You Can’t Afford NOT To

As I’ve been developing new programs for my business, I’ve focused more and more on asking people to spell out their biggest networking challenge. The responses I’ve gotten back have been eye-opening.

I had expected answers like “How do I get people to return my phone call?”, “How do I hone my message so that it’s crystal clear who I am and what I’m looking for?” and “How do I find the best networking events to attend?”

While I’ve gotten a few of those, the vast majority of issues have centered around one surprising area: Time.

  • I don’t have time to follow up after networking or keep in touch with contacts
  • I don’t have time to build relationships with co-workers, I have too much work to do
  • I don’t have time for all this social networking stuff, I need to grow my business.

Look, we all have the same number of hours in the day, and none of us can do anything about that. But what we do have control over is how we spend those hours. Listen up: if you’re not making networking a priority, your network will never make YOU a priority.

All of the really successful people I know invest in themselves and in their relationships. For an episode of Smart Networking Radio, I recently interviewed Michael Port, a best selling author. He shared with me that he spends 30 minutes each day doing a number of things to stay in touch with his network.

30 minute moments

Every day he connects two people he knows who should know each other but don’t. He also skims publications looking for interesting articles to forward to people. That’s a minimum of three people that he’s touching every day, 15 people each week.

Assuming a generous six weeks off each year for holidays and vacations, that’s almost 700 lives Michael is adding value to every year! Do you think he’s benefiting from this at all? You bet!

If a successful author and entrepreneur like Michael Port can (and does!) take 30 minutes a day to connect three people, each one of us should be able to spend a minimum of 30 minutes per week to do the same thing. In the course of a year, you’ll create 140 stronger connections.

And if just one of those connections brings a new job opportunity, new client or new project to your door that you wouldn’t have heard about otherwise, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the weekly investment wasn’t worth it. After all, how much time do you waste each week on mindless Internet surfing or reality TV, and what are you getting for it?

But what you have to realize is that the 30 minutes will not magically appear in your life, you have to set aside the time in your schedule. So here’s a 5-step process to help make networking time a part of your weekly routine so you can easily build the mutually beneficial relationships that will power your career and business for the long-term.

Set aside the time

1) Decide on your ideal 30-minute block. Whether it’s 30 minutes on Monday morning before the week gets started, lunchtime on Wednesday, or Sunday morning before the kids wake up, choose a time which has the least likelihood of conflicting with another activity that could pop up out of the blue and distract you.

2) Set a standing appointment with yourself
. Just like a meeting with your personal trainer, or a regular staff meeting you have at the office, if this time is blocked off in advance, you’ll be less tempted to schedule something else during that time. Set it up as a recurring appointment in your calendar, preferably highlighted in a distinct color so it stands out.

3) Choose a networking activity or set of activities that you enjoy doing and can complete in the 30-minute period. Perhaps connecting two people by email or forwarding articles doesn’t get you all that excited. Maybe instead you’d prefer to spend that time chatting with LinkedIn contacts by phone, Skype or IM to learn more about what they do, getting more involved in an online forum, or writing hand-written notes to thank people who’ve helped you. The list of possibilities is endless. Get creative, choose anything you want, but choose something, that’s the key.

4) Keep your materials organized in one place. If you’re going to write notes, keep your stationery, pens and stamps together in one drawer. If you plan to send articles as your main activity, set up an e-folder on your hard drive or a physical folder in the top drawer of your desk to put articles that you come across during the week. This way you can complete your tasks as efficiently and painlessly as possible. And fun materials like a beautiful pen that writes really well or a manila folder in a bright color, can help make that activity seem less like a chore.

5) Track your progress. Don’t expect instant results, but do keep a list of the people you interact with during this process, as well as a list of opportunities that find their way to you and where they came from. Every quarter or so see how much overlap there is. With such consistency in your networking activities, even in as little time as that half hour each week, you’re bound to create more momentum for yourself than if you just kept plugging away at your desk with your nose to the grindstone, and you’ll be able to see clearer evidence of that through tracking.

Having no time to network is a pure myth, and more often than not it’s just a convenient excuse for inaction. Stop blaming other people, the clock, the economy, etc. for your lack of opportunity and take responsibility for how you spend your time. Find one stupid, wasteful activity that you do each week and replace just 30 minutes of it—you don’t even have to give it up completely—focused instead on connecting with others and building deeper relationships. Make this investment and commitment in yourself. Aren’t you worth it?


Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.