Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
There are two key components in making strategic connections with contacts who are important to your future – and research and experience has shown that women often lose out in both categories. The first is building relationships within your company. These alliances with colleagues, bosses, clients, consultants and vendors are vital and provide the foundation for your future within your organization.
The second “connection” category is strategic networking outside of your company. Strategic networking can provide many benefits to you in your present position as well as in future positions.
Many people think that networking is synonymous with looking for a job and, considering that more than 80% of executive positions are found through networking, clearly it works. It may well be that contacts will lead you to a job opportunity now or in the future. There are, however, many other possible rewards in making contacts, including:
- Gaining valuable information
- Becoming well-known and well-liked
- Learning interpersonal and leadership skills
- Building allies and developing reciprocal business relationships
- Brainstorming ideas/solving problems
- Acquiring new business opportunities and leads
- Understanding various outside organizations
- Assessing your worth
- Discovering a community or professional group
- Being asked to join a board or committee position
- Helping others
While strategic networking and relationship building require an additional time commitment during the work day, and outside of work, the benefits in terms of one’s personal, business and career satisfaction are undeniable.
The first step in the networking process is identifying and analyzing your key professional contacts: those people who have a stake, personally and/or professionally, in your success or failure in your organization. They could be a boss, peer, direct report, colleague – or even a client or vendor. Think through the people within your professional circle who should be important to you, and the relationship you currently have with them. Once you develop this list, you will have a better idea of the steps you need to take to expand and maintain these relationships.
After you’ve now identified your ‘work-related’ network, add to your base by making a list of your broader networking contacts. This will help you begin to understand where you have strong networking potential. Remember, everyone is a potential contact in the context of broad networking, including:
- Professional acquaintances
- Former colleagues
- School buddies (alumni from college, high school or graduate school)
- Professional advisors (lawyer, accountants)
- Acquaintances through religious affiliation
- Others (be creative – do you play a team sport or belong to a gym? Are your children in a playgroup?)
Think hard as you develop your list, and you might be surprised at the number of contacts you already have.
Once you’ve made a list of your broader network of contacts and divided it into categories, look carefully at your list, and ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you have contacts in a variety of areas or does most of your network fall under one or two categories?
- Do you notice gaps that you’d like to fill?
- How often are you in touch with the people you’ve listed?
— Breaking Into the Boys’ Club 2009.
Taking the time to think through these two major categories of contacts will help you jumpstart your networking in an organized way. The next challenge will be to follow through with all your contacts!
Have you built a solid network of contacts? Please join the conversation!