I’ve been networking now for more than fifteen years with the goal of increasing my business and I’ve had a certain amount of success doing it. The question arises, though about how much time I spend actually doing this networking thing on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at my activities and how much time I allot for each one.
Phone calls: I usually make one or two phone calls on average per day. I always call to wish someone a happy birthday. Even if I only get to leave a voicemail message, I think it is more personal than a card, email, or Facebook Wall message. I’ll also make the occasional “How are you?” call — usually just enough for a brief conversation. Actual time spent is between five and thirty minutes, depending on whether someone answers the phone and how chatty they are.
Email: I only send out three or four email networking messages per day. These are usually just an offer to get together for coffee or lunch. They don’t take too long to craft (though I do personalize each one) so tack on another fifteen minutes a day.
Hand-written notes: These notes tend to take a little longer, so I only send out one or so a week. These are usually my “gratitude notes” which take longer to compose than the average message. Since I’m trying to convey just how important this person is in my life, I spend a little extra time, so I try to schedule about thirty minutes for each one.
Group events: Whether it’s the local Chamber lunch or a technical users group, I tend to attend only one of these per week on average. They do take up a considerable amount of time, but I don’t count the time I would have been eating anyway, for example. So, a Chamber lunch, which starts around 11:15 and ends around 1:15 only counts for an hour, because I would have taken an hour for lunch anyway. Add in thirty minutes round-trip drive time and it comes to 90 minutes a week.
One-to-one meetings: These are the coffees, breakfasts, lunches, etc where a networking contact and I become better acquainted. It can also be a meeting with a potential client who has been referred by a member of my network. I usually do one of these a day on average. Again, though, I don’t count the time where I would have been pursuing the secondary activity (like eating lunch) anyway. With drive time that adds up to five hours a week.
Blogging/Social media: Blogging, e-zines, and other forms of social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be excellent tools for maintaining a low-level connection with an existing network. Blogging takes about thirty minutes a day and, if I’m behaving myself, the various social media sites take about the same. We’re not going to talk about how long the social media stuff takes if I’m not behaving. Let’s just say the phrase “time suck” pretty much applies here. Being generous, let’s say only another hour a day.
So, looking back over these activities and counting on my fingers and toes, it looks like I spend around three hours a day on average. Now that may sound like a lot, but remember a couple of things:
- If I were trying to direct sell my products and services, I would be spending a lot more than three hours a day to get the same result.
- I built up my activities over time. If I had tried to go from zero to three hours a day in one fell swoop, I would have burnt out in very short order.
- My big time expenditures are either very broad (blogging/social media) where I am making a light “touch” on many people, or very deep (having a focused one-to-one conversation with a single person) which increases the strength of that particular connection. Spending a lot of time on email, for example, wouldn’t make much sense as it is a relatively light “touch” on only a single person.
- The results build upon themselves. As the network grows, the results start to outstrip the amount of effort required. This means that, eventually, when I achieve the level of results I want from the existing behavior, I may be able to pull back to a lower activity level.
- It’s fun! I’m making a lot of friends.
Unfortunately, despite the hopes, dreams, and desires of many people, networking is still a process which takes time and effort. Expecting anything else would be like expecting a field of wheat to spring forth from the ground before we’ve even planted the first seed. Start small. Build a planter box garden, first. Then you can slowly build your systems until you are happily harvesting the whole back forty.