Networking 101: Why networking is so important for professional growth

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Cherry London provide networking tips for businesses looking to develop their professional networks.

My ‘girl gang’ network has got me through the worst of times and the best of timesso it surprises me to see studies that show women are less likely to develop their professional networks and less likely to reach out when they need help or advice. Running a business is hard and when I have found myself facing difficulties I have always known that my network is a phone call or email away.

That reassurance not only bolsters me but also means I can access the knowledge of talented, leading professionals who have faced these same situations themselves. My network has helped me to find new business opportunities, talented people to add to my team, it is literally a lifeline.

Interestingly there are differences in approach to networking between men and women with men seeing their network as a way to get ahead, andwomen generally choosing their network based on shared values. Women can also hesitate in asking their networks for support for reasons such as lack of confidence or not wanting to appear opportunistic. I don’t think we can bulldoze over these differences – we need to acknowledge them and accommodate them, women want to build deep, authentic connections.

I have seen that women want to support one another and when that when they do, powerful things happen. It’s on this foundation that I set up The WealthiHer Network, a group of change agents from the world of finance, who have come together to drive positive change for female clients. Networking was a recurrent theme in our recent report into women’s wealth. WealthiHer leverages its own events, speaking opportunities, talks and industry events to offer our founding partners the opportunity to network. Recently we opened the London Stock Exchange and 70 of our network attended to demonstrate their support and commitment to drive change in the finance industry for the benefit of all.

The tide is turning and there is an increasing appetite for networking events aimed at women, evidenced by the launch of businesses such as Quilt and GirlBoss. Quilt facilitates small-group conversations out of women’s homes to help them connect with each other in a genuine way, with the eventual goal of women helping each other achieve their personal and professional aims. Girlboss is a free professional network, aimed at helping the next generation of professional women to connect with like-minded peers. Some criticise narrowing networking opportunities to a female focus but personally if the old ways weren’t working for women then it’s about time that we changed it!

We all know we need to network as it delivers professional growth, business opportunities and helps to find solutions to business problems. Which is why my marketing company Cherry London is a partner of the Drum network and why I am involved in the Women in Marketing (WiM) organisation, an industry network to enable the empowerment of women in marketing. At the core of the WiM vision is the importance of involving men, recognising what women have known all along… that nothing can be achieved by ignoring 50% of the population. So although aimed at women they are not exclusively female. Evidenced by Simon Blake OBE opening The Future of Wellness event in May.

Ensuring all is being done to support women in achieving their brightest ambitions is not only a moral obligation but also an imperative for the post-Brexit economy. With this in mind I wanted to share my networking 101 acquired over 20 years of experience in the hope that it would encourage more women to prioritise networking.

Research the networking events

The most important decision to make is which networking events to attend, you need to be in the right place for the answers and connections you are searching for. There is nothing worse that when you realise you are stuck at a dreadful, pointless event so do your research and have your escape plan!

Engage a positive mindset

Assigning networking to the bottom of your to do list or not considering at all is a fundamental error. Networking isn’t just another task, it’s an essential part of your on-going professional development and you must make time for it. Many approach it with the expectation of impersonal, artificial conversation and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think adjusting your mindset can make a dramatic difference to approach and therefore the outcome. Networking is essentially about making connections, so really it’s about meeting some new people with the hope that it will lead to mutual benefit.

Be open

Have a plan but be fluid in your approach. Networking should most definitely be strategic but doggedly sticking to a ‘plan’ to talk to X,Y & Z will probably leave you with one eye constantly scanning over the shoulder of the prospect actually in front of you. By being open to new conversations, new people, you just never know where it will end up. It’s not always obvious who the best connections are. People do business with people they know, like and trust. So listen, share and find some common ground.

Be brave

Everyone at the event is there to exchange business opportunities. Have intentional conversations and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Then once you’ve developed your network utilise it!

Follow up

Follow up with everyone you connected with, the networking event serves to create the introduction but its the work that comes afterwards that will move the connection on to being a meaningful relationship. Follow them on LinkedIn etc. but make it personal by dropping them a note, arrange to meet for a coffee etc. I have also used the invitee list to reach out to people I didn’t mange to speak to at an event.

A powerful network can support you in achieving your professional goals. If you achieve yours then you will be in the position to help another aspiring individual:

“Every safe, educated, healthy, and empowered girl or woman has the potential to transform her family, community, economy, and society," according to The United Nations Foundation.

Tamara Gillan, CEO of Cherry London and founder of The WealthiHer Network.

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