Be Indispensable: 7 Steps to Building Your Business Network
by: Katie Condon
For the past five years, BISA has hosted a women’s networking event during the Annual Convention. On March 6, 2019, more than 80 women in the bank insurance and securities industry got together over lunch to build new connections, catch up with colleagues and get inspired by the thoughtful words of Dorie Clark, a marketing and strategy consultant and networking expert.
BISA Platinum Leadership member company Symetra sponsored the event and brought in Clark to speak about key ways women can grow and develop their networks, although the advice is truly applicable to all career-driven individuals. The author of several books, including Reinventing You and Stand Out Networking, Clark challenged the traditional concepts of networking and encouraged attendees to consider seven smart, reasonable ways to redefine their professional potential.
7 Strategies for Better Networking
- Nail Your Opening
We all know that making the first move is hard. For some, it’s terrifying. Rise to the occasion by preparing some opening lines to get the conversation started. The best way to make a connection is to find a commonality, which is made easier when you start with open-ended questions. Clark recommended some examples to try at your next networking opportunity:
- What is the coolest thing you’re working on?
- What are you excited about?
- How do you spend most of your time?
- I don’t know anyone here. Can I talk to you?
- Become a Hub
Diversifying your connections can make you truly indispensable, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Clark shared a story of a busy woman at a big company. She wanted to get to know people in other departments and decided to devote an hour a week to this effort. She invited a different person a week to an hour-long lunch, and by the end of the year, she had 52 new colleagues.
Having allies in different areas of the company gave her a better understanding of other workflows, not to mention a variety of people she could call on for help or advice. The more advocates you have, the more potent your staying power.
- Play to Your Strengths
You wouldn’t expect a vibrant speaker and master relationship-builder like Clark to be an introvert. After a hum of surprise roared throughout the room, Clark explained that she indeed was not energized by being around big groups of people, but that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy networking. “Find what kind of networking works for you,” she said. “For me, it was small dinner gatherings where I bring together a few people I want to get to know.” As an added touch, she sends out links to everyone’s LinkedIn profiles ahead of time “so nervous people can research everyone and think of talking points.”
- Build Your Circle
Clark pointed out that although it’s smart to case a wide net of professional connections, women especially need a deep, connected circle. A small group of trusted confidants who really know and support you can make all the difference. She recommended finding a group of professionals inside and outside of your industry who you really trust. Try to meet somewhat regularly, even if it’s over video conference.
- Everyone Needs a Wingman (or Woman)
Even the most confident people can feel uncomfortable telling others about their accomplishments and good qualities. Women, in particular, often struggle to enforce their strengths at risk of sounding conceited. As it turns out, Robert Cialdini and Jeffery Pfeffer — experts in the social science of influence — found that this concern is justifiable. Their research showed that people who talk themselves up can appear “self-aggrandizing, and it can rub people the wrong way.” Thankfully, there’s a cure: Find a peer who can advocate for you, and you can do the same for them. Actively and intentionally speak to each other’s skills and achievements, so that you both reap the benefits.
- Be the Host
Have you ever attended an event alone and then realized that everyone else already knew each other? Did you return to the event in question? Even for extroverts, this can be a difficult situation to navigate. If you’re planning to host your own events, take control and prevent new guests from feeling isolated. Clark suggested that for repeating events, it’s important to break up the “regulars,” which she defined as those that have attended at least three meetings. Instead of sitting and mingling with only familiar faces, encourage regular attendees to talk to the new members for at least the first hour. This builds a strong community where all feel welcome.
- Make Croissants, Not Bagels
“Inclusion in networking can be as simple as how you stand,” noted Clark. The most common way for groups of three or more people to have conversations is in the shape of a circle. Although it logistically makes sense, standing in circle presents a challenge for anyone else who may want to join in. It’s hard to feel welcome to a group when there’s no natural way to become a part of it. Referencing the work of Robbie Samuels, Clark inspired attendees to “make croissants, not bagels,” meaning that instead of assuming a circular position, work to orient the group in a semi-circular fashion. Doing so allows for a new person to come in at any time. Should the ring close, expand again. Leaving room for others will create an inclusive environment where all can be seen and heard.
What Will You Do Differently?
Clark’s strategies, easy to remember and apply, are things anyone can do to increase their circles of influence. Following the presentation, the positive energy in the room was palpable. The women of BISA left the networking lunch with their newly signed copies of Stand Out Networking (courtesy of Symetra) ready to build new relationships through the reminder of the week and beyond.