Broaden where and how you network
"Remember to think outside the box," says Bridget Johnson.
Jennifer Sutherland conducted searches on the internet that led her to discover groups that she would have otherwise, missed. One of these groups were the Jaycees, a leadership training and civic organization for people that are ages 21 to 40 years old. As a result, Sutherland became a founding member and the first president of the Royal Oak Jaycees.
Stephanie Ganhs suggests going to where the action is. "I took up golf." She noticed that more of the higher ups participated in the golf outings. More importantly, Ganhs's clients were increasingly inviting her to participate. Declining the invitations meant shutting the door on opportunities and opening the door to competitors.
Ganhs emphasizes, "Whatever you take up, whether male or female, you must have enjoyment or passion in the activity or you will dread it."
Johnson echoes that the mistake that she made early on in her career was trying to be someone she was not. "Whatever you choose to do should be an extension of you and your character."
Utilize organized groups
Ganhs says that it was great to join a group when the amount of time you have to devote to networking is minimal. For Ganhs, EWI offered everything in one package. EWI is an organization comprised mainly of women working in the area of business to business sales. The organization focuses on three goals: (1) firm promotion, (2) professional development, and (3) community service. Membership into the group is limited to those firms joining the organization, and then electing three employees to attend the meetings and seminars. EWI also allows its members to veto other members that may be a direct competitor.
Sutherland found that the Jaycees's four-fold commitment to community, social interactions, professional development, and business development fit with her goals. Sutherland also took advantage of the "brag group" sessions, where exercises taught her how to succinctly describe a complex idea in a matter of seconds. "It was helpful to be concise."
Ganhs suggests that when you decide which group to join, you should find one that has matches your personality. This is because some groups are completely about networking, while others are meant to be primarily social. If yo know the personality of the organization, you can better choose a group that matches your interests.
When Johnson could not find a group that fit her goals, she formed A.I.M. - Birmingham. This group also focuses on connecting professionals that are in the business to business sales. Unlike EWI, membership is open to all individuals in business to business sales. In starting this group, Johnson was looking for the best way to meet the type of people she already knew with whom she wanted to build relationships and share ideas with. As a result, Johnson has created a sort of think tank for her industry.
"You should also consider the size of the group you want to join," points out Ganhs. Currently, the EWI is composed of approximately 150 members. Ganhs had previously joined a state-wide group. "It was too large for me to make the connections I wanted."
There are also benefits to joining an all-women group. "There is an understanding," says Ganhs. Joining a group where most of the members were women allowed her to connect with other women that were facing the same responsibilities.
Ganhs also suggests that once you have joined a group, you should join a committee and become an active member. "Get involved and plan events . . . it allows you to gain exposure and visibility in the group." Ganhs cautions, however, that you must be genuine in your representations to the group. "If not, it will have a reverse effect of drawing a bad light on you . . . people see through it."
Sutherland leaves some parting advice for when you start becoming an ace at networking. She cautions you not to overextend yourself. Sutherland explains that you want the opportunities, but you have to be prepared for the responsibilities, "Say no when you have to."
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