Lisa and I were having a discussion today about how we were going to approach clearing out our basement. We’re contemplating having some work done down there and we need to move out everything we can. The thing is, as with most homes, taking stuff out of one location means making room for it in another. It can almost lead to an infinite regression of “OK, we put that in this room, then we have to move this other object somewhere else.” How do you ever decide where to start?

There’s a similar dilemma when it comes to developing a good networking practice. What should you focus on next? Do you work on your thirty-second commercial? What about your business cards? Which events should you attend? Which groups should you join? What sorts of systems should you set up to get the best of your networking efforts? Let’s face it you could spend so much time preparing (and preparing to prepare) that you might never actually get around to networking.

If you are the kind of person that likes to get off to a quick start. You might consider choosing your next networking task based on your current skills. Here are a few ideas.

  • You’ve never networked before. Jump in and get your feet wet. Find a local Chamber or other general networking group and start attending events. It won’t be as focused as it could be, but you need to start practicing the skills. You can fine-tune later.
  • You spend a lot of time networking, but you aren’t getting the results you want. A lot of times this is because you aren’t focused on a particular target market. Take some time to get specific about who you are trying to reach. Then start talking to members of that group and find out how and where to meet more of them.
  • You are networking, but the results you are getting are uneven. Set up and maintain a networking scorecard. Remember with the scorecard, the number of points you receive in a given week are neither good nor bad. It just gives you a feel for “how much” networking you are doing compared to other weeks which then helps you decide whether you are doing enough.
  • You are attending events, but aren’t doing a lot of one-to-one meetings. One-to-ones are the activities which really strengthen the relationships. That’s what will take you to the level of trust where you will start to receive the referrals you were hoping to get. In order to get there, you need to be the one who is making the relationship work. I recommend that you set up a system for following up after events and a tickler file for continued relationship development.
  • You’ve tried all of these things before and they never stuck. This is always a challenge. We have so many other things to do in our lives that it’s easy to have these day-to-day activities slip by the wayside. If this is a challenge for you, then I recommend finding an accountability partner. Now, this can be either a formal coaching relationship or an informal one with someone from your network. Either way, you are looking for someone to help keep you honest in your networking pursuits.
Just like our efforts on our basement, if you try to focus on every area of your networking practice at once, you are putting way too much pressure on yourself. If you can pick a single prioritized area, however, you are far more likely to meet with long-term success and have to deal with a lot less frustration to boot. So, pick the area that seems to be the highest priority for you and just get busy. Your success is waiting.
Photo credit: Flickr user Redvers