5 Time Management Tips for Better Networking in 2013

“Coffee Shopping” is how I describe loosely defined, networking meetings and business introductions — which mostly seem to take place in the neighborhood coffee shop.  I like meeting new people, learning about their work and determining if we can support one another. Most of my business comes from referrals so the open approach to networking makes sense to me.  I want a full calendar of possibilities.

A couple years ago, I was walking out of Starbucks following a particularly long session of “Coffee Shopping” when my phone buzzed.  My brother was reaching out for our weekly call.  After some small talk and explaining how I spent the bulk of my morning, he hit me with this observation: “Dude, if you could figure out a way to get paid from having networking and brainstorming meetings at Starbucks everyday, you’d be crazy rich.”

Translation:  Maybe you should take a few minutes and audit the ROI of the 47 networking meetings you’ve had at Starbucks this year and determine if that is the most productive use of your time given your business objectives.

I doubt he even remembers the conversation. I’ve never forgotten it because the truth is I was “coffee shopping” to avoid some of the hard, isolating kitchen table effort required of anyone starting something new.  Those meetings and big idea brainstorming conversations with other people on their own creation journey felt good.  I still believe they can prove useful.  But the truth is, my predisposition to “coffee shopping” wasn’t entirely productive and I needed to learn how to better manage my time.

As my business has grown, this has continued to be a difficult and delicate balance.  I decided to ask for help. Over the last couple weeks, I have asked some of the most successful people I know for their time management tips.  How do successful people thrive in business while making sure personal obligations don’t suffer?

One common characteristic: developing a system for managing their time and exercising the discipline to maintain it.  While they varied slightly in strategy, they all advocated for a specific, structured and strategic approach to time management. Here are a few of my favorite time management tips and techniques based on what they shared with me.

The Breakfast Meeting.  The early-riser crowd was in favor of meeting to start the day.  A  7:00 am breakfast meeting usually includes a hard stop and doesn’t interfere with the morning business agenda.  In contrast, mid-morning “coffee shopping” can easily kill a half day of productivity.

The Networking Agenda. An agenda helps make sure you’re making the most productive use of your time.  If both people understand the context of the meeting and show up prepared to contribute, you are likely to accomplish a whole lot more.

The ABC’s of Networking. Categorizing networking in terms of opportunity and value is critical.  An A meeting is one you want to have with clear reciprocity in terms of value.  A C might be an investment of time you make to give back.  Interestingly, everyone I spoke with was willing to guide, coach, counsel and mentor others, but they still recognized the need to manage their time devoted to such efforts. How many A, B and C meetings have you had  in the past 30 days?

The Email Q&A: I heard this one a couple times.  Can you trade correspondence to accomplish the business objective?  Worth considering.  This allows you to manage your response in a way that fits you priorities and schedule.

The No Alcohol Rule: A few people I spoke with subscribed to this one, particularly around new networking meetings.  A happy hour or dinner meeting had to earn A status  to justify cutting into personal time.  I had one person tell me he banned it altogether. “If there is alcohol involved I no longer consider it business.”

I have long been an advocate of turning customers into friends and friends into people I work with.  My work life is actually a big blend of business and friendship. My take away around time management is about prioritizing, protecting my calendar and putting more structure and a better system in place for the New Year.

We all receive the same gift of 24 hours in a day.  Wishing you a very productive 2013!

5 Responses to “5 Time Management Tips for Better Networking in 2013”

  1. Those tips are perfect for networking with American business people. If you are networking with people from other cultures most tips won’t work.

    In France or Russia, forget about 7am breakfast meetings, people don’t go to work before 9am or even later in Russia since people stay very late at work, 8pm for the French and 11pm-2am for the Russians. French will spend 2 hours for a business lunch.

    Regarding “productivity”, in many cultures, you need to build personal relationships before talking business and it can take a while before people trust you enough to speak about collaboration. You also have to cultivate the relationships through gift exchanges, for example in Russia or Japan.

    For alcohol, in Japan for example , most business relationships are built after work in “nomiya”, the equivalent of Britsih pubs with food and alcoholic drinks, usually Scotch with ice and water or sake. This is called “nominication” from “nomu” means drinking and communication. People won’t feel comfortable if you refuse the invitation to drink.

    I am sure you are aware of those cultural differences and it was not the purpose of your post to talk about doing global networking but I thought it would be interesting to put some intercultural flavor in your great article.

    Anne on 19 Dec 2012, 9:30 am (Link | Reply)

  2. Anne, Thanks for including the global perspective on networking! You are completely correct…my tips are US centric and I do think you’ve provided a valuable addition to the post. Much appreciated!

    Ryan Estis on 19 Dec 2012, 10:48 am (Link | Reply)

  3. Networking often becomes that necessary evil in career management. As the owner of an executive career management and recruiting firm, I emphasize the importance of networking daily! However, as you stated, how do you select the best networking events to attend? It can easily become a second job. My best advice, is to find specialty networking events that cater to your specific industry. Personally, I found that here in Southern California, we were lacking in a networking and professional development group exclusively for Sales Leaders. So, in order to fill the gap, I created one! This group is designed solely for those in sales and marketing leadership/management roles. By keeping our focus sharp, we are able to meet the needs of a very specific group of professionals in order to provide them with the best networking and professional tools they need. It has been extremely successful- so much so that we are launching our second chapter! And our members have raved about receiving industry specific information and networking opportunities.
    Ken Schmitt

    Ken Schmitt on 19 Dec 2012, 6:27 pm (Link | Reply)

  4. [...] Ryan Estis is a business performance expert that helps companies, leaders and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. This post originally ran on his blog. [...]

  5. [...] need.  I don’t have time for too many nonessential lunch or coffee meetings (I retired from coffee shopping).  Neither do your customers.  (In fairness, I did remove the category/industry for the example [...]

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