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    The real social network

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    Have you ever thought of setting up a PA network? it may not be easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Marion Lowrence offers some expert advice on how to go about it.

    You need to be focused and have a plan. It helps to write down what you want from the network and to think about how you will convince management to pay and colleagues to attend. Remember that not all PAs will feel the need to be involved; let people join because they want to. Have a launch to let people decide if it is for them, as some won’t have got involved in networking before and will feel out of their comfort zone. Having a taster session may be all they need to help them see the benefits of the network.


    Consider the costs involved
    Have you got a budget or do you need to write a business proposal to management for some funding? You can set up a network with a very small budget, some careful planning and clever negotiating. Be aware that even if your idea is for an informal network, it is still serious business if it costs the company money. Make a clear and convincing list of the benefits and reasons for starting a network, such as knowledge sharing, having a support network and access to training expertise.

    Remember to include the physical time out of the office needed to attend, and think about what cover may be required. You need to source good speakers to attract a new group – so be prepared to negotiate the cost of this. Speakers may appear for free but would expect their travel and accommodation costs to be covered. It is also good etiquette to buy the speaker a gift as a token thank you. Alternatively, PAs in the group may have expertise that can be shared, such as a PowerPoint specialist or a social media guru.

    Have a group purpose
    Having a shared purpose and a mission are both vital. At the first meeting, ask for constructive feedback to help improve future gatherings. I organised a simple feedback system by having three pictureson A4 paper up on the wall and asked the group to put Post-it notes around each one with their thoughts. It was quick, easy and honest and very helpful for us to see what the group wanted.


    Key learning points
    Talking and networking with other PAs helps alleviate isolation by building up relationships. Gaining confidence at networking in a friendly and informal environment is a great way to start. It is a good addition to your appraisal to be part of a PA group and helps with personal development in the role. You improve your knowledge when listening to the various topics from well-informed speakers.

    Benefits for your company
    These can include:
    • Performance improvement
    • Liaising with people beneficial to your company’s growth
    • Career development

    • Networking and sharing good practice in the workplace

    • Valuable training at low cost

    Have a future plan
    Once you are up and running, have a plan for moving forwards, such as ways to improve and maintain regular attendance. You can also encourage the group to input their own needs and share ideas on seminar content, making it much more inclusive and useful to all.

    Marion Lowrence has worked in various roles over the past 28 years; her last position was as PA to the CEO of Yorkshire Universities. She has won a number of awards and is currently Pitman Training’s Super Achievers PA of the Year. She founded an internal network for PAs at Yorkshire Universities that led her to set up an independent network called The PA Hub. She spoke on “Skills to being a successful PA” at the Office show. Further details can be found at thepahub.co.uk/network.

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    AUTHOR

    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson