September 24, 2012 

We’ve all heard the saying, “it takes a village.” While that old saying is usually directed towards child rearing, you can also apply it to your own professional and personal goals. Building a strong community is key to achieving your objectives. As a Made Woman, you’ve probably already heard the benefits of creating a powerful network.  But what does “networking” entail, exactly?  Are you picturing lame events and rapid-fire business card exchanges?  And what do you do with this lovely new network once you’ve assembled it?  Don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be a confusing ordeal. Here are 5 tips for building and managing a powerful network:

Get Clear on Your Why

First things first, reframe the way you think about networking. Move beyond the image of just shaking hands and doling out cards and begin thinking of networking as building quality, sustainable relationships. Next, make sure you’re clear on why you’re building your network. Are you a professional mamacita who is looking to build solid professional contacts in your industry? Are you a savvy entrepreneur who wants to create a community of fellow business owners? Maybe you’re a newly graduated scholar who is ready to begin climbing the corporate ladder. The clearer you are on your purpose, the easier it will be to build a powerful network.

Start with Who You Know

You may have 1200 Facebook friends but the truth is the average person can successfully manage about 150 active relationships. That’s 150 people who already know, like and trust you. You want to make sure you are maximizing the potential of those friendships by actively cultivating the relationships you already have. Begin working through your contact list and update your current network on what you’ve been up to and the types of opportunities you’re looking for. Craft an email that you can tailor to each specific person. This is not the time for a blanket email bcc’d to your entire email list. Cultivating these relationships takes time and the personalized touches you add will go a long way.

Meet New People

Networking presents an excellent opportunity to bring new awesome people into your circle. Identify groups and organizations that match your mission and whose members line up with your purpose. Set a goal for yourself to attend one new mixer or event each month (or each week if you’re a turbo-charged networker). Once there, be friendly, confident and strike up conversations. Most importantly, just be yourself! Allow the people you’re speaking with ample time to talk about themselves; you’ll have plenty of time to follow-up with them later and showcase your talents.

Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up

Networking is worthless if you don’t follow-up. Make sure you contact each person you’ve met within 48 hours. Depending on the situation, you can call, email or send a physical card. All you need to do is let them know you enjoyed speaking with them. If you spoke about something in particular, now is a great time to send that additional information along. You can invite them out to lunch or coffee to continue to nurture the new relationship. Lastly, ask them if there is anything you can help them out with.

Make Yourself Useful

Remember, building your network is all about relationships, and relationships are all about give and take. When it comes down to it, make sure you are offering your network what they need. A simple email with a link to a relevant article can go a long way in keeping yourself at the forefront of your network’s mind and showcasing your value. I make a general rule to end all conversations and coffee date meetings asking the simple question, “What can I do for you?”

Building a strong network is an important aspect of reaching your professional and personal goals. If you take a good look at successful people, one thing they share is a powerful network that they’ve cultivated over the years. With these steps, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Made Woman with a strong community behind her.

Published in Career