Developing relationships and establishing a network are critical to success in business. When I launched my business, I leaned on my network for support and set up intentional networking conversations to brainstorm potential coaching clients. The introductions I received led to clients I still get to serve today.
Recently, I had a conversation on the Elite Achievement podcast with Carrie Murray, who I met through a networking conversation. Carrie is a speaker, host of the Get Carried Away podcast, and an expert on networking and creating a community. Carrie founded BRA Network in 2015, which stands for Business Relationship Alliance. BRA is a network of powerful female entrepreneurs devoted to advancing women-owned businesses.
I start our conversation by asking Carrie to share more about BRA Network and her work.
“Absolutely,” says Carrie. “Like you said, BRA stands for Business Relationship Alliance. I founded it with six friends at a dinner party. We were all entrepreneurs frustrated about the lack of female-focused networking spaces and started talking about what we were dealing with. Every networking event I had been to were all these old white men, and they were like, hey, what’s your name? Where’s your card? It was very salesy. And I was like, can we just get a nice cocktail and a good cheese board? Like, where are these networking spaces? So, that was me, and my friend was a photographer. There was an architect, an interior designer, and an event coordinator. We all started talking about it and networking with each other. The photographer worked with the interior designer. The event coordinator worked with the architect. And then they were like, can we have another one of those dinner parties, but can I bring my friend who’s an accountant, or friend who’s a hairstylist? It grew from there, and it kept growing. And then, at one point, I had twenty-five women in my backyard, and I thought, I need a website. I really wanted us to create a space where women didn’t look at each other as competition but as collaborators. And here we were, hiring each other, working together, kind of keeping the money flowing between us. And it just happened very naturally, very organically. I hate to overuse the word organic, but it was really exciting. And at that time in my life, the school I had created was ending. And I was considering what to do next. Six years later, I have a network of over 500 women across the country. And I can technically say I’m global because I have two members in Norway.”
I appreciate that Carrie shared the story of how BRA started – by gathering women. And then she got to the point where there were twenty-five women before building a website. Many women think I have to have my website perfectly built before starting something. And yes, those are all important – the marketing, the branding, the web – we need all of that. However, it’s really that action that needs to come first. Carrie agrees and says that selling and creating can help identify the problem you’re solving, which then helps drive the marketing language and website.
“I didn’t want to make assumptions,” says Carrie. “I had to do a lot of market research to see what other networking groups were doing like a BNI or a Chamber of Commerce. I asked, how are they doing it, and how can I do it better? Again, with martinis and a cheese board.”
Carrie mentioned that she wanted to create a space where women can look at each other to collaborate versus looking at one another as competition. So, I ask her how she thinks we move from a space of competition to collaboration.
“It’s a really, really great question,” Carrie says. “I think we were raised to believe there isn’t enough room for everybody. And we were kind of ingrained by a patriarchal society saying, well, there are only two people in your law school class that are women, or only eight people that can be in this community of networking groups in law or engineering. And so, I was like, man, I don’t believe so. I think because of that attitude, we become competitive. We are immediately like, well, if you’re a photographer, and I’m a photographer, how can we be in the same networking group? I flipped it by bringing all the people in the same industry together so we could be very clear on what we’re selling and what we’re charging because I feel like that’s where the competition comes in. So, if you’re a wedding photographer, and you’re only charging $1,500, and then there’s a wedding photographer charging eight grand, why is that? We can be holding each other up and up-leveling our pay and our worth. It usually comes down to the fact that the one photographer doesn’t think they’re worthy of selling the $8,000 wedding. Or they have impostor syndrome. Their perfectionism gets in their way. And so, they don’t make the leap to be like, actually, I am worth it. A wedding is eight hours of work, and you’re getting $1,500. Like, that’s ridiculous. That’s where the conversation began. And also, combining companion brands, like a photographer and an event coordinator. They should be best friends because they will always find ways to collaborate. Because we trust the person we’re already working with. And a referral is magic. It is like the best payday. Most of the community that makes up BRA has come from referrals. If I demonstrate and model collaboration with companion brands, you can model collaboration with people who are doing the same thing you’re doing. There’s plenty of business for everyone. And tastes and flavors, maybe one wedding photographer is into moody lighting and an Avant-Garde style while another is very bright. There are different tastes, different flavors, and plenty of business for all of us.”
Absolutely! I heard Carrie say it was essential to gather female entrepreneurs in a group so they could seek to understand and learn what they’re doing, charging, and who they’re serving to ultimately raise one another up. I want to talk more about companion brands because I agree that referrals are magic. I’m in a service-based business, and many of my clients are also in service-based businesses where referrals make a world of difference. I ask Carrie how to identify potential companion brands and then establish those relationships. She says the quickest way is Instagram. Start by looking at who you’re following and who they’re following.
“I follow other networking groups,” Carrie explains. “So, I’m like, well, who else is following them? Okay, well, here’s somebody I might be interested in. I’m also service-based, so most of my members are B2B. A great companion brand for a network would be an event space, catering company, speakers, keynote speakers, and programming courses to keep bringing value into my network. But if you are a branding expert, your best friend should be a photographer, videographer, a website designer. So then, when you do all your branding and your messaging with your client, you can say, here’s a list of people that do fantastic websites or great photography. I feel like it’s the one domino. You hire one person, then you get the referral to the next person, and the next person, and the next person. I started first diving deep into companion brands and finding best friends who do what I do or a little bit differently from Instagram. It’s a great quick way to be like, yep, I like you, and I want to see what you’re doing. And it’s a great way to eliminate all the noise of automatic LinkedIn requests asking to book a call after we just connected. I don’t want to book a call with you. I think it’s overly salesy and aggressive. Then again, I don’t like that here’s my card kind of mentality. I think we should build relationships first.”
That leads me to ask Carrie what to do when you identify someone you want to start building a relationship with on Instagram. Do you send a message? Carrie shares that she first engages with their content. Do you like what they post? Have you reviewed their highlights?
“I’ll comment on things and see if they’re then maybe commenting or following me back,” says Carrie. “From there, I might send a DM if I see something timely like, hey, I have an event coming, I think you would be an interesting speaker, or, hey, we were at the same event. The other thing I do before any big conference is get the list of speakers and panelists. I send them all messages on LinkedIn and say, hey, I’m going to the same summit you’re going to. I’m looking forward to your panel. We probably won’t get time to connect because you know how crazy conferences are. But I just wanted to say I’m looking forward to what you’re saying. Every time I’ve done that, in person or even virtual, they responded. They’ll thank me for the message and ask how the speech went. And that’s building a relationship. You have to be genuinely curious. I really want you to tell me more about what made you go into speaking for diversity and inclusion or become an accountant?”
Everyone loves to talk about themselves. And many people don’t give that space. They’re not asking those questions or being genuine. That’s the keyword here, genuinely curious, to help develop those relationships. Carrie confirms that it’s like planting seeds. She doesn’t expect an initial connection one minute to lead to a member the next minute. But over time, it might grow into membership, then a collaboration. She confirms that part of marketing is just being curious. You can release the expectation of a quick result right away.
I pivot to ask Carrie what additional skill sets or characteristics women need to thrive in business.
“I think the first one is to lose the hustle mentality,” Carrie shares. “Recently, Kim Kardashian posted a video of her saying you have to get up every day, work hard, work late, and work long hours. And I feel like that is really dangerous language. Because we actually need to slow down and get rid of this idea that we have to go, go go because it is to the detriment of our health and wellbeing. And if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re never going to be able to take care of your business. So, I feel like that is number one. We have to get away from using that language of I’m a hustler. I’m hustling. I got it. No, you’re strategizing. You’re putting systems in place. If it takes you longer than a day, then it takes you longer. Give yourself grace. Take opportunities to learn. I think we also need to stop dropping the language of the girl boss. Don’t say I’m a fem-preneur. Just say I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a boss. I have a business. I don’t think we need to have the caveat in front of it anymore. It was cheeky and trendy, but it’s time to just say, I’m a boss, I run a business, and I charge this much. I mean, was there ever a time when men were saying I’m a boy boss? No. So, those two things, get rid of hustle mentality and stop putting our gender and how we identify before what we do. You’re a boss. Own it.”
I struggle with the hustle mentality. Much of the professional development I have came from an industry where the hustle mentality was very much celebrated. And so, I brought a lot of that into my business that I’m starting to unlearn slowly. I don’t need to celebrate if I’ve got the highest number of meetings on my calendar and I’m going back to back to back like crazy. I’m trying to find space and slow down. But it’s not easy. I know for me, fear starts to pop up and say if I don’t hustle, I’m not going to be successful. So, I ask Carrie how we work through some of the fear that could keep us stuck in that hustle mentality. She responds that a community like the BRA Network helps to remind you. We can isolate ourselves, especially when we’re a team of one.
“When you get that first VA, partner, or independent contractor, you actually thrive,” Carrie says. “Even if you’ve just booked a photoshoot, and you’re with another entrepreneur, you’re like, oh, this is great to be in a safe space with somebody. So, I really feel it’s finding community. There was a time when we were all knitting quilts, you know, back in the 1900s. And then gathering berries together, way back in the day. We did it as a group. And I think we still need to cultivate that as entrepreneurs working alone, whether it’s in a co-working space or virtually. We need a space to be next to each other and kind of parallel work. We may not know what each other is doing, but I know we’re together. So that’s what I think we need to kind of wash ourselves of this go go go mentality. It’s just going to burn you out, and then you’re going to get angry or depressed, and you’re going to want to chuck the whole thing. You want to run your business, not your business run you.”
I ask Carrie to elaborate on getting to a space where we run our business versus our business running us.
“It has to do with productivity, discipline, and setting boundaries,” says Carrie. “For example, I know that I’m pretty much done after about three o’clock. I’m a former teacher. And so, my work was ingrained in me from like, eight to three. After three, I’d sit on the couch, grade some papers, and have a snack. So, during that eight to three time, I can’t get interrupted by social media or find myself being distracted. I try to keep myself structured with boundaries and just really, really focus on my time. I also don’t need to talk to everybody. And I think that comes from clarity on what you’re selling. And that’s in your marketing. Because if people are constantly saying, let’s book a call, and you’re selling something for like, $300, that means your marketing is not clear. That means your website isn’t clear. If you maybe have a high ticket sale item, like an $8,000 wedding, you’re going to have to book a call and get on the phone. But once you’re on the phone, it’s your job to lose. I mean, there’s a reason why they booked the call with you. They’re already warm. But if you’re selling a beautiful $25 pair of earrings, you don’t have a conversation about it. People just buy it. Setting boundaries and honoring your time is number one for sure. The next level would be putting your systems in place, so things are automated. So, it’s not you answering every single email. It’s not you constantly refreshing your Planoly. Systems and automation will take so much off your plate and work while you’re sleeping. You wake up, and oh, I sold all these earrings. It’s great.”
Carrie mentioned that women can thrive when they bring on that VA. And I really saw that happen in my own business, especially at the end of 2021 when I brought on a second VA. Now I’m able to serve clients differently and take on different types of client projects. Carrie explains that when that happens, now you have to supervise these people. They’re looking to you as a leader. So, you now have people looking to you. I ask Carrie to share her insight or experience on how to best lead team members when they join you.
“I think you have to think about it like you’re dating,” says Carrie. “On the very first day, you don’t say tell me all about you. You want to get to know someone slowly and see if you’re going to be compatible in a work relationship. And if you’ve never been in a leadership role or a supervisor, then it’s going to be tricky. And there’s going to be some growing pains there. But be very transparent with your VA or your first assistant about their expectations and keep it collaborative. Ask for feedback. Ask questions and take inventory of their skills and your skills. Hopefully, they work together. In my first business, I know one of the biggest mistakes and regrets I have was that my partner had the same strengths and weaknesses as I did. I needed someone who didn’t have that. I needed someone stronger in the things I was weak in and weaker in the things I was strong in. We were great at building curriculum, finding teachers, and motivating students, but we had no idea how to do payroll. I highly recommend finding a VA that has different strengths than you.”
I agree with Carrie completely. And I think your VA can help with boundaries as well. I know I’ve experienced that. I have a VA that’s helping with calendaring. And I no longer have to make any emotional decisions. My VA can do that on my behalf, so it’s helped with boundaries in business. Carries agrees and shares that that was a game-changer for her too.
We’ve talked about the role a community can play in helping women achieve success as an entrepreneur, how we’ve done things historically in a community, and how it helps us lose that hustle mentality. I ask Carrie what other benefits come from having a community to turn to as you’re growing a business.
“I think it’s for when you’re struggling,” Carrie shares. “You can be vulnerable and have a safe place to be like, I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I’ve decided to leave this, and now I’m going to do this. It’s feeling accepted and vulnerable. We can’t necessarily do that with our spouse, our mom, or maybe our group of friends who aren’t entrepreneurs. If we’re the one entrepreneur in our group, talking to a group of friends, and they’re all professionals, they don’t get it. They’ll be like, what do you mean you’re not making the exact same thing every week and every month? Well, no, I might have this many clients in May. And I might have this many in June. That mentality is very, very hard. So, I think a community can create a safe place for when you’re vulnerable. And when you have to ask the uncomfortable questions, because we get it. We’ve all been there lately.”
I think it’s important that Carrie brought up how that community isn’t necessarily your spouse or partner. My husband is incredibly supportive. But he has told me I do not want to talk about business all the time. And I had to ask, what do you mean? I feel like this should be our dinner conversation every night. I’m learning that I need other outlets to talk about business.
I switch topics to networking and ask Carrie what mistakes she has seen people make when networking.
“Not following up is probably the biggest one,” Carrie shares. “Maybe you get an email or say you meet someone at our next event, Cocktails and Conversations. There are cocktails, but the big part is the conversation part. Maybe you exchange business cards, start to follow each other on Instagram, and then you ghost them. And then maybe months later, you see them at another event. You’re like, oh, yeah, I meant to email you. Ghosting people, forgetting them, or not responding to an email is the number one biggest mistake. If you forget who they are, you can make a note on your phone. My notes are like, oh, I met Amber at this event on this day, and Amber had the great blue shoes. Another thing is that if people are shy and introverted, you have to have a networking buddy. If you bring someone with you at BRA, we call them Bosom Buddies because it’s very punny. That someone to go into a new space by your side, your wing-woman, helps bring the introverts out a little bit and get a little more comfortable.”
I ask Carrie if we make that big mistake and forget to follow up with someone, do we just own it?
“Absolutely,” confirms Carrie. She explains that we’ve all done it, so offering to buy the person a cup of coffee to continue the conversation opens the door again. “Never has anyone been like, no, you can never talk to me again,” says Carrie. “For entrepreneurs, part of our gig is networking. So yeah, it’s alright. If you forget somebody, just own it.”
I think what Carrie has shared is super important to unpack. Because I know many times, we’ll build stories in our minds, like I can’t possibly recover and I’m so embarrassed. Or, they’ll never think the same way of me. But just own it, buy a cup of coffee, be honest, have a conversation, and most people will be okay. I ask Carrie if she has any additional advice for women who want to take their businesses to the next level and if there are things she has done to experience exponential growth in her own business.
“Hiring that first team member was huge,” Carrie shares. “But also realizing you can’t do it all. I don’t believe in solopreneur-ship. I mean, I didn’t install the WIFI and I need it for my business. I knew I wasn’t going to learn WordPress. So, I hired someone to do WordPress so I could focus and stay in my zone of genius. Trying to do it all is back to that hustle mentality and burnout. Get a great group or independent contractor to do your website, email funnel, and marketing. A good coach and mentor is also very, very important. We grow up in schools, and we always look to the teacher as the expert in everything. But when we become adults, we’re kind of like, I got it all. I just don’t believe that. There are so many coaches with different mentalities and modalities, so you can get exactly what you need, whether more ‘woo-woo’ or just the facts approach. So, finding a good coach, hiring a team member, and farming out things. Try not to do it all yourself. I know it’s hard because money is tight, but you’ll find the money when you need it.”
Every time I’ve made strategic investments in my business, I’ve been able to grow, get to another level, and take on different projects. So, I think you have to understand your business financials and then invest accordingly. But it absolutely can come back to you. “It’s a huge investment, but if we don’t invest, we’re not going to grow,” says Carrie.
As we wrap up our conversation, I ask Carrie where to go to learn more about her, her podcast, or the BRA Network. Carrie suggests starting with her website, bra-network.com. There you can learn about membership and the directory. “Every member gets their own landing page, and it’s public,” says Carrie. “So, if you’re looking to hire a female entrepreneur, go to the BRA directory. We’ve got women in there you can hire.” You can also connect with her directly on Instagram or LinkedIn.
With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned and identifying your priorities for next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.