Networking is hard. It is especially hard if you aren’t a social butterfly.
I used to be very socially awkward. I couldn’t make small talk without putting my foot in mouth (that can happen to opinionated people without much of a social filter). Plus I am an introvert, so my natural tendency is to avoid most social situations anyways. Left to my own devices I don’t think I would ever attend a party, event, or group function. I just don’t enjoy them;, and I always feel awkward talking with people I don’t know, and then I am completely drained afterward.
Yet, despite all my reservations, I value my network.
Whenever I meet people or make an effort to connect with other people, I always get a lot out of it. I love helping people think through their problems. I have realized a ton of synergies from my meetings and; they have opened a lot of doors. My network has provided me with introductions to investors, best-selling authors, and other thought leaders, as well as things like interviews, speaking opportunities, articles, and other promotions. My network has become one of my greatest assets.
Recently, though, I have also had to learn to strike a balance with networking and founding a company. At Popforms, I always feel like I am the bottleneck for projects. Whether it is hiring someone, editing work, or creating content, it seems I can never do enough work to get ahead. But I know continuing to nurture and grow my network is another important part of growing my company, and as a result I have made an explicit effort to maximize the time I spend networking.
If you love networking, or you see it as a necessary evil (like me), here are some strategies and ideas to make the most of your time spent connecting.
Get deliberate with your connections.
I have a good friend who works in a role where meetings are a critical part of her job. When I asked her about maximizing time, her big tip for me was to create a networking action plan.
Every week, decide who you want to meet and then set aside an hour at the start of each week to make it happen.
For example, think about what type kinds of people you need to connect with – maybe they are more junior people you want to coach, or role models you see as mentors, or maybe even people internal to within your own company you want with whom you want to have better relationships. Then for each person, think about what you want to get out of the meetings and, try to brainstorm a list of questions so you can make the most of you time together.
Then if you want to meet 3 people each week, set that as a goal and each Monday hold yourself accountable to set up those appointments.
This sort of planning takes time, but it also ensures that you meet with the people you want to meet with and that each meeting ends up being worthwhile.
Institute a networking quota.
This is an idea I got from Susan Cain who wrote the book Quiet. She talked about using a quota to establish the number of events that you want to go to as a an introvert so that you can be comfortable saying no once you have met your established quota.
However, it also works well to make sure that you get out and build your network.
If you want to build your network consistently, try giving yourself a quota for events or meetings. If you set a goal of 1 event per week, or 3 events per month, then you can work to fill your established quota. You can then also be a bit more strategic too, and pre-plan out your events to pick and choose the ones that are the most relevant or interesting to your networking goals.
Batch all of your meetings in the same time, same place.
Imagine coming to a coffee meeting and the person you are meeting knows the name of all the employees in the coffee shop. When you arrive, you see her sitting with a well-dressed gentlemen, who she introduces to you as a prominent executive in an up-and-coming tech company. You meet for 30 minutes, while she takes notes, and then when her next meeting arrives she makes another introduction to a contract attorney. While the meeting was short, you are impressed with her connections, the way she seems so at home. Clearly she is well- liked by the staff and you were flattered by the way she introduced you.
I know this woman. She does all her meetings on Tuesdays in the same place. The staff at the coffee shop clearly love her and it is easy to feel comfortable when you go to meet with her. She does her meetings like this because she is so busy, but still really wants to take the time to meet with everyone that requests her time.
I recently started doing this and you would be amazed at how much easier it makes scheduling, giving directions, and squeezing in more meetings. You’ll save time by not traveling in between appointments, and you can even become the kind of connector who helps other people grow their network by making introductions between conversations.
Set an hour at the end of your day (or the following day) for follow-ups.
How often do you go to events, collect some business cards, and then forget about them until a few weeks (or months!) later when you are cleaning out your laptop bag and come across all these cards of connections that could have been? I know this has happened to me many times, because I used to neglect to prioritize following up.
What good is attending events if you don’t actually make the connection? The follow- up is just as important (and in some ways more so!) than the actual in-person meeting. You don’t have to send a long email, but you do have to send an email and close the loop. You can just send a brief thank you mentioning what you got out of the meeting and closing up any open items that might be lingering.
Give these strategies a try and see if it makes your networking more fruitful and efficient. And if you have other ideas for getting more out of your connection meetings please leave them in the comments below – I am always looking for new ideas.