Article by Helene Panzarino, Associate Director, Centre for Digital Banking and Finance, The London Institute of Banking & Finance

networking featuredIt may not come as too much of a surprise that good networking skills are important in any career.

Word spreads between like-minded people who are connected, including news, the latest thinking, the best events and upcoming jobs and opportunities.

Networking is particularly important for women working in traditionally male-dominated industries – like computing, technology, science, engineering and banking and finance. Fintech is a good example. According to Innovate Finance, “Women represent just 29% of the fintech workforce, 17% of senior fintech roles and of the $1.7 billion that flowed into UK fintech firms in 2018, only 3% went to firms with a female founder.”

Those successful fintech men are well networked and, as a consequence, may be the first to hear of new opportunities. Women need to break into those networks – and also create our own – but how do we make it happen?

How to start networking

First of all, don’t panic! You don’t have to spend your weekends golfing (unless, like me, you want to!) And if you’re nervous about networking, you’re not the first.

Start by thinking about your ambitions. What do you want your next career move to be? If you’re not sure, ask yourself which parts of your work interest you the most. What avenues do you want to explore? Networking is a great way of working out what your next move might be.

Next you need to find the people and organisations that will help you explore – who will answer your questions – or who you might want to work for in the future. They might even be people who inspire you – whose career paths are a bit like the career you’d like. And anyone who can help you innovate and learn is worth connecting with.

Find out about networking opportunities and events

Thank goodness for all those amazing women who developed computer science in previous centuries! Because of technology, networking has never been easier.

So you have sites like MeetUp, which is like a listings service where you can search for events around the subjects that interest you. Meetup also hosts groups like Be Equal which was set up to diversify the tech space. They run events and webinar sessions.

Working Out Loud is a completely different way of networking. The idea is you connect with like-minded people online and work on a project together. So, in their words, “You invest in relationships by making contributions over time, including your work and experiences that you make visible.” If you’re nervous about attending events where you don’t know anyone, this is a great way to start.

Most professional institutions offer a programme of events, including The London Institute of Banking & Finance where I’m an Associate Director of the Centre for Digital Banking and Finance

In the fintech space, there are many events running on every day of the week in all parts of the country, including some aimed at women. As well as making some great contacts and being inspired by successful women, women’s networks offer a space and a platform to discuss issues that are specific to women. They can also be great for helping you develop a support structure. Have a look online for events because most of the newsletters you subscribe to, or sites like F6S, publicise monthly or weekly event notices.

So once you’ve worked out what kind of event you want to go to, the next step is to book your place – and don’t forget to put some business cards in your bag before you go! May seem old school to some of you, but it’s still nice to have a tangible reminder to give and receive.

At the event

Many people are anxious about networking and hate the ‘small talk’, but the thing is, the more you go to networking events, the less frightening it becomes.

Most of the events you go to will be interesting in any case, and if you go to a talk or seminar, then you have something to talk about when it comes to the ‘small talk’. Networking is really just about asking questions and getting to know people. If you think of it in those terms, it’s like any other social event. And you will meet people you like. You may even start to enjoy it – especially as your network grows and you start to recognise familiar faces.

Making the most of social media

It goes without saying that LinkedIn is a great networking tool but are you using it as effectively as you could be?

There are some obvious things about LinkedIn that any ‘how to make the most of LinkedIn’ blog will tell you – from updating your profile regularly to following the right people and organisations. Join professional groups and make sure you interact with people, by contributing to conversations. Share posts, but only when they’re relevant to your work or interests.

Remember, it’s not about selling yourself, but sharing your thoughts on a work-related matter or area of interest. That can give you real visibility.

Nurture the relationships

Once you’ve connected with someone, be sure to follow up. For example, if you get talking to someone at an event, connect with them on LinkedIn afterwards. (Include a message when you invite them to your network.)

Once you’re networked, the next time you need advice, you can go ahead and ask for it. You might offer to buy someone coffee. People can always say ‘no’, and you haven’t lost anything. Chances are though, they will be happy to give you ten minutes of their time. Remember, they were once in your situation too.

Helene PanzarinoAbout the author

Helene is a former banker turned entrepreneur, educator and investment readiness adviser in fintech.

She is a mentor and advisor who has helped over 15,000 of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) understand, prepare for, and access funding options at all stages of their business growth.

Helene is an adviser to a number of fintechs, including Yovo, a fourth generation utility token business, and Biid, a digital identity platform based in Spain.

In 2016, her book – Business Funding for Dummies – was published by Wiley and she was named a Top 10 Influencer in SME Funding in 2016. She has also contributed to The Entrepreneurs’ Network (TEN), The Parliamentary Rose Report on Female Funding in FinTech and The Scale Up Summit on Female Founders Raising Post-Seed Finance.