What Goes Around Comes Around
Women are inherently good at building and maintaining relationships, so networking should come very naturally, but it does not
Networking is necessary in almost any career, but especially for women. Women are often juggling roles both at work and at home and often don't have time for an evening networking event. In contrast, men tend to have more flexibility and can take time to get out and meet with their colleagues, to share a drink, or dinner, and talk about work, sports, the stock market, etc.
Bottom line is that networking is important for both genders. Women are inherently good at building and maintaining relationships, so networking should come very naturally, but it does not. In order to really be successful at networking, you must come prepared to "own the room" when you arrive. Put out your hand and introduce yourself, insert yourself into small groups around the room, and appear to be stress free. Remember conventional wisdom shows that women have to work smarter and achieve measurable success in order to have any chance at the next promotion.
I have done an incredible amount of networking in my career and very often I would arrive ready to "own the room", but before I could get out of the car, I had second thoughts: "I really don't want to do this. My face is already sore anticipating all the smiling I will need to do. The drinks are always so bad and I don't know anyone. No one will know if I don't go in but me." Eventually I would pep talk myself, and go inside.
Walking into a room of strangers with a stack of business cards and the intention to meet people is difficult. You have to try and assess the room and find the right people to meet, while not wasting tons of time with people searching for jobs or trying to sell you something, which can easily happen.
The interesting thing about networking is that I think it is circular. When you look at networking diagrams, it's generally one person in the middle and lots of arrows out to individual connections. That's not the way the successful networking world really works, nor should it.
It has to be circular, because when I meet someone and they help me in some way, I am always thinking about if I can do anything for them. Maybe not today, but down the line. I keep track of all the people I meet so when something comes up and I am trying to think, "Oh, who could do that? Well I think Kyra does that, I met her three years ago. "I reach out to her and see what comes of it.
If you connect people together, if you ask people what they need and introduce them to someone helpful, you are giving. That circle revolves around you. You are creating a circle of people helping one another and what goes around comes around
I truly believe that there is never a wasted moment in networking, because I always end up getting something out of it. Even if it is small, it might lead to something else. And I can acknowledge that it is good for me even though I often dislike it.
You can easily spend more time learning how to network than actually doing it. You have to shake a lot of hands and talk to a lot of people before you are going to find the gems in every room.
The secret to networking success for women is in the follow up. You need to keep track of your connections, add them to your contact list, add them to LinkedIn, send thank you notes, set follow-up meetings, and in general try to maximize the connections that you make at each event. By fostering these relationships, you not only get the word out about yourself and your business, you also learn about theirs.
Those of us who have done a lot of networking can tell you it gets easier - but there are days and times where it is just plain hard. However, the benefits for women can be life changing and, let's face it, to some extent networking is a numbers game.
There are plenty of opportunities and groups for women to network. And when you think about it, the world can only be a better place when women inspire and support each other.
As you meet more and more people, you will see how introducing and connecting people with complimentary products will help them succeed as well. Successful networking isn't just about directly forwarding your business. It's about a rising tide raising all boats. If making introductions leads to business wins, then let's raise the tide for all women.
(A corporate sector veteran of more than 20 years, Robbie Hardy is the author of Upsetting The Table: Women Mentoring Women. For more on the author visit www.RobbieHardy.com)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.