You have to network to build your practice. But how much time should you devote? Most professionals spend an average of 6.3 hours meeting new people and strengthening connections every week, says a survey by Business Network International (BNI).
The study concludes this 25 hours a month helps generate 47% of all of their business. BNI, a forum for business owners, surveyed 12,000 businesspeople worldwide. What’s more, highly successful networkers spend 32 to 40 hours a month on the task and say this time invested generates “well over half” of their business.
Read: Diversify your network
Since 40 hours a month equals an extra week of work, it’s important to delegate tasks to make time for networking. For instance, your assistant could do research, handle paperwork, draft client correspondence and manage your schedule.
Those who spent only two hours a week making connections achieved few benefits, finds BNI’s survey. Still, if you only have a few spare hours, there are ways to maximize your time.
Nurture both your in-person and social media networks, says Gloria Petersen, author of The Art of Professional Connections: Success Strategies for Networking in Person and Online. But if you only have time for one, she says in-person networking is most effective.
“That is the best way to share or sell your enthusiasm,” she writes. Adds Norm Dominguez, BNI’s CEO, “I’ve yet to sign a contract with somebody via Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, yet they are great vehicles for opening doors in the referral business.”
While social media can lead to in-person interactions, it can also eat up your time. Designate specific times for social media activities like sending invitations, checking on acquaintances or joining groups, says author Starr Hall, in her book Get Connected: The Social Networking Toolkit for Business.
Updating your status takes less than a minute and it’s widely broadcasted to your network. Hall suggests mixing professional status updates with the occasional personal one to show your human side. Social media can be a rabbit hole, so set a time budget and stick to it.
When at events
Before you step through the door, Petersen suggests rehearsing your introduction and having a couple of conversation topics up your sleeve. Ask another guest whether she likes the wine they’re serving, or chat about local real estate prices. The key is to ask open-ended questions that let them do the talking.
Next, ask about her work or how she got started in the field. Petersen suggests following up with, “Is there anything you need in your business right now?” You might personally be able to help, or you could connect her with someone in your network, like a lawyer or accountant.
Dominguez adds you should limit your time to about 10 minutes per person because it forces you to meet more people.
Petersen also recommends having three types of events on your calendar: industry-related, to help you meet, and learn from, peers; community gatherings, to connect you with the surrounding businesses; and social activities.
Jessica Bruno is a Toronto-based financial writer.