My little sister says I need to network online. My mother says I’m too busy to socialize and to take networking meetings off my list. As an executive in my late thirties with two kids and a husband I’d like to see more of, can you tell me how to balance networking with an already packed schedule…or if I should even bother?
While there are days when I don’t feel like it and have no idea how I’ll fit it in, yes, you should definitely bother. People do business with people they like, so if you’re not making an effort to connect online and off, you’re disconnecting from new prospects and new opportunities that can really put the juice back into the daily grind.
Saying no to networking is a common business mistake, but an understandable one. By the time you (attempt to) get the sleep you’re supposed to get, jump on the treadmill for a half hour, and take the shower that’s just plain necessary, you then have to work in a full day of business, demystify the protractor for your child, and weigh the nutritional irresponsibility of serving canned spaghetti for dinner. Add in a Law & Order rerun, and most of us would like to just call it a day.
Because networking, be it online or off, can simply feel like one more thing to fit in to the Jenga-like balancing act you call your life, we all naturally come up with excuses as to why this extraneous activity is not mission-critical. And, as with anything in life, the success of the experience all begins with your positive or negative perception of it.
Do you ever hear yourself avoiding networking because:
N is for no money? In a tight economy, many people attempt to trim non-necessary expenses, like networking events, from their budgets, but this is actually a costly mistake. It’s during sensitive economic times that you need to be in connection with your colleagues and prospects, so that when they or someone else needs your products or services, your name will come to mind before your competitor’s.
Be sure to stay in front of potential clients and referral sources at events, and touch base online regularly as well. Keeping those relationships strong and current is even more important now than in times of plenty.
E is for exhausted? We’re busy people who have a lot to balance, and we’re often simply too tired to do more. But ask yourself if you are too tired to build your business? Too tired to make that contact that will kick your career up a notch? Too tired to learn from powerful speakers and to let prospects know about what you do and how they can work with you?
Consider your energy levels and schedule, and carve out time that works for you. If you’re wiped out by 7 pm, consider breakfast networking events. If you eat lunch at your desk, log on to the computer while you munch and see what’s happening on your online networking sites or group listserv.
T is for time wasted? Remember networking in the 80s when you came home with a stack of business cards but no real connections? When you listened to people talk about themselves ad nauseum but never had the chance to say anything other than “uh-huh” and “really?”
Luckily, online forums are not the only way networking has advanced in recent years. While you will always bump into the Networking Narcissists (you know, the ones who hand you a card before they enter the room), live events have evolved to the point where most facilitators encourage relationship-building rather the Business Card Collection Olympics.
Rather than time wasted, networking is actually time invested. Knowing people helps you get things done in a few phone calls, instead of starting from scratch and trying to determine a quality lead from the yellow pages. And you can take the exponential approach to networking to truly maximize your investment. Instead of hurling business cards at 50 people, build relationships with 5 people who likely have 10 contacts each.
W is for why do I bother? Networking for its own sake will wear you out. Be clear about what your expectations are when you walk into an event. This is particularly important if you’re an introvert, because the extroverts will likely drain you, so it’s important to have a goal walking in. That may be as simple as “build at least one relationship” or “practice my new elevator pitch.”
From Facebook to facing your local chamber of commerce, instead of asking “what am I really going to get out of this,” remember the results you’ll get out of avoiding it all together…none.
O is for over the long haul? We all show up to one group or another, and try out one web site after the other. And we all lament the fact that those are “two hours we’ll never get back.” Instead of the vaccine approach (one shot and you’re covered), try the vitamin approach (consistent doses fortify the system).
If you’re a one-hit networking wonder, go to groups – that work for you – regularly. I’ll say it again: people do business with people they like, so take the time to cultivate these potential relationships. People who are committed to networking communities gravitate to like-minded professionals.
R is for return on investment? Networking is not just cheese, crackers and chit chat, but is rather a strategic business endeavor. Participating in networking in the virtual or real world is an investment in your craft; in meeting contacts you may one day need; in promoting yourself to people who may one day need you.
It is not a meaningless two hours spent exchanging stories and political viewpoints, unless that’s how you choose to use it. Make sure your networking is, in fact, working for you. Being inspired by a speaker or making new friends is just gravy.
K is for keeping commitments to a minimum? Try new events and groups, but don’t be afraid to say no to groups that don’t work for you. Networking is a strategic skill and you need to go where you’re most effective. It’s unrealistic to join every group in town or put a profile on every web site imaginable in order to promote yourself. Limit your networking to a few events per month so you don’t burn out.
And just so I don’t leave any part of the networking balance equation untouched, I’m aware of those of you out there who don’t make any of these excuses at all. You who tend to either network constantly in a mad pursuit, resulting in guilt because you don’t see your kids enough, or frustration because you don’t have any semblance of downtime (since live networking events typically take place during off-business hours). Oh, and you over there, glued to your laptop constantly, when you really need to shut down your computer and boot up your life.
To all of you, I say this: there is such a thing as networking too much. And I say this with great authority because I have done both to my detriment.
Whether you’re 26 or 62, strive to balance networking online and off to grow your career or your business without losing your mind. Shift from excuses to strategy when it comes to networking, and rake in the results.Work Life Balance