It’s funny how life works. Once you notice, discover or fall in love with something – a new song, brand crush, even an idea – suddenly it’s everywhere. For us, careers are just the same. Our coaching goes in waves. One week confidence will come up in every conversation, the next sponsorship is the issue. Once you’re attuned to a theme it comes like waves – often in our own lives as much as those we support. And at that point, we talk about it to you.
So that’s the reason why, last week, we mused on relationships: support networks that buoy your confidence and make your work environment great. This week our thoughts are still with relationships, but of a more strategic kind.
Do you want to get promoted? Grow your business? Raise your profile? Or just get on the radar of someone you feel you’ll never be able to reach? We know we – like so many of the women we’ve met this week – want to build and grow. We also know – like them – the power of the network, alongside the importance of promoting ourselves. But what do you do when your own network or voice just isn’t big or loud enough. Well, that’s where a sponsor steps in.
Not to be confused with her close cousin the mentor, a sponsor is the foghorn for your career. A mentor will provide support and advice, yes. But a sponsor will promote you to senior colleagues and shout about your brilliance to others of influence and power. When you have a sponsor, you are significantly more likely to get that promotion, grow your business, get funding or land the deal. Often – and no matter your current position - you need a powerful person to open the door.
But there’s a catch. Landing a sponsor isn’t that simple. For one, the sponsor who speaks out on your behalf, puts her own reputation on the line. Plus, you can’t just go up to the nearest power player and ask.
So how to nurture this most influential but elusive of relationships? Luckily for you, here’s our guide.
Network the right way
The trick is putting yourself in the path of influencers, read those more senior than you. Usually, this means stepping outside of your usual networking habitat.
Employed? Join a work committee. Volunteer for an extra curricular project. Offer to collaborate with your senior target for an article or conference.
Entrepreneur? This is trickier still. Aim for networking events you wouldn’t usually attend: ones that will attract the sponsors you need. Go in with a target list and don’t leave until you’ve made at least one influential connection. Charity committees are also fertile breeding grounds or aim higher and join the board of a relevant not for profit. Not only is the third sector the perfect place to hone your leadership skills, you’ll often come into contact with business leaders giving their time too.
Turn mentors into sponsors
A mentor is often easier to gain then a sponsor. Whilst you can ask for advice, you can’t ask for trust and respect. It needs to be earned. But that doesn’t mean the two need always stay separate. Cultivate a great relationship with a senior mentor. As you show them the great work you do, trust and belief in you will begin to grow. Over time, the relationship can gradually shift from one of advice to one of vocal support.
Give them the edited version
Mentors can turn into sponsors. Equally often though, they don’t. And there’s a good reason why. Conversations with mentors can be exposing. You become vulnerable as you lay yourself and your challenges bare. Conversations with sponsors are a different beast. Your sponsor needs to be confident backing you. We’re all about authenticity and openness, but be wary of oversharing with this person who holds the key to the next stage of your business or career.
Give as well as take
Don’t assume the sponsor relationship is one sided. In your quest for a sponsor, never forget what you bring to the table. First, those who sponsor are more likely to progress their careers than those who don’t. Fact. So you’re actually doing them a favour. Second, you DO have skills you can bring them in return. Whether it’s your superior knowledge of the digital landscape, insight into employee sentiment or just your experience as someone from a different group, remember you have something to give.
Do you have a sponsor? Or still working on it? Have these tips helped? We’d love to know.
x Alice & Phanella x