Five tips to enhance your professional connections

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New research from the Westpac-Melbourne Institute SME Index reveals that women in SMEs are feeling more optimistic and upbeat about current and future business conditions than their male counterparts. Overall, women had a SME Index score of 105.4, 3.6 percentage points higher than that of male businesses.

The Index also found that 77.9 per cent of female SMEs believe connectivity and networking is important in their business (similar to men at 78.2 per cent). Women in SMEs find that increasing their professional network leads to increased existing business, such as through sales and customers. This shows that connections provide a strong opportunity for women in small businesses.

Here are five tips to help women in business reap the rewards of networking:

  1. Make time for your network– 50 per cent of working women think they should be spending more time nurturing their professional networks. It’s important to make networking a priority and treat it as a skill to be developed like any other. Set aside time each week to spend on fostering connections and set yourself new goals and challenges.
  1. Join the online movement– if you don’t have the time or access to attend face-to-face networking opportunities, make the most of online communities. This could include making the most of LinkedIn or joining an online network. This can also be a great way to find events and other people in your area.
  1. Create a value exchange – the most important thing to keep in mind when approaching networking is that it’s a value exchange. For connections to be meaningful they should offer value to both parties. Spend time helping others in your community and being proactive to connect people in your network you think could offer each other value. Help others and they will return the favour.
  1. Let a mentor lead the way– finding a mentor can bring a host of benefits including access to their networks and connections. Mentoring can be formal or informal, and meetings can take place over the phone, online or in person depending on their availability. Once you find a mentor, ask their advice on how to expand your network or ask if they could introduce you to some of their contacts and vice versa.
  1. Seek out support – there are a range of scholarships and award programs for women in business. Consider the value of stepping out of your comfort zone and applying for programs which will connect you with other business leaders. Broadening your network to include people from outside your immediate circle and even outside your industry can bring new perspectives and new opportunities. The Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow Connections Report found that 70 per cent of professionals believe business connections need to be a mix of local, national and international so it’s important to expand your horizons.

There is real power in connecting women across all levels and stages of a business cycle. Women need to know they are not alone in their journey. Empowering women to share learnings and experiences, from balancing family and career, to managing cashflow and growing their businesses, is a key step in helping women push for progress in all aspects of their lives.

Felicity Duffy, Head of Women’s Markets, Westpac Group