There are many reasons why networking can play an integral role in women’s business success. It allows them to form connections, identify role models and mentors, gain opportunities to grow their business, and eventually pay it forward by helping other women benefit from their knowledge and experience. And yet, studies show that women network less than men, despite being seen as more ‘social’. One of the reasons for this is the way that women have often been left out of powerful groups run by the so-called ‘old boys’ club’. Another is the difficulty for working mothers in attending evening events.
I can identify with the frustration around having to give up networking opportunities because they generally run at a time when you most want to be at home putting the children to bed or having dinner with your partner. This was heightened for me by the fact that when I did attend networking events, I left feeling drained and guilty, wondering why I had missed time with my family for an evening that was dull and fruitless, populated mostly by consultants trying to sell me something rather than make genuinely useful connections. Like many women, I had actually stopped attending networking events completely.
I ultimately decided to host my own boutique events, offering curated networking set against a backdrop of art, fashion, culture and gastronomy – all the passions I never seemed to be able to find time for anymore. The key for me was in making sure that if my attendees spent an evening (or even just an hour!) at one of our events, it was time well-invested.
But it’s not just about where you go to network. It’s also about your approach. To be a good networker, you must be intentional about how you do it. A little while ago, I was asked by The Telegraph to share some top networking tips from myself and the amazing Women’s Chapter members. Here are six ways to network more effectively and efficiently.
1. Choose Your Opportunities Strategically
You don’t need to take every opportunity to attend a networking event. I tend to opt for niche events where there is a topic or format I’m particularly interested in. This will give you at least one shared interest with the other guests, and is a good shortcut to making that all-important connection.
Clare McKeeve, Managing Director of Eaton Gate private equity firm and mum of six (three children and three step-children), has a firm set of criteria for ‘picking her shots’: who is likely to attend, how unique the event is, what learning opportunities it provides, and the location. This final criteria is especially important, as Clare maximises her time by attending more than one event whenever possible. “If I can attend two events in one night, or one networking event and a client dinner, that would be great. I am then only absent for one evening from my family instead of two,” she says.
2. Make Your Development a Priority
It’s important to commit to networking as a process, as well as an investment in yourself and your career. Effective networking requires upkeep and long-term relationship building.
India Gary Martin, Executive Coach and Leadership Expert, believes in the importance of planning around the events we really want to attend. “You have to be committed to your development,” she says. “Opportunity comes through building your networks. But you also have to know that you can’t attend everything. You need to pre-plan and choose the events that are most beneficial to you.”
India also notes the importance of providing an example to her children: “I don’t want my daughters to think my life revolves around cooking and cleaning – I want them to see me going off to do other things for my own personal development.”
3. Preparation is Everything
Good preparation is absolutely crucial to effective networking. Do your due diligence by checking who will be attending and doing some research. If I can find out who’s on the guest list beforehand and they are someone I want to meet, I reach out with a personal message and a LinkedIn request before the event. That way, we are more likely to seek one another out, since we have already ‘met’. People are also always impressed when you know something about them, and it sets the foundation for a positive, lasting connection.
It’s also worth practising your ‘elevator pitch’. ‘What do you do?’ is the question you’ll be asked the most, so the answer should roll off your tongue confidently and eloquently. Paola Diana, founder and CEO of Sigillus, agrees: “Confidently present yourself to the key people in the room, don’t be shy, always leave your business card and be able to explain in ten seconds what your business is about.”
Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t forget your business cards!
4. Make the Most of the Time You Have
If you only have an hour to spend at an event, then make every minute count! Lizzie Penny, founder and CEO of The Hoxby Collective, is always one of the first to arrive. “With evening events I always try to get there early so I can meet a few people before everyone else arrives,” she says.
Paola Diana also notes that it isn’t necessary to stay to the bitter end: “Go home as soon as you have reached the people you wanted. You don’t need to know everyone.”
5. Make Genuine Connections
Good networking is about forging real personal connections. Networking is a two-way street, so if you’re only out to gain what you can, you will find it hard to make any meaningful connections. That doesn’t mean you can’t strike a balance between quality conversation and time management. It’s all about being open, friendly, and authentic. Be generous too; never dismiss anyone as unimportant.
Lizzie Penny agrees: “Being part of a network involves giving and getting. Know what you’re able to give to others in a short space of time as well as what you’re hoping to get.”
6. Have Fun!
There’s no reason why networking shouldn’t also be fun! I always try to choose events that offer an interesting backdrop (for example, an art gallery, new restaurant, or unusual pop-up space). That way, it feels more like an evening out with friends than work.
Clare McKeeve agrees: “We work hard, so a glamorous night can be a productive networking session, but also a moment to enjoy yourself. As mothers and partners, we should have fun, and not make a chore out of the whole thing.”