Although the pandemic has forced us to stay indoors and online, our need for connectedness in a digital world has only grown.
As in-person events have been harder to come by, networking has gone virtual. But with such a vast landscape at your fingertips, it’s tough to set aside online anxieties and know where to begin.
The answer is simple: start small. Building your own personal boardroom is the ultimate networking hack – and you can even do it online. Here’s how.
The personal boardroom is a collection of people you already know who can serve specific roles in your network. The personal boardroom concept was first developed in a book, Who Is in Your Personal Boardroom, by co-founders Zella King and Amanda Scott.
The personal boardroom framework includes twelve roles for people in your close network to play, divided into three categories:
Information roles: the customer voice, the expert, the navigator and the inspirer
Power roles: the unlocker, the sponsor, the influencer and the connector
Development roles: the improver, the challenger, the nerve-giver and the anchor
Information roles are individuals that can provide you with specific knowledge you need to progress – for example, industry advice from the expert, or audience feedback and insights from the customer voice role. Power roles make big moves – for example, the unlocker can open doors to opportunity for you, such as a hiring manager. Development roles help keep you grounded and supported, like the anchor – a friend or mentor who can help you balance work and home life.
“Think of your personal board as a skilled and supportive group of individuals whose expertise or support you are able to leverage to help you achieve your goals, bounce ideas around with or provide accountability,” said career coach Keren Blackmore.
Whilst it’s not crucial to fill all twelve roles, the personal boardroom offers a framework to conceive and nurture your network with intentionality. “Regardless of your goal, having people you can gain insight, advice, support from or be challenged by is invaluable. As your career evolves, so will your board,” said Keren.
“Women are much less likely to go for opportunities unless they fulfil all of the criteria and also less likely to self-promote, so having a personal board to act as your cheerleaders can help your confidence and bring out your brilliance."
Career coach Keren Blackmore
“Focus on quality over quantity of conversations you have with prospective board members. Who can you support? How can they support you? Thinking about why you may want to spend more time with this specific person will help you to have a richer conversation with them and to more likely lead to a stronger relationship,” Keren advised.
It’s particularly important for women to build and develop a personal boardroom to elevate and accelerate your career. “Women are much less likely to go for opportunities unless they fulfil all of the criteria and also less likely to self-promote, so having a personal board to act as your cheerleaders can help your confidence and bring out your brilliance,” said Keren.
“Hubspot found that up to 85% of roles are filled via networking. Having a personal board can support you in accessing new opportunities either directly or via their networks,” she explained.
If you’re new to networking, the best place to start is with yourself. Keren recommends a self-reflection mapping exercise to make your networking intentional and effective and to ensure you build a personal boardroom that works for you.
First, think deeply about what you what from your career – your goals and overall vision. “Be honest about where you are, where you want to go, and what areas you would like support with. If you aren't clear and want to explore what your next step may look like and how your personal boardroom can help, that works too.”
Then, identify and fill the gaps. “Map out the gaps that the experience, skills or expertise of a board may be able to help you with. Now write down who you know that may be able to help you plug any of the gaps you have identified.”
Keren recommends casting a wide net: “Think about anyone you may have previously worked with – regardless of department or whether you worked closely. Think of friends, clients, people your family know, people you have met or seen speak at an event, people you follow or are connected with on Linkedin or people who are doing what you would love to do. Once you get started, you'll see the list is much longer than you had anticipated.”
The next step is to reach out to the people on your list. “Be brave. Introductions via people you know are much more likely to get a response, so don't be shy about asking friends or colleagues to introduce you to a contact you would like to be connected with. For people you don't know, keep it short. Tell them what you admire about them specifically – anything to show that you have done your research – and who you are, what you are exploring and why you are getting in touch. What specifically can they help you with?” said Keren.
“While this can feel transactional, uncomfortable and downright icky, it's important to remember that supporting others can be very fulfilling for your prospective board members. People generally want to support others, and you are offering that opportunity. Remember that you have probably helped peers or mentees in the past, so see it as a chain of support. Think about how you may be able to help your prospective board member – are there insights or an introduction that may be useful to them? You may well be able to help them back!” said Keren.
If you’ve already built out an established network, take it to the next level by diversifying and expanding your personal boardroom, Keren advises. Once you begin thinking of your network as a boardroom of advisors, they become relationships to nurture over time.
To top it off, Keren offered her handy tips to network virtually:
1. Dive in. Sign up for online events with an element of networking involved – workshops and interactive events are a sure bet. Share your contact information with anyone you want to connect with and get in touch on the same or next day.
2. Play hostess. Organise an informal virtual networking event with friends or colleagues and ask everyone to bring one person along.
3. Embrace the new coffee catch-up. It's a lower commitment to connect over a virtual coffee, so reach out to an old colleague or loose connection and see if they are free to catch up.