming together, relying on each of our networks to create more awareness about each other’s business, to help drive more support to the whole collective. If another agency is more suited to a brief than your own, don’t hesitate to pass it along or collaborate on the project to bring the best value to the client. Adding value to another’s business does not subtract from your own.
In most cases, you’ll find good acts ‘paid back’ as well. The entrepreneur of this era cares just as much about connections and community as the bottom line. It would be remiss to say that they don’t want to make money. They do, but they find helping the wider community and environment an even more fulfilling pursuit. With the changes we want to make in the world, there needs to be a level of collaboration. For example, if we want to be carbon neutral by 2030, that will take an industry-wide effort. Collectively, we can reimagine the future — we need to be thinking, how do we unlock opportunities together? That’s how we’ll make real change even remotely possible.
The circle of life: Keep paying it forward
As well as choosing to pay it back, better yet — pay it forward. Business leaders who have benefited from industry support are more likely to support up-and-comers, especially in groups that face more adversity in the business landscape. Supporting other women has grown in popularity as a means for women aspiring to leadership to distinguish themselves, improve their reputation, and build their networks. As a result, women have become more open and enthusiastic about helping one another to promote their careers.
Remember, you always have something to offer. It can be easy to feel ‘imposter syndrome’ as an agency owner, especially for women in the workplace. You have so much to impart on new graduates, career entrants and, surprisingly, even your peers. I can promise they will thank you for your advice and support. There is evidence that this support network is the new reality; younger women are more likely to have received guidance and support from someone in their shoes. Just 34% of 45-55 year-olds have had a woman mentor, while 51% of Gen Y (18-29) women have. This is a positive suggestion for the future that more and more leaders are finding their tribe.
Everybody knows that they’re supposed to network. The problem is that nobody knows what that means. They don’t know where to begin, and they get paralysed in a sea of what-ifs. But the tide genuinely is turning. This is a generation keen to support and see other businesses thrive as well. Just start by just having a conversation. Don’t be afraid to fail. Maybe you’ll help someone; perhaps they’ll help you. In either of those scenarios, you’ll grow and learn. Either way, you win.
Featured image: Jed Villejo / Unsplash