Executive advice: Plan your networking

Networking isn't just gladhanding your way around a business breakfast, says Geri Swift, president of the Women's Business Development Center and the Women's Business Enterprise Council of Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey. "I believe that everyone should have in place an annual networking plan," she told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

I asked Swift, whose group helps women develop their businesses, to describe her planning process.

Geri Swift

"Every year, you step back and you take a look at what you need specifically for your business in every area. For an example, what do I need from an information perspective, industry-specific, business in general?  What do I really need and how do I need to be connected for growth and for sales, to build and grow my business," she said.

Then what?

"Then what you do, you take a look at your calendar for the year and then on a quarterly basis. You take a look at the associations and organizations that are going to support what you need.  If you are not a member of them, you either join them or you go to a meeting to see if it works for you.

Then you get out your calendar and you actually plan what you are going to do and you schedule that time, just like you schedule any other time," she said.

Committing the time is a must "because you can spend your whole life working on your career and on your business, but unless you are working in it and doing something every day to move it forward or every month to move it forward, you are not really progressing," she continued.

"The other thing is that part of that networking plan is knowing how to work a room," Swift said.

The first part of knowing how to work the room takes place well before the meeting, she said. "You don’t go anywhere unless you have three objectives that you want to achieve when you are there."

For example, one objective might be knowledge-based -- learning the latest human resource issues. Or the objectives might be personal. 

"You have a sense of who else is going to be there," Swift said. "So for me, it’s going to be where I do my most profitable networking, because I target the people I want to meet and I know what I want from them and I make sure that I see them at that event." A strategy for that is to arrive early and plan to stay late.

"And most importantly, following up, and then," Swift said, "always asking, `What can I do for you?'"

Note: The Women's Business Enterprise Council of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey is hosting the Women's Business Enterprise National Council convention in Philadelphia this week.