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What Networks Should I Join?
This is a question I get asked quite often, and it’s not an easy one to answer.
There are many variables to consider in what networks you should join. To start, let me talk to you about a few of the networks I’m involved in.
I do a lot of networking, so I see the good to the bad, but I’m a firm believer that what you put into something is what you get out of it. Often, learning what not to do, is as valuable as learning what to do, as it saves time, money, effort and energy. In this article, I won’t talk about all the networks I’m involved in, but I will discuss them in more detail over the course of future blogs for sure!
Today is Thursday, the 7th of May 2020, and I’ve already done two online networking sessions and two 1-2-1s this morning. Network meetings couldn’t be further apart from tone and what I get out of each of them, so I’ll start with the one I’ve just finished. I’m just off a Network Ireland online coffee morning. I’m currently the Vice President of the Wicklow Branch of Network Ireland, backing up the wonderful Dawn Leane of Leane Leaders, who is the President, and then the former Chapter President and now National President of Network Ireland, the highly supportive Louisa Meehan of Woodview HRM.
Network Ireland is a woman only business network that supports the education and professional development of women in business, be they business owners or employees looking to connect with other professionals. There are currently 15 chapters around Ireland in various counties around the country. Once you are a member of one chapter, you have the opportunity of connecting in with all other chapters.
Given that all of the activity has moved online, it has quite literally brought us all closer together. All the events are streamlined, so on any given day you could attend a seminar run by the Cork branch or the Mayo branch. When we are back to face to face events, you can go to any chapter’s event as your membership covers all chapters.
Each month a seminar or workshop is hosted to help with the education and development of our members. This is usually an evening time event, so it doesn’t eat up into the work day and is generally ok for working Mums. And each month, we also run a coffee morning to bring business ladies together to chat and network. Generally speaking, this is straight after the school run, so again, perfect for working Mums. It’s informal, warm, approachable, entertaining, inspiring, supportive and basically awesome. Normally it’s with a fab scone and cup of coffee from Fishers, alongside the highly supportive member, Rebecca Harrison.
For now, we are content to make our own coffee, forego the scone and connect online for a bit of a health and sanity check. We share stories of how we are getting on, coping, get an update on the next seminars and workshops and generally offer support to one another.
I’ll be straight up honest with you here: When I first looked at networks to join, one of my questions was ‘why on earth would I join a women only network?’. Business is gender neutral, right? But I said I’d give it a go and see. I’m not one for letting people tell me what I should think or feel, so I prefer to test things out myself and come to my own conclusions. I’m now in my third year of membership and it’s a wonderful investment of time, energy and commitment! There is an honesty and openness that comes with meeting with these ladies. Everyone wants the best for each other and is so supportive in whatever way they can be.
We have Whatsapp groups, where we support and promote each other. We follow each other on our social media channels, we promote each other’s events, courses, offers to help get the word out to a wider audience by virtue of our own channels and members are always crowdsourcing for suppliers via the membership, as it is seen as a trusted resource. Members try to buy from each other where possible, as we are supporting local businesses and often new or small businesses.
For many of the ladies involved, it’s their first foray into networking or they’re Mums going back to work or ladies who have left the corporate world to start a business and now need a support structure around them. The reasons for joining are as diverse as the members who join. And therein lies the magic. You never know who you’ll meet and what inspiration you’ll find.
Network Ireland also has a mentor’s programme, started and managed, up to now, by the dynamic Muireann Fitzmaurice of The Marketing Coach. The baton has now been passed to Sarah Leather to coordinate. And what is it, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a mentor programme, where ladies from across all chapters offer up some hours each month to support other women in business. The mentoring covering so many topics from websites, finance, digital marketing, insurance, banking, life coaching, career development, business coaching to name but a few and of course networking (with yours truly). All of this access and support comes as a part of the membership.
Then, there are the awards that are run in each chapter. Generally speaking, there are 8 categories for Business Woman of the Year, so there is a category for all businesses based on size and stage of development. Network Ireland is sponsored by AIB – #BackedbyAIB. Categories include:
- Small SME
- Large SME
- Emerging New Business
There are also two employee categories:
- Shining Star – for employees who have worked with a company for over a year
- Rising Star – for employees who have worked with a company for less than a year
How amazing is this as an opportunity to promote yourself, develop your confidence and your personal brand, by entering one of these awards or for an employer to nominate a key member of staff for an award. What an awesome way to say thank you and to groom the team member for success and really boost their confidence! Such a great way to #payitforward!
There are always other opportunities to get involved too; e.g. get on the committee and play a role in developing the chapter. If you’ve never been on a committee, this is a great starting point and experience in leadership, team playing and supporting other businesswomen.
As Vice President of the Wicklow chapter, I will become the President in 2021 and I will also have the privilege of sitting on the National Executive, where I will be liaising with all the other Presidents from around the country. I feel humbled and honoured to be in such a position. I don’t know about you, but the more I learn, it seems the less I know, so I love being surrounded by dynamic, powerful, energetic and supportive business women! My eyes are opened and I learn so much from them, that makes me better in life and in business.
Now, does that sound like a network you’d like to join?