How to network and attend after-work functions when you have a family

by Liz Marchant

When you’re juggling work and parenthood, life is all about logistics and, often, strict routines. You leave the office at exactly 4.57pm to get to the daycare centre before closing, after which you’re left with a grumpy child, extortionate late fee, and horrid guilt for being the last parent there yet again. Maybe your partner’s office isn’t too far from your older child’s cricket match, so if he shuts down the laptop at precisely 6.03pm, he can still make it just in time for the second innings. Sound familiar? There’s no doubt about it, making life work boils down to having your morning and evening routines finely tuned.

However, just when you feel like you’ve finally nailed a routine that accommodates the entire family without too many tears (from you or the kids), and you start wondering what all the fuss about being a working parent is, life throws you a curve ball.

You see an awesome education and networking event that is on at breakfast, or your employer wants you to attend an important networking event over dinner on another evening. What happens now? You can certainly tell your employer that you’re unable to attend due to family commitments and, fortunately, that’s totally acceptable these days. However, what if your personal development, satisfaction, promotions, sales targets or pay rises depend on you attending such events? What about when you just really want to go?

Check your partner’s flexibility

If you’re raising kids with a partner one of the easiest things to do, and probably your first resort, is to check your partner’s flexibility. Maybe they can leave work a little earlier that day and pick up the kids from their various activities.

However, there are plenty of parents raising kids alone and just as many whose partners work late or travel regularly for work. So, if that’s the case, what next?

Ask another parent for help

Whether it’s your own parents, a friend with kids, or a parent from school, no one understands your dilemma better than another parent. Asking for help is often tough but most times other people are more than happy to help. Working parents tend to be happy to help each other out, and what’s more, they’ll appreciate knowing that they have credit in the bank when the favour needs returning. This works even better if your kids are friends and they can keep each other entertained.

Hire a babysitter

If you’re only required to attend work functions out of hours sporadically and there isn’t anyone you feel comfortable asking for help, then there’s always a babysitter. All parents, whether they work or not, should try to find a local baby sitter that they (and the kids) know and like.

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, so knowing that there’s someone you can call on who loves your kids and who’ll be happy for the extra cash is invaluable. A great place to start is asking friends or other parents at daycare or school for recommendations. Alternatively, there are also now lots of apps that connect you with local babysitters in a matter of seconds, such as Juggle Street.

Working out ways to get to functions outside of work hours isn’t always easy but it can be rewarding and contribute to your professional fulfilment, so it’s worth trying. The benefits can far outweigh the inconvenience.

Some tips for successful networking

Given the effort it can take to attend a networking event, it’s crucial to make every minute count. Here are 10 tips to make your next networking event more successful:

  1. To network effectively, you’ve got to like people; or learn to like them! Take an interest in others and try to listen more than you talk.
  2. Stay connected. Network all the time and never stop looking for opportunities to meet new people. Don’t only head out to network when you need something.
  3. Always look for ways to help others first. Put them in touch with others in your network and create connections. You could be surprised at how often this comes back to benefit you in the future.
  4. Be proactive. Carry at least 10 business cards in your bag, compendium, or jacket pocket. Write on the back of cards you receive so you remember where you’ve met someone or what you were going to do for them.
  5. Make an effort at events you attend. Don’t just talk to people you already know, unless you’re there to build relationships with them as your specific goal. Aim to meet one new person each time you head somewhere new.
  6. Make the effort to maintain your existing friendships and relationships regardless of how busy you are. Remember, there’s always email. Consider setting aside an hour on the last Friday of the month to send a few ‘catching up’ emails. And never be afraid to ask people to help you out with an introduction.
  7. Keep an eye out for useful events and pick the right events for you. Look for more than just business networking events as a channel to meet people.
  8. Subscribe to a selection of the online networking/events websites.
  9. Remember, it’s about quality not quantity of contacts at a networking event. It’s less important to meet as many people as possible and more important to create meaningful connections with the people you do meet.
  10. Perfect your business story or elevator pitch. This needs to be interesting to other people; it should engage them and leave them wanting to know more about you or the company.