When your business relies on word-of-mouth referrals to keep your pipeline filled, networking is a necessary activity. When there are so many choices for networking events, like we have here in Southern California, and so many people to meet with, networking can itself become almost a full-time job. That leaves less time to perform all of the other business and life activities (including client work!) and lead to overwork and overwhelm. In this blog post, we’ll explore some common-sense tips to avoid networking overwhelm.
1. Set Aside Networking Time – Don’t Exceed it Without Good Reasons
Networking is about quality over quantity. Decide in advance how much time and what specific times you will commit to networking. Of course, this number will not be set in stone as other demands and great opportunities to network arise, but having a number of weekly hours, weekdays, and times that are set aside for networking will help you schedule the rest of your necessary business activities.
It will also help you say “not now” when those opportunities arise or switch out a regular group for a special event. If it’s not a pressing matter, there’s no harm in scheduling a coffee meeting a few weeks in advance instead of squeezing it into an already packed schedule. After all, being overwhelmed and pressed for time detracts from your ability to listen and be at your best when meeting someone new.
2. Set a Networking Budget – And Stick to It
Networking not only costs time, it costs money, so budget your networking dollars. Whether it’s membership fees, lunches, coffees, cocktails, and event registration, know in advance how much of your business expenses are to be dedicated to networking. While this number may fluctuate, it will also help you keep your eye on the quality over quantity ball as to where, when, and how you meet.
3. Select No More Than Three Core Networking Groups
Being a member of networking groups takes time and costs money. Since some groups meet monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly, so it’s easy to be an active member of more than one as long as it fits in with the time and budget that you have allotted to networking groups.
Try out different groups and ask for the opinions of others about the utility that the group may have to your business before committing. Ask yourself whether you are seeing the same people everywhere and if that’s necessary or if you should branch out to different groups. Are attendees in the group potential customers or work with the same customers? Are there service providers that would be useful for you to use in your own business? Does the group provide more than just access to customers and vendors, but also have activities that are supportive of you as a business person – like the Roundtables at Connected Women of Influence?
4. Don’t Be Afraid of the Telephone
In person meetings are not the only way to stay in touch with your network, and neither are email campaigns (which most of us ignore anyway). A first-time get to know you is always best in person, but later meetings can be held over the telephone or via visual Internet chat. If you are working with an ongoing strategic partner, for instance, every third month can be an in-person meeting, but the others on the phone.
5. Check in With Yourself
If you find yourself struggling to fit invoicing, client work, exercise, and friends/family time into your life, take fifteen minutes and look at your schedule. Have you been spending more than your allotted time – or budget – on networking? Then ask yourself why. Is it anxiety about your pipeline? Is it because you’re avoiding doing business tasks that you don’t like to do (like filing, accounting, blogging)? If it’s a pipeline concern, take a step back and assess whether those meetings you’re taking on are producing results. If they’re not, is it because you’re too anxious or selfish, don’t attend with a goal in mind, or because you’re not choosing quality meetings, but rather quantity? Then make choices to bring yourself back on track.
Networking is an Attitude
Networking is a necessary business activity that it is easy to overdo, which can damage its utility and undermine your business success, and emotional and physical health. Approaching networking as you do business as a whole, with intention and plans, will help both you and your business.