People and prosperity

How to network like an entrepreneur

What’s the worst that can happen? Women business owners share their tips on how to network for success

As I headed for a recent panel on ‘strategic networking and mentoring’ in the middle of a very busy working week, I must admit it felt like a bit of chore.

However, it turns out that entrepreneurs are a cure for low energy

Entrepreneurs are passionate and optimistic, I learned when I met the successful Asia-Pacific women business owners taking part in Entrepreneurial Winning Women – part of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year programme sponsored by Standard Chartered.

Meeting in Singapore, the entrepreneurs were more than happy to share their experiences. As one of them said: “It’s not about pulling up the ladder after you’ve climbed it – it’s about leaving the ladder down, and better yet, going back down and hauling others up.”

Networking isn’t just about making obvious business connections

So, when you’re starting out in business, how do you build a network and find the right mentor?

Here are some of the best tips I picked up from the Asian women entrepreneurs:

Follow your passion

Networking isn’t just about making obvious business connections. The first mentor of Claire Chiang, founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, was a traditional textile weaver who showed her the potential in combining business with sustainability, a lesson that led to the formation of the Banyan Tree boutiques. Claire’s stories were all about networking to explore what she felt most passionate about, a far cry from the traditional approach of focusing on building an address book full of influential contacts.

Online networks are no substitute for personal contacts

The most valuable connections are personal

Online networks such as LinkedIn are no substitute for personal contacts. All the women I met at the event in Singapore said their most valuable networking contacts were people who had become genuine friends, and that face-to-face interaction is critical. Networking can be even more intimate: many of the women saw their husband as a valuable business support. Building a business is a full-time occupation, and the advice and support from home can be a crucial resource.

Go for the best mentor you can get

Diane Foreman, Managing Director of the Emerald Group in New Zealand, has built many businesses over her career, spanning foods, property, hotels and recruitment. She reads a lot, gets to know the foremost expert on anything she is interested in, then simply calls up and asks for a meeting. As she says: “What’s the worst that can happen? Only that they say no.”

In addition to being the cure for low energy, entrepreneurs also make fantastic clients – dynamic, ambitious and international. And when we serve them well as banks, we may have their loyalty for generations.

That’s why I am excited about EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year programme, culminating in the global awards ceremony in Monaco next month.

Aside from celebrating entrepreneurship in all its forms, the programme is one of the best opportunities around for all who enter it to network, come together and share their experience on what everyone wants to know: how to build a successful enterprise.