Networking 101: Real-Life Tips on How to Upgrade Your Circle’s Value

Make connections to build your brand.

Make connections to build your brand

The age-old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” still rings true for many opportunities for your prospective career. Clear goals and strategy can both be smart ways to make your network work in your favor especially at a time when the world is so connected by social media and the Internet.

Frances Harris-Burke, Ph.D., is the regional director of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction which provides leadership and organizational support for school districts in the North Carolina’s Triad area. Dr. Harris-Burke partners with district superintendents to solve problems that face the faculty and students. And Nandi Shareef who is the founder of the Shareef Group, which is a boutique learning and development consultancy that provides talent and career development solutions in times of change. In addition, Shareef works with individuals to improve their performance in their chosen careers.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Harris-Burke and Shareef, who share advice on vital face-to-face encounters, simple business etiquette and your online personas.

BlackEnterprise.com: A lot of people, especially young professionals, don’t want to be labeled as “thirsty” or “pressed,” both of which are negative terms engrained in the current millennial culture. How do they manage their networking relationships without being too pushy?

Harris-Burke: As a young, motivated career seeker, I think the best way to maintain a positive networking relationship is to …

Read more at Black Enterprise

 

Dominate At Your Next Conference.

photo-4Today I had the chance to attend The Economist Africa Summit featuring influential speakers who discussed the next generation of African innovation and leadership. Conferences such as these offer a great opportunity to meet key people in your field and gain insight on emerging trends.

Over the years I’ve attended dozens of conferences and for the most part I didn’t really enjoy them. I never left feeling energized or got any great contacts but this time was different. I finally understood what people had been saying all those years about the usefulness of conferences. For the first time I felt like I was in the zone and making meaningful connections. With Social Media Week coming to Lagos in just a couple of weeks and Blogging Ghana hosting their second annual Blog Camp for bloggers and social media users, there are two great opportunities to learn more about digital marketing and social media regardless of career field and develop relationships.

Conferences can be exciting, rewarding, and lead to your next business opportunity so follow these four tips to help you dominate at your next conference:

Decide In Advance What You Want To Get Out Of the Conference.

Do you want to meet a particular speaker? Are you looking to get on the radar of a sponsoring organization? Fully taking the time to review the schedule and bios of the speakers will help you understand what you can do to best take advantage of the conference. Once you’ve set a goal of whom you’d like to meet and when, feel free to reach out to them in advance by sending an email or tweet on Twitter. Introducing yourself in advance gives you the chance to start to build a relationship before you meet or to even set up a one-on-one meeting during the conference.

Use Social Media To Get Noticed.

Most conferences are now actively encouraging participants to take the conversation out of the meeting rooms and share it with the online community. This is a great opportunity for you to interact and speak with other conference participants before and after the conference. If you’re on Twitter use the official conference hashtag and share your experiences on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Smile and Mingle 🙂

If you attend a conference by yourself you may be tempted to sit in the corner by yourself but that is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Go find a group of people you don’t know and sit by them. During breaks, smile and say hello to everyone that passes you. Sometimes we make networking harder than it has to be but at its core its all about getting to know people and making friends. The first step to doing that is often just a smile and a hello.

Be Brave And Ask Questions.

When speakers and panels leave time for questions they are sincere in their interest to dialogue with attendees and hear new perspectives. If you had a question or concern with something you heard here is your chance to get that question answered and to distinguish yourself in the eyes of the speakers. It may be nervous or scary to stand up in front of an audience but this is great practice in public speaking and leadership. Speak clearly, announce your name, and keep it simple and short.

Follow Up and Keep The Conversation Going.

When making connections at events, exchanging business cards or emails is a great way to remember the people you’ve met and begin developing relationships. But don’t just throw those cards in the corner and forget everyone you’ve met. Use this opportunity to follow up with the person within 2-3 days after the event. Don’t just send a quick email but take the time to mention and share something you discussed and also even connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Be careful to not include those emails in your general friend list because you don’t want to tarnish your professional image by forwarding messages only meant for your closest mates.

Four Startup Tips from our Young, Fabulous, & Savvy Entrepreneurs

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Claudia Kwarteng-Lumor (Glitz Africa Magazine), Safoa Amoako-Gyimah (Sa4a Designs), Linda Abena Annan (Obaasema Media Limited) and Kuorkor Dzani (Twists & Locks) brought their startup highs and lows to our first Young, Fabulous, & Savvy event. They shared their experiences and wisdom accumulated over their years of being in business and discussed some common challenges facing women entrepreneurs. Here are some of the lessons we took home:

You Can Start Your Business Right Where You Are:

Indeed you can! When starting your business, it is vital to start small. Don’t get ahead of yourself by investing in a long list of infrastructure such as office space, furniture, equipment or even a warehouse, before you start. In spite of the common misconceptions of getting these things in place in order to appear professional in business, our panelists recommended starting your business from right where you are. That it is essential to work with whatever is available to you from the very onset since you cannot wait for perfectly favorable conditions under which to start your business.

They stated that the dot com era has made the process of getting your business off the ground so easy that sometimes, all you really require are your business idea, your computer and internet access, period! It is therefore rather unnecessary as a start-up to concentrate your efforts on acquiring infrastructure first before your business operation actually begins. It was a unanimous fact that all the panelists began their businesses at home, and worked on them until they were able to rent their own offices in various parts of the city. Abena, for instance, shared how she started her business from her mother’s dining room table, and then found a small space which she turned into a temporary office later. Kuorkor also mentioned how she borrowed supplies from her home until she was able to invest in purchasing her own equipment.


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Think Smart Financially:

The unfortunate lack of financial capital was identified as a major factor in preventing most potential entrepreneurs from starting their own businesses. For the many audience members who were concerned about their ability to make that financial leap, the panel encouraged that entrepreneurs not resort to acquiring huge amounts of debt before starting out. Different businesses require different capital. Some businesses do not require any money at all to start. Some, on the other hand, do. It is essential to think of smart ways to lease equipment or partner with other people who are capable of providing what you’re looking for in exchange for a small stake in your business, instead of diving headlong into debt before your business even takes off.

They emphasized that debt was not the right way to start a business and very often, businesses that start on such note fail miserably shortly after acquiring that debt.  They encouraged the option of rather seeking financial help from family, close friends and angel investors to back your own savings to use as business capital.

However, should you decide to take loans from banks or financial institutions, it is prudent to have a short-term repayment plan that allows you to pay back your debts quickly to avoid accumulating high interests that may eventually kill your business.

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Test The Waters First Before You Take The Plunge:

This was a highly recommended exercise by the panel. From their personal experiences, they learned that getting to know and understand the industry or market that you’re entering beforehand is vital to the success of your business. They suggested talking to as many industry people as possible, i.e. business owners, suppliers, investors, employees, customers, etc. to learn from their experiences and find out the loopholes within the industry in order create a niche for yourself with your own product or service offering. This, they said, will save you a lot of headache once you start your own business.

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Learn Everything You Need To Know About Your Business Very Well:

To survive in business, you must learn to not be dependent on others for the things you need. Safoa reiterated that, “Your business is your baby and nobody can take care of it better than you!” You also cannot hope for the excellence you want in your business by totally entrusting it to another person. To be able to succeed, you have to really know your business from start to finish, how it operates and how it relates to your consumers. For example, if you are a designer, in addition to simply designing your stuff, you have to learn the skill of creating your products, marketing and distributing them, including all the details in between. This will ensure your survival against many of the numerous uncertainties that surrounds start-ups such as fickle employee attitudes and occasionally unreliable suppliers. Knowledge and skill about your own business will also help increase your credibility in the marketplace.

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The night ended with an interactive session where audience members were given the opportunity to mingle with these industry professionals over refreshments. It was a fun, insightful and educational event that left attendees eager to sign up for membership to take advantage of more of such opportunities. Watch out and sign up for The Savvy Madam’s next exclusive event, you do not want to miss it!

Photo Credit: ITake Photos Est 1985

About the Author: Francesca Andoh is a style and career writer for The Savvy Madam. You can read more from her at http://francescaandoh.blogspot.com.

LinkedIn 101: How to Best Leverage Your Groups

Have you ever joined a LinkedIn group, and then thats the end of it? Are you the type to never contribute, or don’t even peek in once in a while to see what active discussions are taking place? If you are not actively using your LinkedIn groups, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to network with people, and some of the best jobs are posted in these groups. I can attest to the value of LinkedIn groups because I actually got my current job from one. If you are lost or confused on how to use LinkedIn groups here are some tips you can implement now to leverage the current groups you have:

Start your own group

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As a young HR professional I was looking for a group that catered to young Nigerians in the field. I was not able to find one so I started my own called Young HR Professionals: Nigeria. It is a great way to show your leadership skills, as well as find and make connections with people who have a similar interest. Your group does not have to be big. Even a small group can have meaningful discussions.

Join groups targeted to your profession

A lot of people make the mistakes of joining hundreds of groups, and then they end up getting lost in the shuffle. Realistically find 2 to 5 groups that cater to your background, and be a visible member in those groups. The more visible you are in the groups, the more you can learn from others. Many times I use groups to ask about challenges I am facing at work, and members are more than happy to assist you.

Join active discussions

You will always find a few active discussions that everyone is commenting on. Those are the discussions that you should join to show your expertise to other members. Make sure to add insightful commentary, and help out another fellow member that has a questions as well. if you continue to be visible,and add worthy comments to discussions, soon members will see you as a thought leader within the group.

Start a discussion

Not only should you participate in active discussions, but you should also start your own. It can be a question you have about work, or a thought provoking statement that gets everyone talking. Do not go into the group and after 5 minutes of being there you ask that you need a job. Actually spend some time in the group to gauge everyone’s temperature. Observe what continues to be a hot topic, what are people’s main concerns. This is a great tool if done strategically and can create a great amount of engagement.

Network Network Network

LinkedIn groups is a great way to network with other people in your industry. Maybe you notice someone always posting thoughtful comments about a topic that is of interest to you.  It is a great conversation starter if you are looking to connect or send a message. Of course do not stalk someone, or do not use LinkedIn groups to be abrasive either. take the time to notice who is who in each group. With time you will know the right time to connect with someone new. I have made a lot of great connections from groups, simply because someone liked what I posted or vice versa.

There are a lot of hidden incentives from actively participating in LinkedIn groups. Whether it is a new job, partnership, or speaking engagement, LinkedIn groups are definitely an investment that is well worth your time.

Photo Credit: Chika Uwazie

About the Author: Chika Uwazie is an HR professional turned operations strategist for African tech startups. You can read more from her at The Naija Careerist.

Highlights & Photos From The Official Savvy Madam Launch

Last Thursday night, young professionals from various industries and professions gathered at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra for our exclusive launch and first ever panel discussion.

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The panel discussion and cocktail reception brought together these young entrepreneurs, professionals and students for a time of sisterly (…and brotherly) bonding over knowledge-sharing through career discussions, professional experiences from our panel, and potential mentorship opportunities.

The event commenced with a few words from founder and CEO of The Savvy Madam, Afua Osei, to officially launch the organization, followed by the introduction of panellists by presiding host of the evening, Deborah Vanessa Owusu Bonsu. It then culminated in the much anticipated panel discussions where young entrepreneurs of the panel shared some of their experiences, knowledge acquired from their business dealings in the industry and tips for starting and ensuring the survival of your own business. Several questions bordering on how to start and maintain a career  were raised by members of the audience which received stellar responses and solutions both from the panelists and some audience members who were themselves professionals in varying fields.

The launch was full of exciting perks which included rare opportunities in networking and potential mentorship from young entrepreneurs already in the business. It ended with a cocktail refreshment and interaction session among the participants.

Overall, the event was a complete success that proved The Savvy Madam’s commitment to fostering and nurturing entrepreneurial spirits among young people on the African continent. It also sealed the foundation for further promising future events. More of such events have been scheduled for the year. Check out photos from the event:

Photo Credit: ITake Photos Est 1985

About the Author: Francesca Andoh is a style and career writer for The Savvy Madam. You can read more from her at http://francescaandoh.blogspot.com.

A Savvy Madam From Carnegie Mellon: Edayatu

Name: Edayatu Lamptey
Current City: Pittsburgh, USA
Nationality: Ghanaian
Undergraduate: Allegheny College
Graduate School: Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon

What do you currently do? I recently graduated from the Heinz College with a Masters degree in Public Policy and Management. Currently I am working as a Research Assistant extern for Dr. Jendayi Frazer, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate school? I have a strong passion for African economic development and this stems mainly from my Ghanaian upbringing. It’s my desire to serve my country and continent and in order to have a positive and better impact in that part of the world, I knew I had to further my education to enable me gain the professional experience, analytical skill sets and leadership skills to prepare me well for work in that field. I chose the Heinz College because of its strong rigorous quantitative workload and also the leadership and professional opportunities that the school offers to graduate students.

What are some of the factors you used to evaluate different graduate programs?

  •  Course work and the concentration areas
  • Professor profiles: their CV’s, books, their past and present projects and how involved them have been on the policy front.
  • Alumni network, what past graduates are doing, mainly Africans and where they are now
  • Diversity on campus and its trends.

For other African women interested in attending a school like yours, what is the best way to prepare in advance? I think it is very important to first visit the school, get the chance to talk to current students, African women preferably or international students, or a representative from the admissions office to learn more about the programs, classes and professional development opportunities that the school has to offer. Learning more about the school will help you determine if that’s the sort of graduate school environment you will want to be in. Usually graduate schools have happy hours and other social events, try attending one or two just to socialize and talk to the students. Use this opportunity to learn more about the school and also network.

This is also very important since you get a chance to witness the academic and social life of graduate students that attend that school. Whilst you are there, you should probably sit in on one of the classes and have a one-on-one with a professor of interest to you to get a sense of how professors interact with students. Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions, remember you have nothing to lose.

Many of our readers are concerned about taking the admissions tests either the GMAT, GRE, or LSAT. How did you deal with those examinations and do you have any tips to share in getting ready for the big exam? The summer before my application due date, I spent the entire summer studying seriously for my exam and also getting my professors to write my recommendation letters. I highly recommend forming a study group, maybe with your friends who may also be preparing for the same exam, but make sure this does not turn into a chitchat session. If you are like me, this will keep you motivated and also give you the chance to learn new prep tips and strategies. Two months before the exam I made sure I took a timed practice exam once a week and when necessary. This is not a strict rule, you can customize this to your study style, but just make sure you familiarize yourself with the exam atmosphere before the big day.

What is one thing you were surprised about when you started school?        I was very surprised to find few African students on my campus, as a matter of fact very few African women.

How did your program help prepare you for your career? My program provided me with the opportunity to work with experts in the policy field. Also I got the chance to work with the UNDP on a self-designed project with a couple of my peers. This has always been my dream. Working on a policy project that was going to be used in regulating environmental policy was a blessing and great opportunity to both my colleagues and I. Through this project and other professional and leadership opportunities I gained confidence and expertise in the field of policy analysis and I look forward to continuing in this same capacity and facing the challenges that lie ahead of me now.

What are your plans in the future? Currently I am doing my best to learn from influential policy changers and experts in the field of international economic development. Each day my goals and plans become more specific and defined, but ultimately, I aim to start my own policy think tank that will focus mainly on economic and monetary issues in my home country and my continent.

For young women, just starting their careers what’s one piece of advice you’ve received that you would like to pass on? As a young African professional and a woman as such, I will advise that all young women should aim at forming strong professional networks. I will like to advice these young women to network well with other women, especially their African peers. I think most people, especially women underestimate the power of networking. It is very essential to get to know what your counterparts are doing, share ideas, encourage one another and build each other. I am sure most people have heard this before but very few actually practice this. Young women should not live in isolation, especially African women.

Thank you Edayatu for sharing your wonderful story with us. We aim to provide our readers with behind the scenes news on the top graduate schools around the world. If you would like to be featured or would like to nominate someone, email info@thesavvymadam.com.

Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Why You Need Informational Interviews In Your Career Plan.

Do you know what an informational interview is? If not, it’s time you learned and started doing it. Informational interviews are one of the easiest ways to build relationships and learn more about your career field.

An informational interview is setting up a one-on-one chat to learn more about a person’s career or company. It is not a date and it is not a formal job interview. It is a way to learn more about how someone got their job, what they like and don’t like about the position, and any advice they may have for you. If you’re interested in applying for a job at a company this is the first step in learning more about the company and understanding the culture there.

Before calling or emailing the person you should do your basic research about the company, industry, and person’s background. These are busy people and you don’t want to waste your time asking about information you can find online. Use this as a great opportunity to learn about things you won’t find online and issues that are important to you. For example, if you aren’t sure if you’d do better at a smaller company or a large corporation take time to ask about a company’s culture and work life balance. Also be sure to ask about mentorship opportunities for young women and learn more about the career paths of women in leadership.

Here are some sample questions you can ask on an informational interview:

  • What skills are required in your position on a daily basis?

  • What parts of your job do you find most challenging and most enjoyable?

  • What educational preparation would you recommend for someone looking to enter this field?

  • What newspapers, magazines, or blogs do you read to keep up-to-date with the industry?

  • How do you see your company and the industry changing in the next five years?

  • Are there other people in your field you believe I should reach out to? If so, would you mind making a connection?

While we would all like to be offered jobs on the spot, it is important to build relationships and learn as much as you can about an industry before jumping in. Use informational interviews as a way to gather information about various companies and industries, build relationships with key players, and figure out for yourself where you will do best. While not everyone will return your email or phone call, through hard work and dedication you can get a big reward: a great job with the right company.

Have you had success with an informational interview? Send us your stories. As always, send us your career and entrepreneurship questions to thesavvymadam@gmail.com.