Networking to Build Your Professional Brand

Branding. The word is typically associated with products; a strong brand is synonymous with quality and loyalty. There is no doubt that building brand awareness contributes to success – but did you know that you can create your own brand, and your brand can enhance your ability to move ahead in your organisation? Branding yourself, and making sure people know who you are and what you can offer, is a big advantage in your career development.

The number of women in finance and treasury is growing and we are an increasing percentage of directors and managing directors, assistant treasurers and treasurers. Being good at our jobs is what keeps us in these positions. It would have been difficult to miss in both national and finance-specific press that if large businesses do not organically structure their board with at least 25% women by 2015, the businesses may face compulsory quotas. At present, 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors and almost half of FTSE 250 companies have no female presence in the boardroom. How can you make sure you are well placed to capitalise on your skills and this new strategy? Moving beyond your current position requires more than hard work and talent, technical skills and leadership. It requires networking skills.

Networking Skills

Networking, among other things, is a leadership skill and it is one of the strongest ways to build your brand. Networking is about communication, basic verbal and written communication. Communication is just that, sharing information between two or more people. It becomes networking when you turn it into a meaningful business discussion and/or a business relationship.

Look around you – look at who is getting ahead. It isn’t solely what you know, it is who you know. It is about making sure that the right people know who you are and that you know who they are. By creating a brand, your brand, you will get noticed more often and you will have a far better chance of achieving your goals. Let’s get back to your brand. It is who you are and what people think about when they hear your name. It is about what is unique about you. It can define who you are professionally and how you are perceived in the minds of others. This positioning statement, or personal branding message, should be relayed in seconds (15 or fewer). Call it your ‘elevator speech’. It should be compelling, clever and clear. This isn’t about announcing your title and job function. It is about more than that. It is what defines your contribution and value to an organisation. Make it exciting or intriguing so that people will want to know more about you. Make it unique. Be enthusiastic. This is your opening statement when you network – inevitably someone will ask you what you do. This isn’t an all or nothing statement. Your elevator speech should adapt to your situation and the specific networking situation.

Once you are comfortable with your branding message, it is time to think about what you want to achieve from networking. Maybe it is new contacts, maybe new clients; maybe you want to get noticed, to enhance your profile or get promoted. This is about your agenda and getting what you want.

Networking will help you achieve your agenda; it is for everyone. It is a habit that’s easy to adopt. But, before you assume that it is only about your agenda, think again. Networking is about giving and receiving. You can openly acknowledge that you want something, that you have an agenda. The quickest and easiest way to get what you want is by giving something in return. It is okay to ask people for help but you have to be ready to give something in return.

Research Your Opportunities

So, you have your branding message and you know what you want. It is time to network. But where do you begin? Networking is about creating opportunities, developing relationships and it is about connecting the dots, for yourself and for others. A quick internet search of ‘women in finance’ gives over 356 million results, and the first entry on our search was for a female-only organisation that empowers women who specifically work in finance and banking. You have so many options to choose from, and to meet motivated, like-minded finance professionals. Every woman reading this has the ability and opportunity to start networking today.

Good networking requires doing your homework. You need to establish who it is that you want exposure to. It is likely that this will evolve over time or if there is a shift in your agenda. Network in places where you will be exposed to the kinds of people who you want to meet. Go to places where you will meet people who could be in a position to help you. Networking can occur any time, including at industry meetings and events. Let curiosity takes its course and find out where your seniors go and where they connect with like-minded people. That is where you should be, too. Once you decide on a place to network, do your homework. Target whom you want to meet and think of ways to introduce yourself (in addition to your elevator speech). Make it about the other person; be ready to offer something in return for the opportunity to network. Share information, be valuable.

Here are a few things to think about giving:

  • Your time.
  • Your advice.
  • Make yourself invaluable to the person you are networking with. Offer to connect them with people you know or help them with an issue they are facing.
  • Pay attention to articles in newspapers, magazines and television shows about trends and changes in your particular role in finance, or your industry. Send these articles and your commentary to relevant individuals.

Networking can be fun, and it will get easier over time. What is hardest about networking is exiting a conversation. Whether or not you have been successful networking with someone, most people find it most difficult to walk away. At some point, you must exit and continue networking. Try these lines but before you walk away, but first make sure you have the other person’s business card:

  • “Is there a time that we can continue this conversation?” This will work if you genuinely want to continue the dialogue.
  • When you don’t want to continue the dialogue, try this: “It was a pleasure meeting you and if you will forgive me, I see someone else I would like to introduce myself to,” or “I see a friend I would like to say hello to.”
  • “Thank you for your time. It was lovely to meet you. I am going to excuse myself to say hello to someone over there.”

If it appears that everyone is networking, it is because they are. It happens everywhere, in the office and outside of the office, at events and at casual meetings. What separates the amateurs from the elite networkers is the follow up. Do not underestimate the value of the follow up. Think about the last event that you went to – how many business cards did you acquire and then use? Take the initiative and make the first move, write a thank you note. Be genuine and summarise what you both agreed to do. Email is a very powerful way for following up and it should be done within 24 hours of meeting someone. Let people know that you enjoyed meeting them; keep the email short and concise. Don’t forget to give something in return.

Networking will become a natural habit and it will help you strengthen your brand. It will open up doors, open up your horizons and open up your mind. In return, you will build a network of contacts that can help you succeed. Ultimately, this network will be the distribution channel for your brand.

Conclusion

We leave you with a few pointers about networking:

  • Remember that you have two ears and one mouth; use them accordingly.
  • Listen to others – even if you have an agenda. Listening to others will enable you to figure out what is important to the other person. You will learn how to help them in return for asking for their help.
  • Network with your business cards, a pen and something to write on where you will store information that you gather.
  • Do what you say you are going to do. Most people don’t and if you do, you are already ahead of the competition.
  • Networking takes time and patience – it takes time to build relationships. Stay in touch routinely with people. Send emails or articles of interest or invite them to industry events. Get yourself known; invest the time in getting your brand out there.
  • Network with a smile. People are attracted to people who smile.

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