We are all familiar with the airline instructions about what to do if the oxygen masks should suddenly pop out due to cabin depressurization. If you are with your child, you put on your own mask first, then assist them. The general idea is that you can’t take care of someone else if you can’t breath yourself.

A similar point applies to networking. If you spend all of your time helping other people and ignoring your own needs and the needs of your business, then you won’t be much good to anyone. Networking can only help people learn about you and your business. With the possible exception of giving you better access to advice and perhaps supplies, it can’t do much to actually maintain or improve the quality of your business.

This is one of the reasons that we have to determine what our overarching goals are for networking. We can only spend a certain amount of our day meeting, connecting, and serving other people. If your clients suffer because you can’t devote the time you need, then they will start looking elsewhere. If your business isn’t evolving to meet new market trends, then soon you’re bottom line will suffer. If you’re not updating your personal skills, then no matter how powerful your network, you won’t find that career of your dreams — or if you do, you won’t have it for long.

So, as you develop your networking plan, be sure that you set a mix of activities that will optimize the benefit to you. You want enough networking time to allow you to continue to extend and strengthen your connections, but not so much that it is at the expense of you and your business.

Remember, too, that networks can sometimes cut both ways. If you run a superlative business, then your crowd of ambassadors will extol your abilities to all who would listen. If, on the other hand, your business is substandard or shoddy, the best you can hope for is that no one will talk about you.

Not exactly the goal you were seeking when you worked to build that network, right?