By Michelle de Klerk
We all know that juggling family, home and work commitments requires military precision – and more often than not, something has to give. But that doesn’t always have to be networking. Because where there is a will, there’s a way. And if you view it as both a personal and career development necessity, then you owe it to yourself to invest.
The key is making sure the time spent at an event you’ve chosen – if even only an hour – is efficient and effective.
Last year CBI (Confederation of British Industry) head Carolyn Fairbairn, hit out at evening networking dinners, saying they are ‘difficult’ for career women with families to attend. She called for more event opportunities before 7.30pm and bemoaned that the majority of events were ‘sexist’ and mainly attended by men.
She was partly right. As the mother of young twins, I can identify with the frustration around having to give up seemingly valuable networking opportunities because they generally run at a time when you most want to be at home.
Like many women, I had actually stopped going to networking events completely.
Most of the time I’d come away feeling drained and guilty, wondering why I had missed putting my children to bed, or dinner with my husband, for an evening that was dull and had too many consultants trying to sell me something.
But, I yearned to be inspired and am a true believer in the value of support systems. So I decided to start my own boutique events, offering curated networking set against a backdrop of art, fashion, culture and gastronomy – all the passions I never seemed to be able to find time for anymore. And The Women’s Chapter was born!
“Networking should be seen as part of training and development, not to mention being positive for the whole business”.
Michelle de Klerk
I do run afternoon or breakfast discussions, but sadly it is often only very senior women who can make time in their diaries for daytime networking. Most mid-management women are expected to be in the office during work hours and use personal time to network, which is a real shame.
Networking should be seen as part of training and development, not to mention being positive for the whole business.
Of course, there are hundreds of opportunities out there -depending on what you are looking to achieve.
So here are my top tips for networking efficiently – even if it means having to miss bath time once in a while:
1) Be Selective
I always select niche events where there’s a topic or format I’m interested in. This way you will have guaranteed shared interests with the other guests attending – a good start for saving time.
Clare McKeeve, Managing Director of Luxcite, a luxury fund, and mother of six (three children and three step-children) says its important you “pick your shots” and has a set of criteria; who’s likely to attend, how unique the event is, what learning opportunity it provides and its location.
For Clare, maximising is key: “If I can attend two events in one night, or one networking event and a client dinner, that would be great. I am then only absent for one evening from the family instead of two.”
2) Invest in yourself
India Gary Martin, founder of Only Fingers and Toes, believes we all need to plan around the events we really want to go to and “invest in yourself.” She says: “You have to be committed to your development. Opportunity comes through building your networks. But you also have to know that you can’t attend everything. You need to pre-plan and choose the events that are most beneficial to you.”
India also believes her three children need to see that she has interests outside of the home: “I don’t want my daughters to think my life revolves around cooking and cleaning — I want them to see me going off to do other things for my own personal development.”
I couldn’t agree more — as much as I feel guilty leaving my children to go to work, one of the reasons I do it is so they know there are exciting options and opportunities out there for them, in addition to being a wife and mother.
3) Go prepared
It goes without saying that you should always have enough business cards and make sure they say something about you.
‘What you do’ is going to be the question you answer most, so it should roll off your tongue confidently and eloquently. If I can find out who’s on the guest list beforehand, and they are someone I want to meet, I send them a personal note and a Linkedin request before the event. That way we have already ‘met’ and are more likely to seek one another out.
People are always impressed when you know something about them and it sets the foundation for a positive, lasting connection.
4) Quality not quantity
If you only have an hour, you need to make the time count. Lizzie Penny, founder of Futureproof and Huckleberry Partners explains: “With evening events I always try to get there early so I can meet a few people before everyone else arrives”.
For Paola Diana, Sigillus Founder & CEO, networking should be focused and effective. It’s about quality not quantity. “Confidently present yourself to the key people in the room, don’t be shy, always leave your business card and be able to explain in 10 seconds what your business is about.”
Paola also notes that you don’t need to stay to the bitter end: “Go home as soon as you reached the people you wanted. You don’t need to know everyone.”
5) Have Fun
I always try to choose events that offer an interesting backdrop like an art gallery, new restaurant or unusual pop-up space, as that way it feels more like an evening out with friends, rather than work.
Clare agrees: “We work hard, so a glamorous night can be a productive networking session, but also a moment to enjoy yourself. As mothers and partners, we should have fun, and not make a chore out of the whole thing.”
6) Be genuine
Be open and authentic. Networking is a two way street and if you are just out for yourself, you will find it hard to make many meaningful connections, or feel that the time you have spent networking is personally rewarding. It’s striking that balance between quality conversation and time management.
Lizzie believes that “being part of a network involves giving and getting. Know what you’re able to give to others in a short space of time as well as what you’re hoping to get.”
Original article for Telegraph Women, published 2nd September 2016 : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/11613342/Careers-and-business-advice-from-Michelle-de-Klerk-of-Womens-Chapter.html