Connections and new partnerships through the power of networking are the key to business opportunities. Further, if you are a field medical professional, the importance of constantly expanding your professional circle cannot be minimized. Small, intimate networking events, such as professional supper clubs or mentoring circles, are amazing ways to meet others who might be relevant as you seek to expand relevant business opportunities. Several strategies are presented here to make the most of networking to enhance your personal brand.
The field medical professionals including roles such as a Medical Science Liaisons, Managed Care Liaisons, Health Economics and Outcomes Research Liaisons, Clinical Trial Liaisons, to name a few, are unique in that they are geographically based. The various types of customers and the necessity to provide important and relevant information to decision stakeholders make this an essential role. To be a continued successful and valuable resource to an organization, the field medical professional needs to optimize the networking opportunities and maintain a solid professional brand. The brand encompasses many attributes involving reliability, proven problem-solving skills, excellent oral communication, dependability and trustworthiness. One quality must include a competence in a therapeutic area; other differentiating qualities make your personal brand stand out.
In the days prior to Covid-19 and in our future, large networking events and conferences can be disappointing; people stand around, nervously sipping cocktails, hoping to spark an interesting and productive conversation, while scheming how to bump into just the “right” contact in a noisy, overcrowded room. In that context, you quickly come to realize that “more” isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more commotion.
Why smaller networking groups? The answer is that “small” drives better engagement. In a more private setting (a.k.a., a networking safe space,) the possibility is greater for making a more natural and long-lasting connection — one that could lead to a business partnership or investment. This opportunity specifically has relevance for field medical professionals.
Personal branding, defined as the creation of an asset that pertains to a particular person or individual, is no longer about self-promotion. Personal branding is not limited to the body, clothing, physical appearance and areas of knowledge, leading to a uniquely distinguishable, and ideally memorable, impression. It is about trusting yourself to make your voice heard for the betterment of a healthier whole. Effective personal branding will differentiate you from the competition and enable you to create trusting relationships with key stakeholders. It is important to learn how to use and trust your own personal brand to inspire individuals on your teams to become more entrepreneurial and socially responsible.
A small networking event allows the exploration and power of personal branding. With this dynamic, smaller, more industry-targeted events and communities are available. There is a growing number of organizations that are hosting intimate networking events, including Women in Bio, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, The MSL Society, as examples.
In some of these groups, women have started their own power circles to support the work of other women. In the case of a networking meeting on personal branding, topics covered are the “how- to” develop and manage your brand, discover branding strategies to communicate who you are and what you do, engage in social media to communicate your brand, and identify distribution channels to convey your brand. Everyone has a brand, and that brand needs to be maintained.
A few strategies to make the most of your personal branding upkeep:
- Find smaller networking groups/events that offer topics related to the personal brand.
Research can also help you find people with whom you already share some commonalities, and people you should make a point to meet. Don’t shy away from a colleague who works at a competing company. In an intimate dinner setting, people tend to open up, sharing real life examples and scenarios. The smaller setting affords a comfortable setting and a sense of camaraderie.
- Be authentic, genuine and sincere. In order for you to be self-aware of your strengths and opportunities, show the real you. Actively listen. Anticipating what to say next instead of effectively listening increases your anxiety and makes you look and feel less authentic. Dress professionally, even on video, but in clothes that are natural to your personal style. Introduce topics that you are genuinely interested in talking about.
- Mix in a variety of topics in the discussions. Conversations that mix personal and professional information are more engaging and memorable. Talk about something you’re passionate about, whether it’s business-related or a hobby. It’s a good idea to share something meaningful during the ice-breaker question. While it is helpful to gather the names and titles of the guests, it is often more memorable to learn that someone hiked Half Dome at Yosemite.
- Engage and ask questions. The more you can show genuine interest in your fellow dinner party guests or Zoom colleagues, the faster you will establish a solid relationship with them. Your goal should be to continue being invited to networking events and expanding your circle.
- Here are some things you should NOT do: Talk only about yourself, share unprofessional or inappropriate stories, talk negatively about former employers or colleagues and ask potentially insulting or dead-end questions (“So, what do you do?”). Instead, propose questions like “So, what do you like about what you do?” or “What are you reading right now?”
- Connect people with other people. Another great question to ask is, “Whom can I help you meet?” When you help someone else, you instantly create a feeling of goodwill. Listen for the other person’s challenges so you can figure out who in your network might be a good resource or problem-solver. Sometimes, it might be you.
- Be open to mentees, not just mentors. With the technological advancements, social media, new ways of working, company transformations, and agile methodologies, mentees can open your perspectives. This approach can broaden your networking channels.
- Keep the connection alive. Send a follow-up email and keep the conversation going.
Personal branding is more important than ever, materializing how you present yourself to the world. Unlike a “one-and-done” phenomenon, it takes nurturing and living the brand day-to-day to share the consistent message in all the small steps along the way. You may be hiking up Half Dome at Yosemite someday; one of those helpful tips from a network dinner or a Zoom encounter may help you reach the top.
Susan Malecha is a results-driven versatile medical professional with a proven track record for achievement in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. An accomplished author, she has lectured extensively and is called upon to present the latest developments in the areas of medical affairs for the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Malecha is an active member of Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), as the current President of the San Diego Chapter. She is also Vice-President, California Special Projects Fund for American Association University of Women (AAUW). Earning her BS in Pharmacy from Butler University, she completed her Doctor of Pharmacy at University of Illinois at Chicago, and earned her Masters of Business Administration from Keller Graduate School of Management. Dr. Malecha is currently the Senior Director, Medical Affairs at Puma Biotechnology.