Five Ways to Build and Leverage a Network
By Liz O’Donnell
One of the best strategies for working women trying to advance their careers while also managing their many other responsibilities in life, is to build a strong network of women around them.
Maybe you’ve tried a few all-women networking events and didn’t get much value from them. Or maybe you’ve used the little time you have to seek out a mentor who you hope will open doors for you. Outside of your professional life you know friendships are important, but they seem so difficult to maintain due to your overbooked schedule.
Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place. Often, the most valuable allies are right beside us in our community, on our commuter train, or working in the next office. Building a network of female peers you can lean on is as important as finding mentors and sponsors in the C-suite who will champion you at work. Your peers can make referrals to anyone from prospective clients, to graphic designers, to tax attorneys, to hair stylists and babysitters; pick up your children when you’re running late, offer from-the-trenches career advice, and give you a confidence boost when you need it most.
Here are a few proven tips for building a powerful network of your peers.
Leverage social media. Thanks to social media, you can make powerful connections at your convenience. Log on to Twitter at 9 p.m. on a weeknight; you’ll be amazed how many professional women are sharing and connecting after their children have gone to bed and most of their daily to-dos are done. Sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook allow women who need to be home, to reach out and meet like-minded women.
Develop inter-generational connections. Build relationships with women both younger and older than you. Younger women bring fresh perspectives to how they approach career and work life balance. Older women can tell you how their choices have played out and give you a veteran’s view on balancing career and family.
Schedule a monthly lunch. Do you eat lunch at your desk everyday because you need to plow through your projects in order to leave the office at a decent time? You’re missing out on quality networking time. If you don’t think you can break for lunch, aim to schedule just one lunch a month with another woman you want to build or maintain a relationship with. Guaranteed, you will gleam something from the conversation that you can apply to either your career or personal life or both.
Look outside your industry. Aim to make a quarter of your networking connections outside of your own industry. Your day-to-day jobs may be different but usually your experiences, challenges, ideas, and even contacts, are relevant.
Ask for and give help freely. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most women enjoy being a part of another woman’s success. Ask for what you need and then remember to reciprocate.
Try just one or two of these tips and watch how quickly your personal network grows.
Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman and the founder of Hello Ladies, an award-winning website for smart, busy women.