Back in 1981, the women who started the WBN wanted to create a network – a community, a support system, a place to learn and grow as businesswomen. For 35 years, this network has provided all of these things to the women of Ottawa. Supporting the success of women in business is our legacy and our future. The women that walk through the doors of our events are all at different stages in their networking experience. Some have never been to networking events before. Others are veteran networkers. The one thing we have in common is a purpose. That’s the foundation you need – or the catalyst – to get you to sign up for an event. From there, the best thing to do is make a plan, but not everyone knows where to start. Let me share some tips for you to come up with your own networking plan.
Networking Purpose: What’s your why?
First, let me just say that the purpose of networking should not be to amass as many business cards contacts as possible.
But if you want personal and professional growth and development opportunities, that’s a great reason to get involved. Getting to know people in the community is another good reason. Developing contacts or building relationships in the business community is probably the most common reason for anyone. The contacts may be sources of information, inspiration, referrals, employers, connectors and sometimes even customers. Each of these outcomes is valuable in its own way. I joined the WBN four years ago for the potential for building valuable, mutually beneficial relationships and it’s paid off for me in a variety of ways over the years. That leads me to the networking plan – and yes, I promise you’ll do better with a plan and it’s not hard.
Networking Plan: What will you do?
In the beginning, you might not know many people. Even if you do, it can take some time to get acclimated to this new group you’ve joined. There’s an established culture and you might feel like an outsider at first. I hope the groups you encounter are as open and welcoming as the ladies of the WBN. But don’t let that feeling stop you from jumping in. For the person that is shy and introverted, your networking plan may be to introduce yourself to two people you don’t know at every event. That’s a big step when it goes against your personality, but I can tell you from personal experience that it gets easier. Just remember that you’re worth the effort.
Once you’ve been networking for a while and know more people, it becomes even more important to have a plan. The more people you know, the more time you can spend doing networking activities and that can be a distraction (a fun one!) from getting the things done that really matter.
- Start by identifying the people you want to build relationships with. If you don’t know them, ask for an introduction or reach out yourself. Maybe you have a strategic partnership in mind, or you see them as a prospective client, or maybe you want to consider their services for yourself.
- Set up times to meet with them in person to talk to them and learn more about what they do. This is where you can get a better idea of whether they’re a good fit for what you have in mind. This is an important step in building a relationship.
- As you make deeper connections, it’s important to always keep in mind that the relationship needs to be two ways. The arrangement needs to be mutually beneficial or it won’t work. Think about how many in-depth connections you can maintain long-term – the number is likely going to be in the single digits or low double digits.
- Evaluate your networking plan regularly. At least once a year, think about what you’re getting out of it, consider the time you’re putting in and whether it’s serving your needs. If it isn’t, figure out what you can change to make it work for you again.
Having a broad plan that helps you focus your networking activities will help you ensure that you get what you need from the experience as you carry out your networking plan.
Plan for events
Should you attend everything the WBN or any other network puts on? Probably not. There are very few people who have the time and will actually benefit from attending everything. Pick and choose what you attend wisely. Consider the topic being discussed and whether you need that information. Consider the time you can realistically devote to networking events and don’t forget the time you need to get ready and travel to events. Nearly every WBN event I attend is a 3-hour commitment, so I attend only 1-2 per month.
Plan for post-event actions
I’m the first to admit that I’m not always great at the post-event follow-up. And I think many of my fellow networkers struggle to make time to reconnect with people after an event is over. This is where having a plan and a routine is extremely valuable.
Take some time to compose a short re-introductory email that you can copy and paste when you do your follow-up contact. Take a few minutes to personalize it and change some of the copy so it’s appropriately written for each individual. But it takes less time when you have a foundation to get started and you’re more likely to get it done. Then take a couple extra minutes to connect on social channels if that’s something you want to do. The follow-up is the most important part of your networking plan. When you don’t follow through, those connections don’t grow.
When you have a plan, it lets you leverage purpose for results. And that’s what we want for everyone in our network.
I hope you’ll join us this month as we explore this topic once more next week at our Breakfast Mix and Mingle! And I’d like to personally invite all of you to come out to the President’s Holiday Reception on December 6th. We’ll enjoy a lovely evening of food, casual networking and give back to Healthy Women Healthy Community.
WBN President, 2016-17
Marketing Writer at Halogen Software