It’s been said that it all depends on who you know. And who you know might depend on how well and how often you network with others, even when there’s no immediate payoff.
I have been a member of a local women’s networking group for nine years and at the last meeting I attended I was thrilled to hear that it is expanding nationally. I was curious how this small group of women, who meet several times throughout the year in the Princeton, New Jersey area, had grown so I asked Tracy Fink, Marketing Director with CohnReznick, a top ten accounting and consulting firm in the US, (see photo below) and originator of the group, some questions.
Me: How did you get involved in the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF)?
Tracy: The Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) was created by in 2005 to position CohnReznick’s women as leaders in the community as well as create relationships that could yield business. In the course of developing the program, we found that working women outside of our firm were also searching for ways to connect with women and share their challenges and experiences in a non-competitive and comfortable business environment. We solicited advice from women inside and outside the firm about the best ways to get started. We learned that there were not many networking groups that did not have a short-term lead generation expectation. We realized that we were onto something different – building long term relationships based on trust while helping others succeed without the pressure.
Me: That’s interesting. I think that women network differently than men do and that building trust and friendships is a big part of how we approach networking. So why did you decide to put together a networking group just for women?
Tracy: The current business climate has required us to use more strategic and creative ways to develop business relationships and retain clients. Couple that with the career demands of a multigenerational workforce as well as increased awareness of women’s leadership. These factors have led to the creation of EWF, a client-facing, business development initiative for women leaders at the firm. Professional service firms, such as accounting and consulting, do business through building and deepening relationships and most new business comes from referrals. We recognized the need to create a networking group because our rising female leaders needed close and meaningful business relationships with referral sources. The Office Managing Partner was supportive and encouraged the other partners to share their contacts to help launch the group with the right people at the table: women decision makers and business owners.
Me: How have you grown the Executive Women’s Forum over the years?
Tracy: We focus on topics that resonate with women leaders such as leadership development, mentoring, managing expectations, mindfulness, the power of kindness, and image consulting. We work with presenters who are leaders in their respective fields. This has created a wave of interest in our other offices. We have successfully implemented the EWF model in six offices and we are on track for four more rollouts in the near future. Through the years the program has gained traction by highlighting successes and recognizing the rewards of long-term relationships. One of the events we are most proud of is the women’s golf event. We created this to take the intimidation out of playing golf as well as providing an opportunity for women to reap the business development benefits of a day on the golf course. The program includes a networking lunch, hands-on clinic, option to play nine holes and cocktails. It is an effective and fun networking event. We’ve been doing it for five years and in 2014 had more than 70 women attend – our largest one to date!
Me: I was thrilled to be invited to speak on the topic of mentoring, which was very relevant for your audience of women leaders wanting to grow their networks and careers. Tell me …what steps did you take to get the green light to bring the EWN to the national level?
Tracy: First I recognized and acknowledged my passion for women’s leadership. I then prepared a proposal which outlined the business case to show how a strategic and targeted women’s networking program can lead to business opportunities while developing and retaining clients. I presented the proposal to the Chief Marketing Officer and included the successes of the EWF. The program has a number of supporters who are key influencers within the firm who championed the idea of a national roll-out. During the process, I witnessed the power of internal networking to expand this program which would benefit me as well the firm.
Me: Great insight! How do you track success for the project? Can you relay one anecdotal success story?
Tracy: Most of the success of the program is anecdotal although we can trace approximately $400,000 of new business and $300,000 of open opportunities directly to the EWF. We track the ROO – Return on Opportunity – by measuring how many clients, as well as how many prospects and referral sources attend our event. We also track opportunities such as an invitation for a board position or a request for a follow up meeting with our industry groups.
A favorite success story involves Kim Brandley, an audit partner. At that time, Kim was a new partner with the Firm and was focused on increasing her business development efforts. A regular at the EWF meeting, Kim connected with a woman who was then Regional President of a large bank. She was also on the board of The College of New Jersey, Kim’s alma mater. There was an open position on the foundation board and the banker, who knew Kim from their interactions at the EWF, invited her to explore the board opportunity. Kim eventually joined the board and was then able to create a network with the other board members leading to business referrals and other professional opportunities for her as well as the Firm.
Me: Wow what a great success story! What advice do you have for women about how to use networking to enhance their careers / business?
Tracy: Find a way to build and deepen authentic as well as strategic relationships both inside and outside your organization. Keep in mind that it is quality, not quantity that matters when developing relationships as you cannot be all things to all people. On a regular basis, find ways to help people without necessarily having an immediate benefit to you. Use your power and influence for good. As a “connector”, you will be rewarded in ways that you will be surprised.
Me: I agree. Networking is like gardening … you have to plant the seeds, tend the garden, and patiently wait to see where your connections lead you. Is there anything else you want to say on the topic?
Tracy: I’m incredibly grateful to work for an organization that recognizes the value of women initiatives and the importance of positioning our women as leaders in the community. We have a strong internal women’s network, WomenCan, and I am so pleased that the EWF complements the effort.
Me: Awesome! Thanks, Tracy, for answering my questions. I hope that those of you reading this blog can use some of these great ideas to jump start your own networking group.
Want to learn more? Contact Tracy Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-380-8677 or Judy Lindenberger at email@example.com or 609-730-1049.