Do you ever have the feeling that you are wasting your time at networking events? Have you ever collected a lot of business cards that ended up on a shelf, in a drawer or in the trash?
Studies shows that 97% of businesses regard customer referrals as an important source of new business, yet only 3% of businesses have any form of strategy to generate customer referral based leads. Do you have a networking strategy?
- “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
We’ve heard it repeatedly. Networking has become one of the most talked about terms when it comes to career growth and business success. But networking is much more than showing up at networking events, shaking a lot of hands and collecting a bunch of cards. It involves relationship building and it can be a deceptively complex process.
Think about it. How many people do you know? How many of these people truly understand what you do? How many of them have directed prospects to you as referrals? And how many of those referrals have actually turned into business?
- An underutilized power
Even women professionals who understand the importance of networking as a tool for increasing effectiveness seem to underutilized strategic networking. Not everyone you meet can help move your business forward, but everything you do can be driven by the intention to grow your business.
The purpose of strategic networking is to figuring out your future priorities and challenges and enlists the people necessary and gets them to support you. It means that you have to be proactive. The key to a good strategic network is leverage; the ability to gather information, support, and resources from different groups of people to create networks favorable to your business goals
Strategic networking can be difficult as it absorbs a significant amount of time and energy and this is one reason why many women drop it far down their list of priorities.
- Why would you want a networking strategy?
Many of us take a misguided approach to networking. If you identify you networking goals and know the details of how you will achieve them, you will be far more likely to succeed. In fact if you don’t have a strategy, you will have to be very lucky to move your business forward.
According to McKinsey & Company, women’s lack of access to good quality networks is a main obstacle to their professional advancement, comparable in impact to lacking a mentor, or appropriate coaching and training.
As reported by Statistics Canada, female workers currently make up only 35% of managerial positions and represent 36% of small business owners (in 2014, 15.7% of SMEs were majority owned by women and 19.7% were equally owned by women and men). On average, women business owners are younger and have fewer years of management or ownership experience compared with male business owners. Canadian women business owners are less likely to engage in international trade compared to Canadian male business owners.
The reality is that men still dominate high-level leadership positions in most canadian workplaces. As a result, when women seek to build relationships with senior executives, most of the time they will need to connect with men. According to a study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company, men have predominantly male networks while women have predominantly female. This pattern means that men are more likely to have the ear of senior executives in their organizations, and that women will need to connect with a male-dominated network to open new doors.
Approaching networking with a strategy is an essential part of your business strategy. It allows you to use your time and abilities wisely, to keep in mind what you are trying to achieve in the long run and help you to achieve it.
- Network smarter, not harder
Make a plan, focus and be consistent. When you understand exactly what strategic networking is and step up to the challenge, you’ll find avenues of opportunity that you may have otherwise never discovered, and you will be making an invaluable investment in the steady growth of your business.
Women’s rights advocate and gender equality specialist, Darine BenAmara has dedicated her career to supporting other women. For the past 7 years, she has been leading initiatives on social and economic empowerment, and political leadership of women in Africa, North America and the Caribbean. Inspired by the many women she met, she launched “The Smart Woman”, an initiative helping women to overcome the challenges of networking and learn how to create smart connections to fulfill their career goals.
Connect with Darine on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/darineba/)