OK ladies, let’s talk about networking. We all know that hard work and dedication to “the company” simply aren’t enough. Building mutually beneficial and trustful relationships opens new doors that expedite career and business growth. The good news is that as women, we naturally gravitate toward building such meaningful relationships. The secret is to integrate it as part of our daily work and career goals.
Seven tips that I learned over the years and found helpful:
- Every conversation is an opportunity to form a new connection. We are networking daily with every interaction—with co-workers, neighbors, and even when standing in line at the grocery store. In addition to meeting new people, it is critical to nurture existing relationships by staying in touch and always offering support. Focus on what you can contribute to your existing and new connections instead of just what you need their help with.
- Define your career goals and create your networking plan. Identify what you want to achieve in the next X number years, then start establishing meaningful business relationships that would help you along the way.
- Create a quarterly networking plan that specifies the professional meetings, email follow-ups, a list of people you want to schedule phone calls with or invite for coffee at Magpie. Make it a habit to mark these plans on your calendar and give them a priority.
- Network with decision makers within your company. Many employees are unfamiliar with other areas of the business outside their core team. Periodically, identify a manager from a different department and request a 30-minute one-on-one introduction meeting. Prepare questions to learn about the manager’s role and background and the department’s mission. This will enable you to develop a cross-functional understanding of the business while building new strategic relationships. Most managers are usually happy to help and appreciate the curiosity.
- Social media is a powerful tool for network expansion. Repurposing just a few minutes of your Instagram or Facebook time can really pay off. LinkedIn has groups for every aspect of business that attract individuals globally with a similar focus. Get engaged in group discussions, provide comments, post ideas and virtually meet other members. Take the opportunity to evolve the most promising virtual contacts by scheduling a phone call or meet them in person if they live close.
- Volunteering and supporting a cause you are passionate about is also an effective and less intimidating way for meeting like-minded people. Volunteers are brought together by a common interest, which makes it easier to start conversations and connect while giving back to the community.
- Find opportunities to introduce your existing contacts to each other that have similar interests and backgrounds. Being the connector not only feels good, but it also will ultimately strengthen your core network and expand it.
Now, when you hear the words “networking event,” the first image that may come to your mind is a huge bright room, filled with strangers, all professionally dressed and wearing name tags, forming small discussion circles, and exchanging well-rehearsed elevator pitches followed by colorful rectangular business cards. As you walk in, you carefully scan the room nervously hoping to find a familiar face, and wondering how to join in one of the group discussions. Don’t worry, you are not alone.
Seven tips for navigating at networking events:
- Some may recommend attending these events alone to motivate you to meet new people, which has merit. But, let’s face it, if you are not comfortable with attending alone, don’t miss out completely!Invite a co-worker to go with you. A familiar face can be comforting as long as you both focus on supporting each other to meet new contacts while networking together.
- Arrive early. This gives you the opportunity to meet and connect in a smaller group before everyone else arrives. It is less intimidating than entering a crowded room and trying to break into an ongoing conversation.
- Attend events with topics that excite you, and participate because of your desire to learn. This will reduce the stress related to networking. Instead, meeting new people with similar interests becomes a byproduct.
- Have a professional business handshake. Make it firm while maintaining eye contact. Your handshake is critical for building a good first impression and demonstrating confidence.
- Be present, listen, ask questions and show genuine curiosity to learn about the people you meet. Silence two distractions: the cellphone ringing in your purse, and the internal voice wondering “who should I talk to next.”
- Follow up within two days with the new contacts that you want to stay in touch with. Send them a personalized email, or even mail a hand-written letter. Send a LinkedIn connection request and include a lagniappe of an article or a resource that is related to the discussion you had.
- Enjoy yourself and have fun.
Men and women alike, we all know that we prefer to do business with people that we like and trust. Professional networking is how we get there. These tips use the power of connection to add value to your meaningful relationships and encourage you to be generous in offering help. Use a mix of networking methods that fit your personality. Be diligent and align your networking plan with your career goals. Most importantly, enjoy the process and make new friends.
Dima Ghawi is the founder of Breaking Vases, where she offers professional speaking in risk taking, self-discovery, and empowerment topics. She is the former manager of talent development, public relations, community outreach and training for IBM Global Business Services in Baton Rouge.