27/02/2014 10:04 GMT | Updated 29/04/2014 06:59 BST

Are You Too Busy to Find Time to Nurture Your Network?

How's business? Do you have a lot of orders both confirmed and in the pipeline?

You do? That's great! No need to worry about a networking or referrals strategy then.

Or think again.


Networking and relationship-building activities are often among the first things to be dropped when business picks up. And that's understandable, after all why would you focus on new business when you're struggling to cope with what's already coming your way?

Such an attitude, however, is both short sighted and misses the point of networking. As I've written and spoken about extensively elsewhere, successful networking relies on patience and time as you develop trust and build a network of people around you who want to help. It's not about walking into a room full of strangers and expecting those people to buy from, or refer, you as soon as they've met you.

Carole Stone, the former producer of 'Any Questions' and 'Women's Hour' on BBC Radio 4, once said "Make friends when you can, not when you need them". If you focus on your networking when you don't need help, you'll be less needy, more focused on the other person and, as a result, more attractive to know.

You need to invest in your networks first. Recently I spoke with a client of mine who is struggling with the referrals programme she's included in. The reason she's struggling is, quite simply, time. She has so much business that she can't prioritise her networking.

After our last call she booked out a room in her office building for two hours once a week to force herself to focus on her referrals strategy. Yet still she can't bring herself to use those two hours with the knowledge of everything else piled up on her desk.

My client is a financial advisor. I suggested to her that she is in exactly the same position as one of her clients when she discusses their pension needs. They have a pot of money that they would be quite happy to spend now, enjoying nicer holidays, a better car or more nights out. However, she has to convince them that it's in their best interests not to do that. They will be better off in the longer term if they set some of that money aside to plan for their future, when they don't enjoy the same level of income as they do at the moment.

For money, read time. My client would be quite happy focusing her time on the business coming in at the moment, but she needs to set some aside to plan for more barren spells in the future. She doesn't need to ask for referrals at the moment, she has plenty of work, she just needs to develop and nurture relationships so that when she does need to ask it doesn't come as a bolt from the blue.

If she invests her time in building her networks now, those networks will be more than happy to give her a substantial return on that investment in the future. If she waits until she needs help she may find that such help is very hard to come by.

Business may be great at the moment, and if it is I'm pleased for you. But don't use that as a reason to put your relationship building to one side. Find the time every week to call, email, connect with and to meet with people you haven't seen for a while. If you don't need their help right now that's great; find out how you can help them instead.

Invest in your future and may the good times continue.