Networking for women- what's the point?
Most business women are familiar with the term "old boy's network," an exclusive network of business men who can call in a favour from their exclusive group to help close a deal, get new business or progress in their career.
There is no reason why women can't do the same. They can achieve this by making it part of their career strategy to join networking groups that can further their career or connect with the right business people. From specific association networks to broad business groups, there are so many opportunities for business women to network, but does networking actually work?
In my experience, the answer to that question is a resounding YES. Business networking is the single most effective way to not only meet new contacts that share your vision and mission but it is also an excellent method for meeting people that can assist in new business development.
According to statistics approximately 75 percent of new business is acquired through referrals or relationship building. There is a similar figure for getting that perfect job. Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know. There is an extensive amount of networking opportunities out there just waiting for you to join.
Whether you are a business owner or an employee, networking is an important factor that should be implemented to help you progress in your business or your career. But before you start networking there are a few important things you need to know. There is more to networking than just turning up.
You can never have too many contacts
Networking isn't about collecting as many business cards as possible; it is about surrounding yourself with a support network for your life in general. I have never met anyone who said they have too many contacts!
Being a woman in business can be an isolating and stressful experience, but when networking you learn so much about what is happening in the business world, other people's experiences, career opportunities as well as providing you with the opportunity to share your experiences.
A cost effective alternative
Networking can also be the most cost effective way of reaching hundreds of potential clients, which is particularly worthwhile for SMEs with tight marketing budgets.
If you are funding attending networking events yourself, the cost can add up, I see it as personal advertising. It takes your time but when you connect with people on a personal level it is so powerful. In fact, so powerful, we build it into all of our client's PR strategies.
Instead of waiting for people to find you, you are taking control of the situation and finding them. For this reason networking is an essential element to business, personal and career development.
Through networking you instantly have access to a room full of people who, by simply chatting with them, you can discover if they have a need for your services or can help you progress in some way. An important thing to remember is that networking is not all about taking, you have to be willing to give back just as much as you take.
Networking for business development
So who should you network with? Obviously from a business development perspective, it is a good idea to network with potential clients. From a career perspective networking is more about developing your current career and broadening your horizons, so talk to business people who have been in your position and can offer advice.
It is also a good idea to belong to your industry specific network - such as one run by the professional association you may belong to.
How to become a successful networker
The key to good networking is to go alone. Do not take someone with you for support as you will inevitably use the event as a catch up. If you invite a colleague to attend with you split up during any networking period and catch up after the event.
It's not about selling yourself. In fact it's not about talking. It's about listening. A savvy networker knows that networking and building relationships is about taking the time to find out about others, and from there working out if there is any synergy.
Good networkers also always follow up those they meet. It's not about getting as many business cards as possible, but connecting with people. Try setting a goal for each event to get two business cards with the invitation to contact them and arrange a coffee meeting to chat in more detail.
It's an educational experience
While sometimes you may feel like networking is just a waste of time you have to remember that networking can be educational as well. You will likely learn at least one new tip, strategy or an easier way of doing things by simply talking to others.
A confidence booster
After networking you often walk away feeling more empowered and validated as a business woman. Meeting other women and like-minded people in various stages in their own professional lives can be a very encouraging process. When you meet others that share your enthusiasm it can help restore your own vision and passion.