It was at the December meeting of an organization for women entrepreneurs and business leaders that Paige Arnof-Fenn learned her marketing strategy company had won a lucrative contract. The keynote speaker at the event, a prominent woman business owner, had met her at the organization’s previous meeting, they connected, Arnof-Fenn followed up with a visit to her office, and the woman asked her to submit a proposal. During her speech to the crowd a month later, the entrepreneur announced she was hiring for Mavens & Moguls. “There were probably 300 of Boston’s top business owners in the room, and all of the sudden, I’m the rock star of the Christmas party,” Arnof-Fenn says. “Everyone was handing me their business cards.”
Arnof-Fenn, who founded Mavens & Moguls in 2001, understands the power of networking. “I don’t think of myself as a networker,” she admits. “I think of myself as a people person who really enjoys building meaningful relationships.” In fact, Arnof-Fenn’s company is one big meaningful relationship—she has created a network of seasoned marketing experts across the country and overseas that she can assemble into customized teams according to her clients’ project needs. It’s a completely virtual business that draws on the strength of the relationships she has built with past coworkers, former bosses and clients, and graduate school colleagues.
In keeping with the network ideal of the business model, it’s through continued relationship building—within business, community, and educational organizations—that Arnof-Fenn obtains new business. Year over year, she’s seen the company triple in size, even though she applies to her own company very little of the marketing expertise she and her teams dole out to clients. “I’m like the cobbler’s kid who goes without shoes,” she says of her adequate website and nonexistent marketing strategy. “But there’s more than one way to build a business, and my company has benefited tremendously from the fact that I am ‘out there’ all the time.”
Out there, indeed!
One glance at Arnof-Fenn’s calendar is enough to make a social butterfly reel. From women’s and entrepreneurial group events to marketing and finance group breakfasts to alumni organization seminars and community activities, Arnof-Fenn makes a staggering array of connections on any given day. “Like they say, 80 percent of success is just showing up,” she says of her relentless schedule. “You have to get out there and physically connect with people; obscurity is not a good branding strategy.”
Even though Mavens & Moguls isn’t following a specific marketing plan, Arnof-Fenn sees networking and marketing as two sides of the same coin. One of her professors at Harvard once told her class that marketing is everything and everything is marketing, and Arnof-Fenn still firmly believes that. “Everyone is a brand and should think of herself as a brand,” she says. She also sees similarities between networking and dating. “People position, package and message themselves trying to be a person that other people want to connect with.”
But all the networking in the world is not going to make an iota of difference to your business if you’re not sincere about it, she believes. “It really shows if you don’t care. People are pretty savvy and they know when it’s not real.” For Arnof-Fenn, who thrives on human interaction, being real is not a problem.
She jokes that growing up in New Orleans, because of its extraordinarily social and collegial environment, has served her better than her Harvard MBA. “I have no fear of talking to anyone,” she says. “What I do is try to find the most interesting people in a room and look for common ground to talk about. I think of every encounter as a potential connection, and if I’m genuinely interested in what they’re doing, then it becomes one.”
While Arnof-Fenn says there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to networking, she does believe strongly in both being authentic and basic common courtesy. “I thank my mother for bringing me up with good manners,” she laughs. “I always return phone calls and e-mails, at least within a few days; I always send thank you notes.” One client even told her that the reason he hired Mavens & Moguls was because they had good manners.
Also, you can’t do what works for someone else, she says. “You have to be authentic, you have to be brutally honest with yourself.” If you’re not a morning person, she says, don’t go to breakfast events, if you don’t like getting trapped at a table, find less structured events where you can mingle or they have a buffet meal. Play to your strengths so that you’ll be comfortable, and then you will be authentic.
On a given Thursday in early February, Arnof-Fenn has six events scheduled for the work day, beginning with the 7:00 a.m. breakfast meeting of a Boston area venture capital group. The group meets monthly to discuss relevant topics, and helps people looking for funding or management teams to connect with service providers who can help them accelerate their process. One conference call, two coffee meetings, a lunch with a university professor who wanted to chat about a potential collaboration, and an afternoon work session later, she is trying to decide which of three evening events she should attend. There is the monthly meeting of the same Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders group at which she had learned of that big contract. A client is hosting an open house to introduce people to his new business, and there is an alumni event at Harvard to which she has been invited.
A year ago she would have tried to hit all of these networking opportunities “I’d make the rounds, make sure to see the people I needed to see, and then leave and head to the next event.” But this year she is striving to be more purposeful, attending fewer activities but devoting more time and more intensity to each.
On this particular gray day in Boston, with the threat of a snowstorm looming, Arnof-Fenn may very well opt out of everything and stay in for the evening. But it won’t be long before she’s digging her car out of the snow so she can get back out there to energize both herself and her business. “I don’t collect things,” she says keenly. “I collect people.”