Networking overload

Q: I am self-employed. I run a small consulting business providing information technology expertise. I am doing well but I am building my business. I work seven days per week. I love the work. The problem? I get about five networking requests per week. Some are from people I don’t even know. Some are from people I went to college with 25 years ago and have not kept in touch with. Some are from friends and family. Some are from recent college grads and I really don’t have any good connections for them. More often than not, they are friends of friends of friends. I want to be helpful but this is turning into my new part-time job! I don’t get paid for this and these people don’t seem to understand that. This time should probably be used building my business. HELP! I have never seen this question in your column before.

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A: Your letter hit home with me. I live that same personal challenge. I don’t get paid for having coffees, lunches or a glass of wine with job seekers. I probably receive about 10 requests per week so I think I have you beat!

I struggle with maintaining a balance of being focused on my business while trying to be a helpful resource. Here are some guidelines that I have established for myself. I hope these help you maintain that balance.

– I limit my networking meetings (coffees, breakfasts, etc.) to two per week. Between the travel time and the time away from my business, I have found this limit to be manageable. When job seekers call me I tell them my available times, which are often three or more weeks in the future. If that doesn’t work for them, then that is a choice the job seeker must make. I know it seems harsh, but I can not turn my world upside down and cancel existing appointments because a person that I met at a cookout 11 years ago has lost a job.
– If someone wants to meet me in person, I have to make it convenient for me. It has to be a reasonable location and a time and date that work for me.
– I am often more open to a phone call, which does not require travel time. Yet, still I have to limit these calls, both in terms of length of the call and the number of calls I can take per week.
– I have had many job seekers ask me to revise their resume and help them find a job. I do this type of work but I charge for it.
– Sometimes I have to say “no” to job seekers. It is difficult to do. But if I have met them, shared job seeking strategies, given them feedback on their resume, etc., I feel like I have been more than generous with my time.

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Finally, I do believe in giving back. I do believe that sometimes additional business can come from these networking meetings. Even these meetings don’t result in additional business opportunities; I think it is the right thing to do.

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