We've heard about professional networks but what even are they? Why should we join one? How to start looking for one? & what are niche networks?
What is a professional network?
A network is ‘a group of people who exchange information & contacts for professional or social purposes’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016). A professional network simply connects individuals around a particular interest, industry, mission, location etc.
An effective professional network needs a clear purpose & an active & diverse membership base, driving their growth & the growth of the network itself.
Why should you join a professional network?
A network can allow you to foster authentic relationships & connections with like-minded purpose driven individuals from completely different walks of life, backgrounds, affiliations, experiences, perspectives, & expertise.
The kind of relationships that allow you to freely explore, provide you with developmental support, & give you room to grow.
We’ve put together a summary of how these networks do that, to help you visualize the magic when like-minded yet diverse individuals get together.
So this is the obvious one.
Most professional networks primarily aim to help their members professionally. Accordingly they tend to provide technical, legal, & financial assistance for their members that can help you fortify & strengthen your business.
The network in itself can fuel your business’ growth.
Network members increase your “referral potential” & connect you to potential clients across new markets, industries, & social circles.
They drive business development through inter-network collaborations. & eventually they become an extension of your sales team, talking you up, marketing you & your products, & essentially increasing your relevance in the market.
Most networks also aim to provide members with personal learning opportunities.
So they tend to provide access to human capital resources & development opportunities in the form of trainings, webinars, & workshops.
The networks also organize formal peer-to-peer interactions encouraging the exchange of ideas, information & resources. Such interaction leads to creative breakthroughs that help drive innovation, motivation, & productivity.
This also opens the door up for co-mentoring opportunities. University of Oxford conveys that “co-mentoring invites colleagues to work in thinking partnerships to support & extend each other’s professional development.”
Unlike traditional mentoring, co-mentoring transcends age & rank, & allows for a mutually beneficial encounter where both participants reciprocally give & receive knowledge.
Now think about that, with an active, strong, & diverse membership base, this knowledge exchange can be near limitless.
Now the less tangible benefit here but in my personal opinion the most important:
Informal peer-to-peer interactions allow members to gain tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is “the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.”
Unlike explicit knowledge, it’s rooted in intuitive & experiential skills, ideas, & experiences. Gilbert Ryle put it simply; its “know-how” rather than “know-what”.
Confidence, language, emotional intelligence, innovation, craftsmanship, leadership, & body language are all examples of tacit knowledge.
Research has shown us that effective transfer of tacit knowledge requires socialization, interaction, & personal contact.
An environment that effective professional networks foster everyday.
A lot of people tend to downplay the importance of being surrounded by a strong foundation of a trusted peer group.
A robust support system in the form of a network fosters a sense of belonging & creates a safe space for you to be authentic, share, be candid, & explore.
A kind of supportive community that can work wonders for your wellbeing, productivity, & motivation.
Shawn Achor, the New York Times bestselling author of Big Potential, The Happiness Advantage & Before Happiness, outlines social connection as the greatest predictor of success & happiness.
A network that can foster a safe environment that encourages exploration, knowledge exchange, & innovation while also catering to your health & mental wellbeing can propel your personal & professional growth to new heights.
An Opportunity to Further Your Cause
We’ve all heard the ‘together we are stronger’ cliche. Well it could not be more true.
With a mission-driven network, the members could come together, amplify their voices, & accelerate needed change, be it in the professional or social aspect.
How to join a professional network?
Find your tribe. It could be a professional association, an alumni network, a club, or a personal interest community.
Whatever it may be, look for a network of diverse yet like-minded individuals. People who share your values & principles yet have completely different stories, backgrounds, affiliations, objectives, & perspectives.
Research networks & see what services they provide. Ask yourself, if you joined the network today, would you use any of their services? If you did join, how do you see yourself changing a year from now?
Try to look for members who are already part of that network. Talk to them about their experiences. Do they recommend you joining? Ask them how they’ve benefited both personally & professionally.
Also ask how they’re active in the community. After all, a network is only strong if their members are individually & collectively active.
Is someone you look up to or admire part of that network?
Research the network itself. Why was it founded? What’s their purpose? What are they trying to achieve? Does that resonate with your own purpose? What are their values? Do they align with yours?
Talk to the network’s team if you can. Are they happy & fulfilled working in this network? Do they recommend you join? They should be the network's biggest ambassadors.
My personal tip: Look for networks who measure their success by the success of their members & not by the number of members the network onboards. This way you’ll know the network is interested & invested in your personal & professional advancement & not just their own.
The Rise of Niche Networks
Marginalized groups have historically been excluded from clubs, social spaces, & professional networks.
This built highly homogenous networks that lack diversity, perspectives, & experiences, & rely heavily on homophily, the tendency of individuals to associate & bond with similar others.
This behavior has carried on to professional networks & associations we see today. Traditional networks like this tend to be highly male dominated, model a “boys club mentality”, & function as more of a clique than a network.
To counteract this behavior exhibited in traditional networks, we’ve seen the rise of niche-specific communities & professional networks, such as women, queer, & people of color networks & communities.
For example, Marguerite was founded to help female artists succeed in the art world. Peanut, was founded to help moms, pregnant women, & those trying to conceive, network & connect. BYP network which aims to empower young black professionals to connect. oSTEM, a professional association for queer individuals in STEM fields.
This growing phenomenon has also led to the rise of purpose-driven networks that aim to collectively create a more inclusive professional environment for everyone.
For example, SIRA was founded to create an impactful, self-empowering, borderless community committed to advancing equal opportunity & growth in the professional environment.
These networks, unlike traditional networks, foster a deeper understanding of the needs of those groups & build their services with their different experiences in mind. Thus inch out the space needed for these individuals to grow & thrive.
Your network is a set of relationships, resources, & information that allow you to contribute & multiply your knowledge in order to achieve results and grow.
Effective professional networks are diverse, inclusive, & foster relationships that allow professionals to gain insight, feedback, & support on everything from optimizing operations, handling financing, developing an online presence, to even coping with stress & receiving mental & emotional support.
Whether it's operational networking that helps you with your day to day business operations, personal networking that drives your personal growth, or strategic networking that opens your eyes to the big picture, joining a network will give you the developmental support you need to take yourself & your business to the next level.
Look for networks that appreciate your unique experiences, build their core around your needs, & resonate with your values.
So follow us & let us know, are you going to find your tribe & start networking?
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