Once upon a time, I loved networking. As the workday drew to a close, I’d freshen my lipstick and double check the address for the evening’s happy hour, lecture or meet-up. I’d head out the door, excited and ready to meet interesting people and make valuable professional connections.
Fast forward a decade, through career shifts, moves, marriage and the birth of my son. These days, networking ranks pretty low on the list of ways I want to spend my valuable time, energy and brain cells—even though, now that I’m self-employed, it’s exactly what I need to do to keep growing my business.
Last week, Mompreneur talked to Alyce Blum, a professional coach and consultant who specializes in networking, about why she left behind her stable job to start her own business. I asked her for advice on how busy working moms can maximize their networking potential. Here are three valuable tips she shared.
1. Set a goal
When you’re stressed or pressed for time, it’s easy to let your feelings or mood dictate your decisions. You might know you should attend a particular event—and even RSVP—only to decide at the last minute that you’re too tired or behind on life to actually go. This results not only in missed opportunities but often also in feelings of guilt or shame that you’re not advancing your career or growing your business.
Unsurprisingly, Blum is all about setting measurable goals when it comes to networking. “For tired, overworked, and overwhelmed moms, the first thing I recommend is to identify how many hours per month you want to commit to networking,” says Blum. Like so many things in life, if you can set a quantifiable goal, you have a much higher chance of actually achieving it. After all, it’s much easier to commit four hours per month to networking and then actually hold yourself accountable to that goal rather than just have a vague idea that you want to be a “better networker” or attend “more” events.
Once you have your number of hours set, Blum suggests spending the majority of that time revisiting established relationships. She recommends that if you’re already feeling stretched thin, the best course of action is to spend 75% of your networking hours reconnecting with people you know.
“If you’re committing four hours a month to networking, I would ensure that three of those hours are being spent with people you already like and trust,” she advises. Furthermore, that time doesn’t have to be spent in stereotypical settings. Reconnecting with people “could easily mean going on a walk with another mom, meeting an old colleague for a coffee or finding thirty minutes to reconnect with an old friend via facetime, zoom or any web-based video conferencing tool,” she says.
Blum knows that being a working mom is hard, and that it can often lead to feelings of vulnerability and isolation. “Networking with people that you already feel comfortable around and who already have your best interest at heart is the best way to strategically connect, support one another, and share ideas for future growth,” she says.
3. Find opportunities that align with your values
Finally, Blum suggests focusing on opportunities that complement your interests, passions, and values. “In order to avoid networking that feels burdensome, find activities, meetings, and groups that align with your values,” she says. This can mean attending events hosted by a particular social, political, or religious group and pursuing connections with people who share similar interests and hobbies.
“If we can stay true to our values and align them with how we spend our time then the time we do spend away from family will feel in line with who we are as a whole, not just as a part of who we are trying to become,” says Blum.
Ultimately, good networking has a lot less to do with trading business cards and a lot more to do with making genuine, meaningful connections with people wherever you go. So next time you’re at the playground with your toddler or sitting in the stands at your kid’s sporting event, talk to the person beside you. You never know what opportunities might grow out of your conversation.