Cheryl Gray’s path to becoming CEO of Women’s Network Australia in December 2021 was entirely unplanned. Her journey from being a newsprint journalist in Brisbane covering politics to starting her own PR agency has been driven by identifying opportunities and acting on what feels right.

Over the years, Cheryl has established a vast network of connections. Her experience navigating the media and communications industry, and the importance of building close and lasting relationships throughout her career, has seen her take a fresh approach.

In her current role, Cheryl helps businesswomen to connect and succeed. Cheryl sees it as a great opportunity and natural progression, given her goals and passion are to help businesses and other people.

Cheryl says too often, people put intuition and gut feelings to the side instead of following their heart. She also believes great things happen when we reach out and ask for help and guidance from people who we respect and admire.

As we move into the new year, it gives us pause to consider how relationships and networks will help us succeed in the year ahead. More importantly, it provides a chance to rethink our existing networks and capitalise on the opportunities that can ensue.

Expanding your network

Many of us will be starting 2022 planning how to improve our professional lives. Developing or strengthening the networks that can help us collectively get ahead is always high on the new year resolutions agenda. And according to Cheryl, when looking to build our networks, powerful connections may be closer to us than we think.

Cheryl says that too often, people tend to compartmentalise their relationships, grouping them as friends or family or business contacts. We forget we are interconnected. Cheryl believes the best opportunities come from knowing all about an individual’s circumstances, which opens up possibilities.

For example, Cheryl has reconnected with people she went to school with. “We have all moved, but we are connected through friendship and relationship,” Cheryl says. “The lesson here is to rethink your connections. Consider where family members work, the different roles they play and their networks.”

Another recommendation is to understand your ideal connectors, perhaps a supplier or someone who can refer potential clients to your business. Cheryl says. “Think about your connections to an ideal audience and then reach out and be proactive”.

In essence, use your existing contacts and ask them for referrals or connections to grow your network. In these situations, being respectful, mindful, and considerate is imperative. Cheryl also makes a point of “closing the loop” by saying thank you because showing gratitude is really important.

Relationships that last

For Cheryl, the secret to creating a strong professional network is enduring relationships. That comes from understanding and trust. Rather than thinking about what she can get out of a particular contact, Cheryl considers what she can give to the relationship. “That is the way to build really strong connections that work in the future.”

Good relationships take time and effort. Therefore, people must manage their expectations about their first interaction with a potential contact. Cheryl cites the marketing rule that says a prospect needs to “hear” an advertiser’s message seven times before purchasing the product or service.

Nor is networking about trying to connect with everyone in the room. “Just one significant interaction can have an incredible influence on you or your business,” says Cheryl. She advises giving that one contact your undivided attention, being present in the conversation and remaining intent on understanding the person.

Cheryl advises remembering the contact’s name and three things about them and following up with an email or phone call to arrange a meeting over a coffee. “Then you are on a fast track to a beneficial contact.”

Once the relationship has been established, Cheryl makes an effort to stay in touch and puts aside time for a face-to-face meeting or phone call to maintain and deepen it. That way, even if you have not seen someone in 20 years, “suddenly it feels like yesterday”, which is a sign of a real connection.

While it is crucial to understand a potential new contact, Cheryl recommends practising your own elevator pitch to be clear and engaging. She says, “if you cannot describe it, it will be hard for them to understand it. Make the most of that first encounter by being very clear about who you are and your business.”

Lessons from the pandemic

During the pandemic, virtual events transformed Women’s Network Australia into a national networking platform instead of being confined to a local area. To make virtual networking effective, Cheryl urges us to understand how each platform, Zoom, for example, works, which buttons to press, particularly the mute switch, and how to ask questions. Ideally, the facilitator should clearly explain the etiquette to avoid people talking over each other and how to interact.

The delivery of quality virtual networking will continue to build fruitful relationships. For Cheryl and Women’s Network Australia, it’s also the opportunity to share experiences and expertise and support women to take advantage of new business opportunities.

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Things you should know

  • This article represents opinions and views of the interviewees personal experiences only.  It does not have regard to the situation or needs of any reader and must not be relied upon as advice. It is not intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product or service. Before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124.