Like it or not, networking is important for all our careers.
Unless you are a natural extrovert, stepping into a room full of strangers and explaining your business away can often feel daunting. Nevertheless, done the right way, it can also be extremely rewarding both from a commercial and personal development perspective.
Quite simply, any professional with an ounce of ambition regardless of their sector, and across the board, will need to network in some shape or form for the duration of their career if they are to get on in business. For women specifically, networking is often still an intimidating and uncomfortable experience for many, however.
So, is it possible to enjoy networking whilst still being strategic enough to support your long-term goals? In my experience, the most successful women in business not only believe this but are actively achieving it on a regular basis. Striking a balance between making both competitors and potential allies in business feel comfortable socially whilst talking business at the same time is a skill which, properly mastered, can put you seriously ahead of the game.
It is well recognised within our industry that men and women approach networking differently, however – a factor which can be helpful for all of us to acknowledge from the outset. Though both genders may network with a clear goal in sight, men appear to be more comfortable when it comes to asking for what they want. While this ‘cut to the chase’ approach might facilitate short-term gain, I also believe networking women have the edge when it comes to building long-term connections that are based on support and trust, however.
Securing the emotional buy in of investors, clients, associates and other stakeholders in your business often brings long-standing benefits with it. This in mind, women in business everywhere stand to gain from determining who they are happy to invest that time and effort in. Assessing from the start whose values truly align with your own, who is skilled in what you need to work on, and where there is potential to skill-swap and make connections mutually beneficial, means you squeeze more potential out of each opportunity.
Managing how you invest your time most effectively is therefore key to ensuring your professional life stays buoyant despite life’s wider commitments. Fortunately, advances in technology mean networking today doesn’t have to mean getting up at the crack of dawn in order to squeeze the opportunity in, as per the more conventional breakfast speaker event. These days the availability to reach out to associates and potential partners via Linkedin and similar online platforms doesn’t have to take a huge chunk out of our weekly diaries.
Looking after existing clients is also a time-effective and often effortless way of gaining referrals, as is the ability to simply strike up a conversation with everyone and anyone we may come into contact with. In my experience, people like to do business with people and, more often than not, women like to do business with women too – and one of our super-powers as women is that we do like to talk!
Taking this approach to life generally can also help us overcome any fears we may have about networking in a more professional environment. Listening as well as talking can often get us in to conversations we never thought we might be privy to, as can a little research on the overall background of the event we are attending, as well its likely attendees. Being selective with the events we attend, and reminding ourselves that everyone else there is in the same boat, also goes a long way when it comes to tackling the nerves.
Ultimately, most people in business are looking to align themselves with people they can talk to, are warm to, and who are as interested in what they do as much as they are. As women in business and in life, these are all skills that many of us are required to put to use both in the running of a successful home and business on a daily basis – and which put to use effectively in a networking environment can bring untold gains in business too.
About the author
Catherine Evans is a Senior Branch Manager for UK recruiter Acorn Recruitment. Based in Cardiff, South Wales, Catherine was appointed to the role in May 2019 owing to her previous expertise in recruitment and sales. She is also a mother of two grown up sons, step mum to two girls and soon to become a grandmother (nana) for the first time too. Here, she shares her experience of how successful women balance the social elements of networking whilst still achieving their strategic goals.