Business networking – an often underused skill in the investment business—can add significant value to your business if done well. Often, women shy away from developing the skill because they consider it too opportunistic and have limited knowledge about how to effectively develop it. Viewing your business network critically can yield excellent results and should be undertaken regularly.

Start with a couple of key questions:

  • How often do you review your professional network?
  • How active or inactive is your network?
  • How much time per week do you spend on network-building activities or in networking events?
  • How does your network allow you to build your business; overcome internal constraints; or strengthen your personal brand?

As an advisor you may not need much convincing about the value of a strong and vibrant network business development and referrals – but are you really maximizing your opportunity?

If the simple definition of a network is a set of relationships critical to your ability to get things done, then on what parameters do you define an effective network? Effective networks are evaluated on the basis of breadth, depth, and leveragibility.

The breadth of a network refers to the type of contacts you maintain professionally and the range of your network. For instance, most advisors work with lawyers, accountants, real estate professionals, tax planners, and bankers. Are these people senior, junior or peers? Are they clustered within a few firms? What groups are missing, over- or under-represented? Similarly, are your clients from a specific group or area? Think about your largest accounts. Who referred them to you? Was it a number of sources and groups?

Another characteristic of a network is the depth or types of relationships. It is critical to maintain a strong set of ties with a core network, which enjoys a circle of trust.

Sometimes extended networks are based on weak ties; they are more future-focused in terms of unanticipated or new opportunities. This is where the diversity principle applies – six degrees of separation – when someone in your network can get you around the world or in touch with anyone. An easy test is to look at your Outlook or contact management software. How many new contacts have you added this year?

Useful networks have the ability to leverage through various types of networks, including industry contacts, professional associations, private, public and non-profit sectors, community clubs and groups.

Leverage becomes possible if you are conscious about the density of your network.

But how do you tell? Well, there are lots of network assessment tools. A quick self-examination of your network will allow you to identify patterns and assess gaps. Network information relevant in evaluating the quality of your network relates to your contacts split by:

  • gender;
  • age (in decades);
  • nationality;
  • ethnicity.

Now look at the number of people who are more senior, at the same level, or junior. Then split them by company and functional area, and at what career stage they are. Review how many relationships can be considered close; how many are somewhat distant.

Finally, compare your current network against your short-to-mid-term goals. What group is over-represented? What key people or groups are missing? What ties should you strengthen? Where are you spending too much time? What network circles are underutilized? What circles should you connect?

There are many tactics you can use to strengthen and build a healthier network. The obvious one in the investment business is to ask for referrals or introductions. A less obvious – but highly effective tactic – is to create links across sectors of your network by making referrals. Ask for simple favours to initiate a relationship. It may seem trite but it is important to do all the trite stuff:

  • write those thank-you notes;
  • forward clippings;
  • have a system;
  • follow up on your activities; and
  • help your network develop their own networks.

We can’t think about networks in 2010 without including social media as tools to build and maintain networks. Linked In and Facebook were created to maintain networks. Managing your profile and personal brand with these tools is key. Use your business-facing online communities to develop and nurture relationships by providing content, introductions or value-added services. It is worth remembering, however, that your reputation and “personal brand” equity is only one click away, so ensure that all online medias represent you in a professional manner.

A recent research from the University of Southern California reports that 67% of women under 40 feel as strongly about their Internet communities as their offline ones, versus only 38% of the men.

The Judy Project approaches networks by challenging conventional notions, including the role of gender on networks.

Tiziana Casciaro, academic director of the Judy Project, and a leading scholar on social networks at the Rotman School of Management, points out in her research that “being liked” is a key part of building a network and most sources of liking are not gender-neutral.

Similarity, attractiveness and familiarity are all characteristics of how easily your network is built. Women and men mix personal and work networks differently. For most men, there is a significant overlap between personal networks, social support, friendship and professional networks. Women often have little overlap between personal networks (predominantly women) and professional networks, primarily men.

There is much controversy over women-to-women work networks. There are two competing stereotypes. In one case, work relationships among women are mutually supportive and based on solidarity. The competing stereotype is of work relationships that are difficult and competitive. Robin Ely, a renowned academic on gender, leadership and diversity and professor of organizational behaviour at Harvard Business School, and a guest lecturer at The Judy Project, has produced research that clearly identifies that firms with a few senior women signal that gender is a liability. Women are less likely to perceive senior women as role models with legitimate authority. Women are more likely to perceive competition in relation to women peers, and less likely to find support in women-to-women network relationships. Women-to-women networks within the organization work only if there’s a sufficient proportion of senior women in the company.

The Judy Project

The Judy Project: An Enlightened Leadership Forum for Executive Women at Rotman School of Management was established in memory of Judy Elder, a well-known and respected business leader in Canada who passed away in March of 2002. Through her intelligence, tenacity, and ambition she reached the top ranks in several organizations including Microsoft Canada, IBM Canada, Ogilvy One and the Canadian Marketing Association. Whatever challenges she faced—either in business or in her equally important roles as wife and mother of two sons – Judy met them head-on while inspiring others to do the same. She was an advocate for career women, encouraging them to acknowledge and be proud of their ambition, to have an impact, make a difference and make things happen.

The Judy Project is a unique corporate-academic initiative that more than 30 national and multinational corporations have chosen to support. Participants must be nominated by their organizations. Alumnae of The Judy Project form a powerful, ever-growing network of female leaders who are committed to making a difference and to driving personal and organizational growth in the 21st century.

The Forum provides participants the network and skills they need to be effective and inspiring leaders while addressing the challenges they face. The goal is to build stronger business organizations through the advancement of more women into senior leadership positions. The unique Forum format enables participants to reach a new level of leadership success. The Judy Project is built as a latticework of three interrelated themes:

  • Enhancing the participant’s skill set and inspiring a new perspective on the role of leader;
  • Challenging conventional thinking on leadership and established business behaviours including the role of gender on leadership
  • Taking a holistic view of success.

At the conclusion of weeklong sessions, the Project also allows participants to form a personal advisory board (PAB), a group of seven to nine professionals who act as a participant’s personal board of directors, aiding and guiding her over a number of years. Each PAB contains members from non-competing fields who come together for four hours every month. Proceedings are structured and confidential to allow a safe environment for brainstorming, objective feedback, networking, and leadership development. The experience is rich and the results from a “strong tie” perspective are very valuable.

Visit for additional information.

  • Colleen Moorehead is Business Co-Director of The Judy Project, and Entrepreneur in Residence at Signal Hill Equity Partners.