By Lady Val
I started my network some 12 years ago with 30 women. Last month we had 100. Back then there were precious few women-only networks. Now there are dozens so you have quite a choice. The best of these networks increases your list of valuable contacts, can lead to real business – and maybe even new friendships. Choose one in which you are interested and don’t be afraid to try a few – like trying on shoes you only know which is the best fit if you can compare.
But if you are shy, an introvert or really dread networking there are a few hints which may make the process easier. Most of them are pretty easy to do.
Such as: when you enter a room, see that your body language is relaxed (even if you feel tense, fake it!). And smile. So many women look anxious, as if someone is out to get them. Common mistake. Everyone is there for the same reason – basically to help business but also to meet like-minded women, business professionals who know the life you lead with all its problems, triumphs, foibles and mistakes. In other words we are all human.
In my network I have an ice breaker because I recognised that immediately on entering a room you need to know what to talk about after the introduction. The one my networkers use is: what can I do to help you and what can you do to help me? It works really well and many connections and business have evolved from this.
It’s always awkward joining a group so the best way, especially if you are shy, is to ask a question once you have the gist of the conversation. Sounds obvious but it’s an easy way to engage. Not everyone is a talker so if you listen with interest (assuming it is sincere) you can have a good conversation without having to say much. By that time, you surely will have relaxed somewhat and can then take up the reins by discussing their opinion or your experience. Remember too that people like to hear their name so use it in the conversation.
I believe the real goal of networking should be to help other people. Of course it would be good if you were helped as well but that will come. Think of it as being at the start of developing a business relationship. And when you help them, they will be keen to help you right back. I’ve seen this happen many times. The fact that you reached out and made contact with someone does not put them in your debt. No one is required to “pay you back.” Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favours, try reaching out with curiosity.
The reason I like to think my network works is that women attend from a wide range of different professions. I think it is crucial to grow your contacts outside of the usual areas. You will be more valuable to people in your immediate industry because with a broad network base you can be the person who connects across industries.
Building a good business relationship through networking is relatively easy. A short email after the initial contact should be about information which is useful to them. Maybe you can introduce them to a helpful contact. Or alert them to a specific article, or TED talk in their area of expertise. The more value you create, the more it will come back to you many times over. Focus all of your networking efforts on helping the people you contact.
Email is easy to send … and ignore. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, or arrange a coffee meeting. These communication channels are usually less crowded and more personal, which means that your message will be more memorable.
- Shy, introvert or dread networking, remember it’s more about listening to what people say than saying the right things.
- Take the time to listen to people’s stories.
- You can only provide something of value to them if you listen to who they are and what they do.
- If later they become friends, well that’s the value of a good networking circle.
As I dislike the concept of ladies who lunch, my events have always been fund-raisers for charity. Initially it was for youth unemployment but currently my lunches fund the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation.