Networking is key to growth when it comes to business development. Women business owners, however, face unique challenges, especially in a rapidly growing, male-dominated energy industry.
In a recent survey conducted by First Commonwealth Bank® and Campos Inc. of 125 local women-led businesses, more than 47 percent of respondents said business development was their greatest need.
“Based on this percentage, it shows that there is a significant opportunity for women to better understand how to network and successfully grow their businesses through these unique relationships,” says Megan A. White, Vice President and Regional Manager at First Commonwealth Bank.
Smart Business spoke with White about how women in business, particularly within the energy industry, can tackle business development.
What challenges do women face with developing their businesses?
In the same Campos survey, 67 percent of respondents said they seek business advice and guidance from peers and colleagues.
However, the challenge for many women is that they do not know who to network with for business advice beyond their peers and colleagues, and sometimes need help getting outside of their industry. When they expand to other industries, such as education, finance or government, it helps them build a solid network and creates many opportunities for developing their business.
How can women build networks that become their center of influence?
One way to create a networking system to benefit your business is to reach out to business professionals — your banker, attorney and accountant — who each have networks that you can plug into.
People often have tunnel vision, thinking a banker only does loans and deposits, but a good banker who wants to see your business grow and succeed can help with all your business needs, and connects you to community leaders or business owners.
A banker, along with the network of other professionals, can open doors, make introductions and be your strongest advocate.
With the energy industry’s growth, what’s important for women to understand about business development in this arena?
According to Rigzone, which provides oil and gas industry news and information, in the first quarter of this year, more women than men entered the oil and gas industry. Locally, many women operate in leadership positions within the manufacturing and service industries related to oil and gas. People may think of the energy industry as male-dominated, but it’s an avenue for women to build leadership roles and own companies within the industry.
Like many, when I first started to develop contacts within the energy industry, as a woman I thought there might be hurdles to overcome. However, in general, everybody within the industry is very welcoming, which helps you learn the network, and a lot of women already operate within the space.
Women shouldn’t hold back, assuming they may have a hard time, when they actually have a skewed perception of the industry. It’s also short-sighted to assume their company may not tie into the energy industry because they’re just thinking of the wells, pads and drilling. That’s not really looking at what the industry can do, or what your business can do for the industry.
Is there still a ‘boy’s club’ mentality in the energy industry?
Not as much. We do have a lot of room to grow, quite frankly, but there are women’s organizations that help with that. For example, the Women’s Energy Network, which was primarily Texas-oriented, formed an Appalachia chapter in 2011 that focuses on Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Women in the energy industry are being proactive. They want to get together to form a team and network within themselves, as well as being able to work together to become an industry force.
Business is still very much relationship driven. Yes, you need to have a competitive product and know what you’re doing in your industry. But in order to grow with other companies in your market area, it’s important to understand what each industry is doing and how you can work with others, or create something that makes your market stronger. ●
Call (800) 711-BANK (2265) or visit fcbanking.com/womenfirst for resources specific to women in business, local events and more.
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