Networking is crucial to the success of a business
Do you think that networking is a waste of time? Would you rather do some other work, or hang out with your family, or do household chores instead of just meeting people and, well, eating with them? Well you are not alone; many women do feel that there is no point in just meeting a few persons without anything concrete coming out of it.
This is what happened to Rita (name changed) who was initially of the view that networking is unnecessary. She felt hard work would have its own reward. Rita started her career as an employee and later went on to set up her own company which was funded by an angel investor. Here are some of her experiences in her various roles and the solution she developed for herself in order to create a method of networking that she would feel comfortable with:
Some years before, Rita was a senior VP in a large services company. She had worked hard in her career to reach this position. At one point, she was working on a project for a leading multinational client with a team of people under her. One day, she was leaving office around 9PM and happened to see her key team member and her boss taking a brief break from work. The next day, as she came to office, she was informed that some key decisions regarding the project had been taken by her boss. She later found out that during some informal discussions during the break, her boss had asked for the latest project developments and had been updated by her team member. Decisions were taken without her participation in the process.
This incident shook her up. Rita felt she had been working like an ostrich, focusing solely on working hard and not on connecting with people, which could also impact her job delivery and performance on the job. She realized that this aspect became increasingly important as one moved up the work chain into senior roles. At the next meeting with her support group SWP (Senior Working/Women Professionals), Rita spoke about this incident. To her surprise, many of the participants that day had similar stories to share. One lady talked about men who would stand near the coffee machine and where women were excluded, while others talked about men staying back after work to go out together where women could not join. Many work decisions were taken in these informal get-togethers.
When Rita became an entrepreneur, this discussion stayed with her. She decided to find her own solution to this networking issue. She realized that it would be difficult for her to attend all meetings; she had neither the time, nor the inclination for this. However, Rita realized that if she was not reaching out to others, they may not know about her offerings and she may lose potential customers. She needed to be “discovered” by possible clients. Rita took some time out on a regular basis in the initial days of starting her business to think through this. After much thought, she created a customized framework for connecting with people that she felt could suit her both professionally and personally.
Rita created categories in her network of connections, both formal and informal, as shown below. She did not include any social media plans as she decided to focus on the real world in the initial phase:
• The first was an inner circle of contacts, which she further broadly categorized into (i) very close and trustworthy contacts and (ii) others.
• Next was a larger second circle list of possible friends and connections.
• The third category was groups and associations where she was a member or where she could consider becoming a member. These included entrepreneurial networks, both fee-based and free networks, industry associations and professional associations, as well as special groups like women’s networks and specialized industry groups based on and similar to her business.
Rita saw the benefit of her planning firsthand when she had to price a new product offering. She wanted to introduce this at a differential price point and was not sure if the market would accept it and what more she needed to do in addition to pricing. She decided to get inputs by speaking one-on-one to her inner circle of trustworthy friends. She felt she could count on them for help and feedback. They included her women entrepreneur friends, professionals, and consultants. After talking to them, Rita was able to refine her pricing strategy as well as marketing plan. She got some ideas from her friends as well as leads for selling. Since she knew these friends well, she also talked with them on the phone when they were not able to meet face to face. Some points raised during the discussions were known to her and some were discarded, but overall, Rita benefited from this exercise.
Next month—Practical perspectives in networking II: Rita’s story continued.
Anjana Vivek is the founder of VentureBean Consulting and a guest faculty at IIM Bangalore.
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The views expressed here are that of the author and do not represent
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