Joining Better Networks, Part 4: Go Where Your Desired Network Goes
This is the fourth chapter of an ongoing series of posts about how to become a welcomed member of productive networks. Humans are social animals, and always cluster into various groups. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re a member of various (sometimes overlapping) groups. These networks vary in size, purpose, and effectiveness.
Most African-American women need to find and join new, healthy networks in the global village. Because their current all-Black networks tend to be accidentally chosen, non-reciprocating, and often downright destructive. However, to join productive networks, most African-American women will need to change the way they approach networking. Most importantly, they will need to change their understanding of the entire process.
GO WHERE YOUR DESIRED NETWORK GOES
In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned the Sovereign Man blog, and suggested that you get a copy of his free report Network Infiltration: The Secrets to Becoming a Welcomed Member of The Most Exclusive Networks in the World. On page 8 of this report, he makes the following important point:
Go where your network goes—whether that means a private club, conference, award ceremony, etc.
He’s right. If you’re serious about joining a certain network, you need to be where they are. Which leads to a a point raised by a reader named Nina in a slightly different context.
“LOOK YOUR PART, AND AIM TO LOOK IT EFFORTLESSLY”
During an earlier conversation, Nina said,
I am now advertising myself as an expert whole foods shopper. So many people are trying to do better but they’re mind-boggled by the sheer abundance of foods in the markets. I aim to make it easier and guide in whole foods selection, and navigating the mess of packaged foods and junk foods in disguise. (I am my best advertisement because I maintain a very healthy weight, I am very fit, and possess a happy and healthy glow, and I love food shopping. You may offer make-up shopping, clothes shopping/fashion styling, home decor shopping…Whatever service you choose to offer, look your part, and aim to look it effortlessly. People will pay to “be like you” granted they like what they see.)
She’s right. It’s essential to look like you already belong to the desired network (or category of persons, such as a radiantly healthy nutrition expert, and so on).
THE NETWORKING COMPLICATIONS OF BEING A BLACK BUSINESS OWNER
There are additional layers of complexity when it comes to networking and positioning as an African-American business owner. As discussed in my book, the reality is that non-Blacks don’t want to patronize Black-owned businesses. And neither do African-Americans! As mentioned in the book and during this earlier conversation, African-American business owners need to position their businesses as “colorless” in order to tap into the larger pool of non-Black consumers. For all practical purposes, nobody (Black or non-Black) knowingly or willingly patronizes visibly African-American owned businesses. In the beginning, I believe most consumers have to be tricked into doing this. They have to be tricked into thinking they’re dealing with a White-owned business. This strategy works well with online businesses (which are essentially “faceless” businesses).
This is also why many of the African-American attorneys I know who are in private practice use a White “front” associate. The White front person is the initial public face of the firm, gets the business, and the Black attorney does the actual work. Successfully controlling a non-Black front person adds yet another layer of complications. During Part 3 of this series, a reader (and long-term Black business owner) named Karen mentioned several important considerations about all of this in a reply to another reader. Karen said,
I faced the same hurdles, and I was able to bypass them via my “white networks.” It took me 18 months after I started my business to really get a foothold after that, it has been through networking and of course excellent performance that has now enabled doors to be opened and to get contracts (in some cases before they are even given out for bid).
No, it is not easy.
I do not know what types of networks you have but perhaps you could investigate what professional business networks (i.e. white) would be of help. Offer “limited, free” one-time offering to be able to demonstrate what you can do. I am in several professional associations and have many networks based on professional and personal interests (both lead to business opportunities).
Do you have “private networks” that include the type of people you want to do business with? It all ties in together…
The move to hire a white marketing director is not a bad one but make sure that you hold the “keys to the kingdom.” You do not want that person to run off with your ideas and run you out of business. That means “non-disclosure agreements” and a minimum 18-month period that they cannot enter into competition with you. This also means that you need to have financial penalties in there if they violate the agreements, it needs to be significant enough to discourage any attempt to undermine you.
Check with an attorney to see what the laws dictate, however most big companies that want to protect their intellectual property have similar clauses/agreements.
Do you have written references of prior work done? Is this visible on your website or marketing materials?
There are so many factors that can play into closing the deal or not, but here are some aspects to consider.
None of this is fair. None of this is right. However, the business terrain for Black business owners is what it is. As I said in the book,
Understand and conquer your terrain. It’s not the same as it is for non-Black business owners. Don’t directly try to attack and overcome customer racism and irrational resistance (including Black customers’ anti-Black racism). Don’t waste your time lamenting or arguing about the slave mentality that creates this situation for African-American business owners. Gracefully sidestep all of that madness by either having a colorless business, or by being secretive about the fact that your business is Black-owned. Work around this consumer racism and irrational resistance.
As Karen wisely said, it all ties in together.