Create system to expand your network

Dear Joan:
I am seeking your advice. I promised myself in 2001 that I would create a balance between work, family and professional development. As a professional woman, I have devoted much time to working but not much time to networking. Between family and work, there hardly was enough time to think of joining professional organizations. It has been 6 years since I finished my MBA and I feel like I am out of touch with the community outside of my company walls. I could be inhibiting my career options or future potential if I don’t develop a network of peers or find a mentor. I would like to begin networking and getting involved with my community but I don’t really know where to start.

Can you share any resources for business professional organizations or business women’s groups you may know about? I would like to build a network of professionals to share ideas with and become a part of the community. I have thought about seeking a career coach or finding a mentor, however, I think my first step is to know more about business groups in my area.

Successful people manage their network like salespeople manage their prospect list. They keep growing the list and building relationships with their prospects because they never know when that contact will become a valuable customer. As you grow your network and add value to those relationships, some of the people in your network will become your allies and mentors. They will let you know when opportunities arise, will keep you up-to-date with industry information and will help you succeed with projects and politics. But, networking can become a full-time job. To stay balanced, be specific about what you want and be selective about what groups you join.

Don’t make extra work for yourself.
You’re already busy, so integrate networking naturally into your work. For instance, if you are working on a project in your department, why not seek the advice of peers in similar organizations? Start by asking your manager and coworkers who they know who might be a good contact for you.

If they can’t help you, take it upon yourself to call companies in your area that have departments similar to yours. Ask the receptionist for the person who does work similar to your own. Introduce yourself to this new contact, determine if they are the appropriate person to be talking with and then ask for their advice or perspective.

People love to give advice and they may even be interested in a meeting. Before you end the conversation, ask them for a few other names you can contact. In a notebook, keep track of all the people you contact, along with any professional and personal notes you want to remember about the person. Periodically, you will want to check back in your notebook to reconnect with someone or to refer a new contact to someone in your network. You will build an active network before you know it.

Keep evenings for family.
Network during the workday, so you can devote time to your family in the evening. Balance is a key factor for both men and women these days, and you will find that breakfasts and lunches are the preferred way to network face-to-face. If you are either eating lunch at your desk or sitting with the same people every day, set a new goal to have at least one lunch outside the company every week. When you begin a new month, let that be your reminder to look out over the next few weeks and begin calling ahead to schedule some lunch meetings.

Be clear—and self-serving—about your networking goals.
There are many women’s groups, professional groups and volunteer groups in every city. Because balance is your goal, I suggest that you think through exactly what your goals are for getting actively involved, otherwise your available time will evaporate quickly. For instance, you might want to belong to one women’s group, for the purpose of networking across different industries. In addition, you would be wise to belong to an organization in your field. Not only will it help you stay current in your profession, it may yield new job opportunities. Finally, there may be a charity in which you have a particular interest. As a volunteer you will meet people in many walks of life you wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. Start with one organization and assess how it fits in with your balance goals before joining a second or third.

Discover what groups are out there.
How do you find out what organizations are out there and which ones are going to fit your goals? Why not seek the advice of a few respected people in your company, or ask the new people you are contacting? This is a good approach for at least two reasons: first, they will give you an honest appraisal of the value of the organization, and second, they will probably invite you to a meeting as their guest. Another way to identify professional groups is to look at the calendar of meetings in your local newspaper. These meeting notices always list a phone number and a contact person. Call and find out if you can attend as a guest.

Avoid the black hole of involvement.
Once you join an organization, make a clear choice about how much you will get involved. Obviously, organizations want members to be active on committees and to attend meetings regularly. If you join an organization but don’t get involved on a committee or special event you won’t meet as many people. If you don’t have the time for committee work, a short-term project might be the best way to meet people and keep balance in your life.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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