“Networking” and “making connections” come up again and again as reasons a banker chose to attend one of WBA’s many in-person programs. In fact, after the recent BOLT Summer Summit, 55% of the respondents to the post-event evaluation survey cited networking as a factor in why they chose to take time out of the bank and make the trip to Wisconsin Dells. As these bankers know, networking is a crucial component of professional development.

"I actually might not have even ended up in banking if not for networking and the opportunities these connections afforded," confessed Amber Manke, AVP electronic banking and operations at Coulee Bank, La Crosse and WBA BOLT Section Member. The benefits of networking go far beyond job hunting, too. "If you want to progress in your career, or continue to learn and develop and perfect the role that you’re in, it’s vital that you connect with others in the industry," said Meredith Strieff, assistant vice president at Horicon Bank and a member of the WBA BOLT Section Board. The fundamental ROI on networking is sharing ideas. "Having those conversations at different events gives you the ability to bring those ideas back or tells you what not to do," said Derrick Hermann, vice president of lending at Waldo State Bank and WBA BOLT Section Chair-Elect. "The value is priceless."

There are three key networking tactics you can deploy to leverage your membership with WBA for maximum value for your bank and your career: identify your goals, expand your relationships, and become a connector. 

1: Identify your goals. 

As with most business endeavors, clearly identifying goals at the outset is a crucial ingredient for success. Networking is no different. Know what it is you want to get out of a networking event before you get there. That will give you clarity and direction and help you maximize your time and efforts. For example, do you want to spend more time on large events with 100+ bankers, or do you want to focus more on small groups, such as WBA’s many peer networking sessions? 

If your goal is to pivot or grow your career, your network is an essential tool. By networking with bankers from other areas of the business you can expand your horizons. If your goal is to transition from retail banker or branch manager to commercial lender, start talking to commercial lenders! You’ll get insight into the day-to-day of that role, which will help you identify the gaps in your skills and knowledge that you’ll need to fill before stepping into that role. 

These goals provide a roadmap for your preparation, as well. "If there’s a specific person or contact you want to meet, prepare what you want to discuss," Hermann advised. "Plan a script in your mind of what you want to talk about. That will help the conversation take off." Strieff recommends utilizing WBA resources such as attendee lists. "Find out who you want to talk to and what about," she said. "Do some homework before the event so you can feel prepared."

2: Expand your relationships. 

Association events are a great resource for establishing connections, but you need to do more than attend in order to expand those connections into relationships. Do the work: don’t let those business cards collect dust in a desk drawer somewhere. "You have to do more than just be there," said Hermann. "Part of networking is working. If you just show up, you’re not going to get anything out of it."

Once you’ve established a connection, follow up and keep those lines of communication open. Whether it’s grabbing coffee or touching base on LinkedIn or via email, you’ll get more value out of your membership and return on the investment of your time networking. “The worst networking mistake a professional can make is to not believe it is necessary,” said Manke. “In every industry, networking is an important way to create connections, start conversations, and hone resources to develop yourself.” 

Social and technology tools like LinkedIn and Hubspot can make deepening and maintaining network connections easier, but it is critical to base your efforts on substance. Use your networking goals as a reference point to help you determine where you’ll find the most value. 

3: Become a connector. 

One of the best ways to enhance the value of your network is to create value for others. Make introductions, offer business insights or opportunities, and be a facilitator for other association members. You’ll place yourself in the center of the network hub. "People are more likely to reach out to you when you can provide some value in return,” Strieff explained. “’What can I do for you?’ is powerful.”

One way to become a connector is to introduce individuals at an event who you know share something in common, even if it’s just that they’re both new to the industry or the event. It may seem intimidating, but even introverts can become excellent connectors! “Start small, just one other person, and then build on that,” Hermann advised. Another way to create value through connections is through mentoring relationships. “Mentoring relationships, both directions, are important,” said Strieff. “It opens doors to new opportunities, and not necessarily new job opportunities, but opportunities to learn. Everyone needs a sounding board to help them work through situations and bounce ideas off of.”

Whether you’re talking about yourself or facilitating conversation between others, Manke cautions against “oversharing,” which can create awkwardness or embarrassment, especially if you’re sharing something another individual didn’t want others to know. "I find this a very common workplace mistake in general among young professionals,” she said. “Be your authentic self, but do it in a measured, balanced way.”

Get involved. 

In the end, the most important tactic for maximizing the value of your WBA membership is to be involved in the association, rather than simply being a member. “It is very much a situation of getting out what you put in,” Manke explained. “You cannot expect that simply joining an organization will magically present opportunities without you putting forth any effort. The joining is nothing compared to engaging.”

Volunteering on committees, boards, and task forces not only expands your resume, but also provides opportunities for deeper connections with your expanding network. “You get to be a voice to represent your organization within the association and the industry,” Strieff said. “You get to meet so many wonderful people and expand your network. It’s an easy way to get involved and be more widely known. There’s no downside.”

In addition to building your peer network with direct contacts with similar challenges or situations, participating in the association demonstrates your desire to grow your career. “The individuals who show the desire to be engaged stand out to senior management,” said Hermann. “Some people will be content just showing up for their career, but if you want more out of it you have to be engaged.”

Get involved today! Visit www.wisbank.com/community/get-involved for a list of opportunities and how to connect.