Nothing is more effective than interpersonal relationships, says Richard Branson and his company Virgin, who recently posted an infographic that clearly links face-to-face contact as being 85% more effective in building strong, lasting relationships.
According to the site, 40% of all prospects are converted into customers, 28% of current business is retained and 17% of company profit is secured through, essentially, a strong handshake, great body language and a good business card. But what does this mean for working women, who understand that networking is essential but often have to prioritise doing more and socialising less in order to get home to their families at night?
Essentially, the key to networking is to stop doing it – at least, in the traditional sense. Networking is no longer about selling your image at a social event in return for a plethora of leads that require intense and often futile, follow-up. Rather, it’s about building mutually-beneficial relationships that you can quickly tap into, with the aim of working smarter, not harder.
Men are notoriously great at this, actively leveraging strong, trust-based relationships, both on and off the golf course, with other men of equal or more senior ranking – and in working environments that are still largely male-dominated, this becomes increasingly easy for them to do, as they move up the ladder. Men are also more ruthless at cutting people from their network who take up too much time, rather focusing on those ‘multipliers’ who can actively promote and widen their circle – and then doing the same for them.
Ultimately, it really is about who you choose to know and how you look after them that determines the value of your network. According to Donna Rachelson, Group CEO: Seed Engine and author of ‘Play to Win – What Women Can Learn from Men in Business,’ nurturing relationships is something that women are actually inherently good at but need to make more time for. Rachelson says that ‘networking needs to be actively leveraged, like any other work task and initially, may require more ‘give’ than ‘take’ before it begins to reap rewards.’ She likens it to building a reserve of goodwill until you need to draw from it and of course, emphasizes that mutual gain is ultimately what will guarantee success. ‘Once your foot is in the door, it becomes much easier to achieve your objectives’, she says.
‘A great way for women to start putting this into practice is by reaching out and supporting other women better,’ Rachelson continues. ‘Female entrepreneurs, in particular, often speak about the need to procure from and partner with each other but seldom follow up on this without an upfront expectation of something in return. There is huge power in not only being able to ask for help but also reaching out and mentoring someone else.’
Ultimately, the power of networking for women lies in what is often referred to as the three ‘c’s’ – connections, capacity and confidence. Of course, spending time with people leads to the formation of new relationships but it’s the added bonus of sharing your knowledge and offering to help someone who needs your skillset that expands your capacity and ultimately, boosts your self-assurance through business growth or career advancement.
Practically, Rachelson suggests women start by accepting that every situation is an opportunity to network. ‘Adopt a mindset of having nothing to lose in meeting interesting people and be on the lookout for opportunities to help,’ she adds. ‘Great networking means having an open mind and spending 80% of your time listening to others and 20% asking questions.’ According to her, your key objective needs to be about discovering as much as you can about others so that you can make the link on how to support and help them – and this means you need to be a proactive conversation-starter.
‘Approaching people with a relatable comment or question is not as hard as you think. Comment on how much traffic there was getting to an event, mention a recent event or simply offer a compliment to someone. You can even do some background research on the people you are hoping to meet and memorise a few questions you’d like to ask them. Getting a conversation started is the easy part – what you really need to practice is how to keep the momentum going,’ Rachelson says. ‘A great networker stands out and is remembered – and the best way to do this is to be interesting and add value. Brush up on your current affairs knowledge but also remember to ask good, open-ended questions that get others talking. Starting with ‘what are the key challenges you face in your business’ and ‘what kind of customers are good ones for your business’ could help you identify how you can assist them further.’
Rachelson goes on to caution that you must remain authentic in your approach. ‘Do not put on a façade and remember to share real information about yourself and your views so that people can get to know who you are and how in turn, they can one day perhaps help you. This clarifies the way for a mutually-beneficial relationship and creates an opportunity for you to follow up on, after you part ways.’
Rachelson adds that ‘there’s tremendous power in combining an understanding of the rules of business with the strengths that women bring to the workplace. Essentially, women can wear both the skirt and the pants’.
And wear them well, we do. In fact, we can pretty much do whatever we set our minds to. We’ve proved it time and time again, which is why we have an international day that recognises us. Let’s start reminding people of our value – and then give them a chance to demonstrate theirs. It’s the smartest way to gain customers, retain business and secure profit – all before home time.