How to Prioritize Your Networking to be More Effective

December 12, 2017

How to prioritize who to network with, so you are more effective.

You Can't Connect with Everyone. Here's How to Keep Yourself Sane.

Quick: how many people are you connected with on social media?

Hundreds? Thousands? Just try networking with all of them.

It's never going to happen.

Many of us get overwhelmed and feel like we somehow should be in touch with everyone. But instead, the secret is prioritizing your networking.

As I discuss in my LinkedIn Learning course Professional Networking, you have to be strategic about how you use your time.

First, it’s important to focus on a limited number of contacts.

Think in terms of your top 10, your top 50 and your top 100. You’ll obviously want to devote more time and energy to your top 10, as compared to the others on your list.

So who should be on it? Think about people who can make a real difference to your professional future.

These could be current or past clients, prospective clients, recommenders, people in your company who are critical to your promotional chances, mentors or sponsors, friends who are connectors, people in the media, etc.

Second, block out an hour or so to review your list of contacts.

It doesn't matter if you keep your contacts in your email account, on your phone, or if you use specialized software.

Just scroll through the list of names, and on a sheet of paper or a basic computer spreadsheet, jot down the names of people that should fall into your top 10, top 50 or top 100 list.

Third, think about the ways you can keep in touch with people.

It could be through emails, phone calls, or even actual letters. Or it could be in person, whether that’s 1-1 or in groups.

Look at your calendar and mark out time to connect with your top contacts. The specifics will vary, but it should be realistic for you. (You can check out the strategy consultant Michael Katz uses in this Forbes interview I did with him.)

For instance, if you have a long driving commute, you could plan to call at least one person in your top 100 per day on your ride home to check in. That means that at least three times a year, you’ll have reached out to someone important to you – not bad.

Or you might try to schedule a 1-1 coffee each week with someone on your top 10 list; that means that approximately every quarter, you’ll be personally connecting with them. Both are very do-able, if you choose to make the time.

Fourth and finally, it’s essential to periodically re-evaluate your strategy.

Every three months, it’s worth making a note in your calendar to look at your overall networking strategy. Even a quick 30-minute review will help.

Is your plan working the way you want? Do you feel you’re connecting with the right people, and deepening your relationships?

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is there anyone I’ve met in the past three months that is worth adding to my priority list? Maybe there’s a new potential client that you’d like to get to know better.
  • Is there anyone I should drop from the list? Of course you can still continue to be friends with people on the list and hang out with them socially. But if, for instance, they’ve retired or switched jobs and are no longer working in a relevant industry, you may not need to network with them professionally.
  • Am I spending my time on the right activities? If you started out with a plan to call one person on your list each day to say hello, but decided you actually hate talking on the phone, that’s OK. What’s important is the overall focus on networking, not the specific mechanism. You can adjust and spend more time on check-in emails, or meeting up in person. 

If you’re going to network efficiently - and have the energy to keep it up - you have to prioritize your contacts, develop a plan to keep in touch with them, and then look back and reflect on your strategy every three months or so.

Let's be honest: most people handle their networking pretty haphazardly. So if you apply the level of discipline described above, you'll outpace almost everyone else. Your connections will grow stronger, and your business will see the results.

Dorie Clark is a keynote speaker, an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a LinkedIn Learning instructor. Her courses include: