My name is Christine Fernandes, founder of Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup, and I’m going to share some expert tips on how to bring your networking skills to the next level. You may have heard the common saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” and I cannot agree with this statement more. How you present yourself and your ability to connect with others can make or break your success in almost any business scenario. I am a firm believer that ‘your network is your net worth’. For those of you interested in learning how to organize a strong networking plan to reach your professional goals, I have cultivated a series of tips below.
First, I’d like to introduce myself and why I am so passionate about sharing networking tips to other women in the business world. I, Christine Fernandes, have founded a networking group for professional women living in Toronto called Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup. I started this organization about 8 years ago hosting small events at coffee shops. Now, I am proud to say we hold five virtual networking events every month and one in person event every month.
Those of you who work in the corporate world may agree with me when I say, I ultimately felt stuck in my position. I knew the only way to get myself out of the position I was in and into the one I desired was through – you guessed it – networking. I truly believe that you are the combination of the five people you spend the most time with. For this reason, I always make it a point to surround myself with positive and ambitious individuals. This has helped me to achieve great success both professionally and personally.
I designed Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup to be a space where like-minded women can connect with each other. I feel like networking events in general are very male dominated as the whole concept is new to a lot of women coming to my events for the first time. That’s why I am always so grateful to see such a supportive network of women working together to pave their way to a better future. The events always leave everyone feeling good and positive and ready to take on whatever comes their way.
Family to me is absolutely everything and the reason I was inspired to move into entrepreneurship and create Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup. Building this strong group of professional women has allowed me to become a more present mother for my two young boys and to enjoy more quality time with my husband while still achieving my goals. I truly would not have been able to build this business without going out and networking in the first place.
Whether in person or online, I Christine Fernandes, have shared ten tips and tricks below to help you expand your social network. Follow these tips and watch your networking abilities reach a whole new level!
Tip #1: Have Your Elevator Pitch Prepared
When you want to network with someone, it is important to have something prepared to share on the spot. What people want to hear from you is what you do, because they want to know if you can help them in any way. Your elevator pitch is a brief and crystal-clear explanation of what you do and how you help others. You should be able to say it in the time it would take you to be in an elevator with someone – up to 30 seconds at the most. Ideally you want to sound natural when you say it to remain personable.
Tip #2: Listen and Ask Questions
Networking at events is like speed dating – but for your business. You’re not there to only go on and on about yourself. You want to see if the other person is complimentary to you, or in this case, complimentary to your business. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversation and share what you do off the hop, but remember you’re there to build relationships, not to sell! It’s just as important to listen to the other individual and the services they provide as it is to share your own. Show your interest in what they have to say by using a lot of facial expressions and welcoming body language. It’s also important to recognize that not every relationship you form will be compatible for your current projects, but that does not mean it’s a waste of your time. Listen and learn about their expertise because you never know when you or someone you’re working with in the future may need some of the services they can provide!
Tip #3: Dress Appropriately
Dressing for a networking event is comparable to watching a chameleon change colour when placed in a new environment. Many people say you can never overdress, but I would argue that you can in networking situations. Some people make the mistake of dressing too business-like in casual settings which can come across as impersonal. Whereas other people can dress too casual at more high end events, seeming disinterested. Get as much information you can about where the networking event is taking place so you can get a better idea of what to wear. For example, you’re going to a golf tournament, you might want to hold off on wearing a ball gown. Remember you’re there to connect with people on a personal level so it’s important to wear something that makes you feel good and confident.
Tip #4: Avoid the Use of Business Cards when Appropriate
Don’t get me wrong, business cards have been effective for years in connecting business professionals and solopreneurs all over the world. However, in modern times where everyone is connected via the internet, it can oftentimes be more effective to just swap Instagram or LinkedIn accounts and start a conversation. Rather than giving out a card that has the potential of being tossed or lost, you can immediately arrange to stay connected and view their work. While it is easier in many scenarios to connect online, there are still some cases where having a business card may come in handy. For example, if you only have a few moments to chat or run a larger company where you only connect via email.
Tip #5: Know the Benefits of Networking Virtually Vs. In-Person
Meeting in person will always feel more authentic. Being face-to-face with someone is great for getting real-time honest feedback, reading someone’s body language, and avoiding any misunderstandings or technological boundaries. However, it’s important to know the positive benefits of meeting with people virtually versus in-person especially during the age of Covid. Be open to new ways of networking using apps like Zoom, a video chat program, or Clubhouse, an audio chat app that can accommodate thousands of guests. Connecting online is also amazing for networking with people who are geographically located too far to meet in person. Meeting online regularly to discuss prearranged topics with a group of people is convenient, low cost, less intimidating for some, and very effective in getting to know more people all at once. Virtual networking is proven to be successful which is why I designed Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup to have the best of both worlds with regular online meetings and an in-person meeting once a month.
Tip #6: Be on Time
If you are planning on attending a networking event, you should plan to be on time. This way, you’re objectively showcasing a skill that many employers are seeking. You also get to see everyone coming in and can initiate conversation right away especially if you may need to leave early. Many networking events both online and in person, also have a series of activities or information sessions that can begin right away and you do not want to miss any valuable information that could help you in your career.
Tip #7: Offer Assistance
You are attending these networking events to build your business and expand your career, and the best way to do that is by meeting with others and offering to help in your area of expertise. Stand out by giving advice to people right away and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you will be taking on new projects. Just be careful not to give advice in their area of expertise, which can come across as offensive.
Tip #8: Always Seek New Opportunities
The key to networking successfully is getting involved in events and meeting people in your area of expertise or areas you are trying to excel in. Some ways to find new opportunities include joining Facebook groups dedicated to services in your field, taking training sessions to gain certificates in a new skill, or attending conferences in areas of your interest.
Tip #9: Follow Up and Stay in Contact with Who You Meet
When I’m participating in a networking event and I meet someone new, I like to think to myself, “is this a relationship that I, Christine Fernandes want to cement and keep long-term?” If the answer to that question is yes, I always try to make an effort to stay in contact by following up the next morning and initiating a conversation about how we can help each other. You never know when you may need to get in touch with someone in the future, so it is nice to send a quick message acknowledging the meeting to really solidify the relationship.
Tip #10: Keep your Online Presence Strong and Active
When you meet someone new, the first thing you’re likely to do is look into their online social media presence whether that be Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. That’s why it’s important to present yourself with confidence and allow people to access and view who you are and some of the work you produce. Being active on social media is also a great way to stay in touch and share your services and expertise with everyone all at once! Remember to keep your business website or digital portfolio in your bio on each platform to allow people to view your skill set right away. If you have more than one site to share, consider setting up a Linktree to allow people to access everything with one click.
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