Time with people vs. paying-the-bills: a difficult balancing act?

April 22, 2009 by Jared Goralnick

Skeletons drinking Jeff Widman recognizes the long term value in building relationships and connecting others.  But he knows that right now (he’s young and without his own business) it doesn’t pay the bills.

He wrote in to ask how/why I divide my time, knowing how much travel, meetings, and community things keep me busy.  With his permission, I’m turning my thoughts on this into a blog post.

Feel Free to Skip This Part: Why Meet People?

When I started SET Consulting in 2002, networking meant connecting computers, not people.  At 20 I had no concept for shmoozing.  But I understood math  I knew the concept of snowballing—if 5 people told 5 people who each told 5 more, we’d eventually have more work than we could handle.  In retrospect, it took a long time to get to that point—finding the right groups of people, better understanding the market, spreading the right message.  I was perhaps a little naive in my blind faith that things would snowball.

But sure enough, and perhaps unfortunately, we’ve turned down more business than we’ve accepted this year…and I’ve done almost zero networking for SET Consulting for the past two years.  We’re lucky, but once upon a time I pounded the pavement pretty hard.  Now I’m meeting just as many people for AwayFind.

Networking is really just forced serendipity.  They say you’ll never meet that special someone when you’re looking for her.  Bullshit: there are plenty of ways to increase your odds.  But in business it’s much easier, because lots of duds may actually lead you to a hot client.

And that same serendipity leads to plenty of other fantastic things:

  • Solid friendships
  • Inspiring people who help you to grow
  • Being able to help others to grow their own careers

How Do You Spend So Much Time with People and Still Get Paid?

I’ll be honest, networking sucks at first: you don’t know enough people and you don’t get any clients/sales/publicity (whatever you’re looking for).  But, if you want to maximize your people time without killing your business, here’s my advice:

  1. Think carefully about who you meet.
  2. Maximize the value from and for the people you meet.
  3. Put yourself first every day: remove anything social from certain parts of your day

Think Carefully About Who You Meet

There are lots of wonderful people out there:

  • People who will buy your product or service
  • People who will connect you to customers or resell your product or service
  • People who you will partner with you to improve your product or service
  • People who will help you to improve your product or service
  • People who will inspire you to improve your product or service

Let me back up a second, do you not have a product or service?  If not, that’s okay.  You can just be you.  But just like with a product or service, you need to recognize your brand, your niche, your pitch, your slant, who you want to represent, who you are trying to be known as.  We could talk about this ad infinitum; suffice it to say, differentiate yourself and be passionate.  Honestly, intelligence is important and a wide range of interests is neato, but differentiation and passion will make you memorable, and you need both.

Now back to the “wonderful people” out there.  You need to know who these people are.  And who they’re not.

No, don’t be a jackass and avoid the people who don’t fit into these buckets.  I’ve learned at dances that I’ll hate myself inside if I turn people down or look away from them when we’re dancing—you always need to be considerate and respectful.  You really do never knew what will come from that conversation (or dance).

Still, I generally have an idea who I want to meet, at events, in different cities, etc.  I make it easy to set up meetings with me for things I want, and I create barriers when I feel people are going to abuse my time.

The gist is that you need to value your time by carefully choosing who you’re going after.  Just like any other medium, you need to know your audience and know your message.

Maximize the Value From and For the People You Meet

If you don’t follow up with people you meet, you may as well not have met them.  While I still think a follow up email is best, lesser options are possible like thanking them publicly over Twitter or a blog or (cringe) connecting on a social network.  If you spam them afterwards, you’ll soon have an enemy for life.

If you then send people an article from time to time, occasionally introduce them to others, and get coffee once a year or two, you’ll be all set. Tim Ferriss has a great post about how to reach out and hold onto people.   And Chris Brogan has some great advice for using BatchBlue (a tool I’ve explored a bit) to keep up with folks.

Put Yourself First every day: Remove Anything Social at Certain Times

You’ve got work to do that’s not social.  I know I do, and it kills me when I spend the whole time in correspondence with people.  I need to solve problems and create things.  So I give myself 3-4 hours every day for this.

This is old news for most readers here, but the mornings are my focus time—no email or phone calls.  Real creativity and real work takes place then.  I still do real stuff in the afternoons but there are a lot more interruptions in the afternoon with phone calls scheduled and email to deal with.

You don’t need to follow my plan.  But I do recommend reserving time every day for activities that are solely for your needs and don’t involve others.

But What If I Really Just Like People?

The interesting thing about Jeff’s question is that he didn’t have an obvious business motivation to build relationships and connect people…he just enjoyed it.  In that case, I have two specific responses:

  1. Find a brand – like I mentioned above you need differentiation and a passion or you will not be memorable.  Someday these relationships will be valuable, but you need something for these people to hold onto if you want to be able to hold onto someone.
  2. “Find a way to make the things you do naturally become things that are also in line with your business objectives, because the less dissonance you have between who you are and who you feel you ‘should be,’ the better.  So, find a job or career that thrives on personal relationships.”  (I emailed this to Jeff)

And What If I Don’t Like People?

That’s cool, too.  Relationships will always be the easiest way to find jobs or business,  but so long as a few people know that you’re really good at what you do and are willing to share that with potential employers, you’re okay.

Still, it helps if you meet a few people like Jeff.

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4 Responses to “Time with people vs. paying-the-bills: a difficult balancing act?”

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  1. ferrisswatch (ferrisswatch)

    Technotheory.com – Time with people vs. paying-the-bills: a …: If you then send people an article from time to.. http://tinyurl.com/crpafa


  1. Tom – StandOutBlogger.com

    Networking with other bloggers is the way I have been able to do so many things with my blog that I never could have before. It has been the source of a few joint ventures, a massive amount of tips that have helped me improve my blogging as well as just having other people who I can relate with.

  2. Jeff Widman

    Thanks Jared–I really appreciate your detailed response!

    “Find a way to make the things you do naturally become things that are also in line with your business objectives, because the less dissonance you have between who you are and who you feel you ‘should be,’ the better. So, find a job or career that thrives on personal relationships.”

    That line about *minimizing dissonance* moved me to start looking for that type of position,and actually resulted in an interview later today…

  3. Jared Goralnick

    Tom, really glad to hear you’ve gotten some serious value out of networking online!

    Jeff, awesome to hear I some tiny role in your reaching out and doing something awesome. I hope the interview went well! And heck, I get to meet you today in SF…how awesome is that : )

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