Why do you need a good professional network?
The idea of professional networking appeals to some of us much more than others. Some people thrive on meeting new people and making connections while others are less comfortable outside of their own established work and friendship groups. Is it all just superficial schmoozing you don’t need to bother with, or is there real benefit to making the effort to expand your professional network?
Prepare the foundations
As we’ve explored in recent blogs, making a success of balancing a career and family life takes preparation. Part of this preparation involves getting your career into a strong position BEFORE you decide to have children. (Part 2 of the Babyproof Your Career programme). Of course, building resilient career foundations is a multi-approach undertaking, including taking steps to raise your profile, presenting yourself well, making yourself unique and memorable, taking advantage of speaking, writing and training opportunities, and ensuring that your work achievements are recognised.
Save yourself from sabotage
Another key element, though, is the building of a wide professional network. This can prove vitally important in the light of documented discriminatory practices against women returners in some workplaces. If there is any chance of your career being marginalised or sabotaged by an unsupportive company or manager in the future, it is important to have a solid network of industry professionals and clients to fall back on. Remember, when you desperately need a network, it might be too late to build one.
Easier said than done?
So, how do you go about building a large, helpful professional network? It sounds daunting, but if you follow my top tips, you should be able to successfully turn casual professional contacts into rewarding professional relationships.
- Remember the name. It sounds ridiculous but is probably the single most important factor in making a successful connection. Of course, we don’t really mind if someone forgets our names – we all know how easy it is to do, but a person who remembers it will be in a much more favourable position from the get-go. Make the effort. If you’ve got a good memory, make a mental note – if not, write it down. There are numerous apps that can help with managing your contacts and information. I use Evernote. Tag the name with a location and event – and try to write something unique or special about the person to make the name stick in your mind.
- Make a human connection. However much you may have in common professionally with a person, the best connection to make is a real, personal one. If you know something special or interesting about a person, or share a common interest, it is much easier to remember each other and build a deeper relationship more quickly. I don’t mean intimate personal details of course – just an interest or shared passion- perhaps about a sport, a particular foreign destination or dogs! I call these Unique Connection Points (UCPs) and they can fast-track a superficial work contact into a more meaningful relationship.
- Deliver value. Approach your professional connections by thinking about what you might be able to do for them, rather than the other way round. Listen carefully when they talk and try to discover what they might be needing. Make notes so that you can help them when the appropriate time arises.
- Track your relationship. Use notes or apps to track your relationship as it develops. Record your meetings, what you discuss and follow-up action. You can also remind yourself to stay in touch at regular intervals. You could use a relationship management system like Nimble or Capsule to do this.
- Stay in touch. A connection doesn’t become a relationship until you have met with the person in question anything from 3 to 7 times. It takes this long for real trust to build – and it’s only when you have real trust that you will see real value in that relationship. If you have only met once or twice, you will need to be proactive. If there is no opportunity for another encounter, create one! What’s to stop you calling a contact and inviting them for coffee? Or putting a date in the diary for a group of you to meet for breakfast? This is a great solution if you’re someone who doesn’t want to give up some/more of their evenings to what feels like work.
Only once you have been through these 5 steps should you think about asking your contacts for anything. When the proper foundations are in place, you’ll know it’s the right time.
Do you have any other tips for growing and maintaining your professional network? If so, get involved in the discussion in our Linkedin Group.
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