I was recently attending a seminar in my hometown on Social Media strategies on product development. The crowd was consisted of equal parts men and women. As soon as the last speaker completed her speech, it was time for questions. Men seemed more brave and brazen, willing to ask the most questions – and thus get all the answers -, were eager to interact and connect with the speakers and benefit from another, seemingly, tedious seminar. Business cards were handed towards all directions while, on the other side of the room, most women were forming groups of four or five, discussing, or rather whispering, on the seminar’s content and how they could benefit from it, if they managed to make some connections. In the meanwhile, the speakers left the room and the women were left staring at the vacating space.
Sounds familiar? It sure does in my mind. I was one of the few women that managed to interact and network at the aforementioned seminar but the majority of my social/business ventures are not that successful or fruitful. Discussing the incidence with a male collaborator, he said one word, ‘’proactive’’ and left me ponder it. What defines a proactive person? Is there such a thing as too much proactivity? And how is networking linked with being proactive?
The definition of proactivity is, as defined by Organizational Behaviour, the behaviour that is “anticipatory, change-oriented, and self-initiated behaviour in situations, rather than just reacting.” When a person is proactive, they are acting in advance of a future event. Proactive employees/executives/entrepreneurs typically don’t need to be asked to do something, and will usually require less detailed instructions. Proactive Behaviour is applicable to either ones own role, or to ‘extra role’ responsibilities. Within one’s own role, for example, a person may find a more efficient way to complete one or more of their responsibilities. Extra role responsibilities (i.e., those tasks outside of your stated job description) speak to an employee’s organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB).
The definition of proactivity is pretty analytical, but how is that description translating in real-life needs and especially to women?
The steps to follow as a proactive woman
Shifting the focus particularly to women entrepreneurs and their needs in the corporate environment, the required steps to acquire or enhance the proactivity in their corporate behavioural patterns, would be the following:
1. Organization and Planning
Cultivating good organizational and planning skills is the secret to getting organized. A simple step is to take 15-20 minutes at the beginning of each day to focus on what you want to accomplish during the day. Organize your immediate work environment by filing papers, putting things away or throwing (recycling), and writing your to-do list, which can include list actions, phone calls, e-mail, errands, personal business, and any other tasks to be done. Make your list manageable and deal with each point individually.
The proper organising of your schedule, plans, and appointments can be done by using a laptop, a calendar, a day planner, or a notebook, depending on what feels better or more motivational for you. Track your corporate activities and keep your records handy at all times.
Organizing your finances, bills and deadline along with your time helps you become more productive and reactive and ensures you avoid unnecessary pitfalls, such as incurring wasteful late fees. Setting your goals helps give you focus and gets you on the road to financial success. Be sure to set realistic time frames with each goal. Schedule your work time so you can get the things on your to-do list done. You may need to screen your phone calls and post a sign that lets people know you are working.
2. Creative thinking
An essential business skill, creativity can give your company an edge over other businesses. Innovation is the key aspect when women need to adapt to a changing business environment or meet the challenges of unexpected developments, such as finding a more cost-effective alternative when money is tight or when competition is pressing towards new developments.
One way to boost your creativity is to use verbal and visual metaphors. Compare your challenge to something else, and search for innovative ways to understand and achieve your goals. Visualising the goal, keeping it real and staying focused yet inspired and creative, forms the best proactivity combination.
To that end, there are tons of motivational tools to inspire you, business books and magazines, and helpful websites. The input from other successful businesswomen on their experiences and what works best for them is also a good creative resource. The payoff is a greater chance of business success.
You can also utilise Instagram and Pinterest for visual inspiration and quotes that will help you and give you a fresh look into the issue you are dealing with. Dedicating 10-15 minutes a day is more than enough to that end and the results will pleasantly surprise you.
3. Life Long Learning
Learning new business skills helps women expand their knowledge and increase their corporate power and is a proactive use of the time and energy.
You can take a free online business class designed to help professionals build and enlarge their businesses, or helping you acquire new skills and competences. There are tutorials on various business topics, including e-mail, wireless networks, Excel, PowerPoint presentations, and business networking. Take a course or attend a seminar at a college, a training centre, or a business school. For example, I was trained for six months on Social Entrepreneurship via the ‘’Wise4Women’’ European Programme and now I have the certificate to prove it.
4. Perspective or Step back and look at the bigger picture
Taking time to relax and reflect enhances creativity and lets women ponder new ideas. It can actually improve your productivity and profit potential. Ultimately gaining perspective through reflections can help you do a better job by cutting stress and giving you the opportunity to ponder what makes you happy and constitutes meaningful work. The idea is to get away from the work environment and go someplace where you can gain perspective regarding your life and business.
First and foremost, every day take a few moments to celebrate the things you do accomplish. Congratulate yourself for actually getting the job done. Stay on the proactive road to success by not losing sight of why you are doing it. Keep quotes, photographs, articles, books, and other written affirmations where you will see them while you are working to keep a balanced perspective. Visualize your goals for at least 10 minutes each day, and concentrate on the choices and actions that are producing the results you desire in business. Above all, have faith in yourself.
Networking is defined as the building up or maintaining of informal relationships especially with people whose friendship could bring advantages such as job or business opportunities.
Networking is important because you get to meet other entrepreneurs who can help your business succeed and possibly expand. It is also necessary because as your support system grows, it is unlikely that you will fail or go out of business any time soon. There is a surplus of reasons, why networking is necessary in business for women and none is to their disadvantage.
The benefits of Networking
Networking has at least 4 main benefits which can be summed as:
- It will help increase your sales, through recommendations.
- It will help you learn things that you need to know to manage and grow your business.
- It will help you find people who you can purchase goods and services from.
- It can help motivate your creativity about new things or approaches for your business
Successful businesswomen actively network every day, using strategic associations to generate more business. Networking helps you become part of the business community, which advances your business more rapidly by providing contacts that can open doors to potential opportunities, including customers for your business.
Networks are important because they help strengthen and support your business. Networks can be formal or informal. You should also consider joining a women’s association where you will find a larger group of women, and resources that you should take advantage of such as information on contracts and seminars on various subjects. Women’s Associations and your trade association are important sources of support and information. Networking requires that you have one piece of information a business card and it should be a nice one, with a good logo, so that people can remember you. There are many types / categories of networks. A few examples include: trade associations, chambers of commerce, women entrepreneurship associations, charitable associations.
How to network
Build your business relationships slowly and don’t rush them to ensure that you eventually get business from your contacts and benefit from them. After initiating contact, you should e-mail or phone the person to keep the association alive. If possible, get together in person for coffee or lunch, to remind them about your business, inform them on any new developments/additions and remind them how passionate you are about your enterprise. Make notes of the meeting, including who you met with, what you discussed, your ideas, and any pertinent personal information about your contact.
Regularly refer to your contact files and follow-up. Networking is a give-and-take relationship, meaning that when business associates help you, you in turn must help them. Additionally you can develop a relationship with a business mentor as well as join business-networking organizations such as LinkedIn where you can also endorse a skill or write a recommendation, and that can provide valuable referrals and information.
A common mistake women make when they take the time to network is that we primarily do it with peers but networking is all about stepping outside our comfort zone. It is much more fruitful to mix in people who are above and below your level in the career ladder. It might be easier and stress-free to reach out to peers since they’re less intimidating than those above you, or you’d assume people below you aren’t worth the investment of your time or effort. Neither of these statements is true. To build a powerful networking engine, seek out people who are further along in their careers and those who are more junior than you.
Maintaining success is a long-term investment that requires proactive strategies and excellent networking techniques and the best way to establish and maintain your position or your success high is to stay ahead of the curve.