WRITTEN BY OLIVIA VERHULST
Rather than seeing it as a quick fix, maybe we should start thinking that networking is like gardening?
Networking is like gardening – it takes time and effort in order to make the relationships grow, they don’t just spring up overnight.
Years ago, as I was telling a mentee my way of networking:
“dropping seeds and watering them makes it easier to harvest when needed.”
I got this feedback:
“Yep. And you need light to make it grow… but then again, you are a sun!”
This conversation didn’t just make me aware of how I function as a networker. It also brought to mind the importance of all the ingredients for a good recipe. Later, I understood the importance and appropriateness of having a purpose – or not – when networking.
In this article, I want to share with other professional women my lessons learned from networking, because we don’t network the same way as men do. Then again, we don’t function the same way either, which is also important to understand when seeking professional development. Most often, women tend to be good connectors. However, when it comes to leveraging our network, women vanish and find excuses to avoid it. Additionally, men generally separate their professional and personal matters, whereas many women mix them. This is perhaps why and how men receive better professional support from their network.
So how can we as women be more successful at networking?
Networking is no longer about “who you know,” but rather it is about “who knows you.” Social media is a great tool to get to be known. You can use the space to have a voice, to publish, comment, etc. Furthermore, it makes it easier to build your relationship capital, which you can use and benefit from. Yet, to this point, I would like to argue that it is also important to remain open to getting to know people “just because….” You never know, by simply starting a conversation you may find some great and completely unexpected opportunities for development.
Networking should be a daily habit, regardless of how busy your life is.
Literature abounds on networking being about building and maintaining relationships. i.e. a long-term endeavor, incl. the recent 3Plus article “Why last minute networking doesn’t work – mainly”. My 2 cents: Take it as any project and go over its phases:
Plan – Connect – Build – Maintain – Leverage – Review/ Evaluate.
For instance, go prepared to an event. Anticipate questions, conversations, and opportunities for connection. To make the most of it also research who goes. Find individuals whom you need or want to be introduced to, who can support you or your business, ask yourself who can introduce you to them, and lastly review their profiles to identify common interests and what can you give forward to them as well. Obviously, make sure to have your elevator speech ready (i.e. Why – Who – What – How?). Plus get your social media profiles, especially LinkedIn, and your business cards up to date. Likewise, when you want to publish a post/ article, plan it in a similar way, incl. carefully selecting the right forum to match it to your target audience.
If you do not have anyone to make an introduction for you with a target connection, “make an excuse” to introduce yourself. For instance, enquire about a common interest or something that you both just witnessed. Show your interest by asking and
listening. Don’t hesitate to “give forward” by showing how you can support them too.
After the event or meeting, follow-up right away by connecting through LinkedIn, e-mail, etc. Thank them for connecting with you at the event and let them know you look forward to building a mutually beneficial relationship.
Continue to follow-up on the relationship to make the most of opportunities. You do not want to miss any opportunities for building the relationship. This can include by sharing information of interest or fostering interaction.
Dare to ask for help when you need it (as long as the relationship is mature enough). Don’t fall into the trap described above of vanishing just because you are scared to ask. Remember, FEAR is just a case of “False Evidence Apparently Real.”
Occasionally it is healthy to check where you stand in a relationship. Ask yourself, “Did I make the most of it? Do I need to reactivate it? Should I just drop it for lack of interest/ result? Should I rather keep it … just in case?”
Networking is like gardening
At the end of the day, for me, networking is really a lot like the art of gardening. You need to plant seeds and give them what they need to grow – water, sun, time, and love. Remember to:
– “Drop seeds and water them”
This is all about giving forward. Don’t hesitate to share information, tips, leads, and more with your network. It’ll always come back around.
– “Give light to make it grow”
Always remember to say, “thank you.” Shine your light to grow your connections by expressing your appreciation. Thank them for the time and effort they are investing in what you trust will make you stronger together.
So, let me thank you for your interest! I trust you enjoyed the reflection as much as I did.
Originally posted on 3/10/19 in 3plusinternational