Tips to help you network with a purpose

For many, networking is a challenge.

First and foremost, networking is just as the name implies: it’s work. Finding extra time outside of business hours, sacrificing personal time and selling yourself to a room full of strangers can be exhausting and difficult without the promise of a solid lead at the end of the effort.

For some people, networking is a natural extension of their personality, but for those without the inclination, they still need to know that it’s critical. If you’re like me  — someone who took a long time to understand the value of networking — your time in and out of the office is precious and requires prioritization.

Here are a few tips on how to make networking a natural part of your life, while still protecting your previous “out of work” time.

Have a purpose

It’s not necessary to network all the time if you’re networking smart.

Be judicious about the events you attend and the length of your stay. You don’t have to network constantly, but when you do, it should have a purpose. Research the guest list before you go to determine if it’s an event worth attending and, once you add it to the lineup, go into the event with a clear goal and list of key people with whom you’d like to connect.

For me, networking boils down to four goals: finance, recruiting, partnerships and mergers/acquisitions.

Whether I am seeking investment for a business or personal endeavor, looking to back a new venture, seeking new talent or looking to generate more sales leads or partnerships, these events can be a great way to tap into a community of customers, employees and like-minded leaders.

No new friends

It’s not necessary to use networking events to make new friends; save that goal for the golf course. Although opportunities have spurred new friendships down the line, I like to keep networking focused on business opportunities to maximize my time. Staying engaged in professional conversation with intent will help show a return on the investment of your time.

Give yourself permission to be realistic

Networking can be like working out — sometimes the hardest part is willing yourself to walk through the doors and take the first step on the treadmill.

Set a 30-minute rule — if you don’t recognize any value within the first 30 minutes, give yourself permission to make a fast exit. There are enough networking opportunities to schedule something every night of the week, so if tonight’s event was a bust, next week’s may produce dividends.

And don’t forget to impose realistic expectations for your event; otherwise you won’t be able to see small successes. Remember that one new credible contact or new business lead is time well spent. The goal isn’t to talk to everyone in the room; only the people who will potentially help you meet a business objective.

An executive’s time is valuable, so even though you need to make networking a priority, it doesn’t always need to be your No. 1 priority. ●