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Oct 31st

Nuisance or networking group: Maximizing professional networking time

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By Julie Desmond

In the Star Tribune recently, Stephen Wilburs lamented the time he'd lost blissfully checking emails when he had planned to accomplish something more productive. He is not the first or only person to be overcome by the time-numbing effects of communicating through technology. It all began with television, or maybe long before that, when someone who should have been hunting and gathering was instead back at the cave fooling around with two sticks and a spark. SearchIn the Star Tribune recently, Stephen Wilburs lamented the time he'd lost blissfully checking emails when he had planned to accomplish something more productive. He is not the first or only person to be overcome by the time-numbing effects of communicating through technology. It all began with television, or maybe long before that, when someone who should have been hunting and gathering was instead back at the cave fooling around with two sticks and a spark. The question is, with a plethora of opportunities to procrastinate all around us, how do we know whether we are wasting time or just on the brink of discovering some life altering connection?

In an attempt to reach out to new job seekers, a tech-savvy friend developed a Facebook page with my name on it. I had used LinkedIn for years, and saw this as a good addition to my networking toolbox. Right. The trouble with Facebook is its allure. My friends are on Facebook. They send me messages and add photos and edit their profiles. I am a need-to-know person, and can easily spend time, lots of time, updating my mental notebook about various friends' weekends and warm weather vacations. Since joining Facebook, I have also added Plaxo, Jigsaw and a few other online sites to my signature. The result: still waiting for job seekers to surface. Apparently, they're also lost somewhere in the timeless world of online networking sites; we just have not connected yet.

I am beginning to wonder, is "networking" really time well spent, or a buzzword that really means procrastination? I turned to successful business owner Robin Johnson of High Road Heating and Cooling for an answer. She depends on networking to build her business, and says that in spite of the many networking options, she only belongs to two groups. One of the two has brought limited results, but the other, BNI, provides her with 83% of her business.

Says Robin, "The best advice I can offer with regard to a networking group is get to know the other members that would be a natural referral resource for your business. For instance, as a heating and cooling contractor, I try to get to know the members who go into people's homes before I meet with the financial members or health and wellness members. The people that work with home owners will be a better source to give and receive referrals than those that don't."

Taking Robin's advice, I reviewed my own networking obligations. Where are the people who will provide me with great referrals? And where will I be in a position to possibly help others? And how close are we all, really, when our closest connection is only a sign-out away? Over-connecting through commitments to multiple groups is a time drain and probably unfair to those I'm too busy to interact with professionally. Over the next few weeks, I will be making an effort to curb online networking time, opting for in-person conversation as much as possible, especially with those who can become solid business partners or good friends. Moving Facebook and other online networking sites to entertainment status, I should be able to spend more time and energy truly connecting. Technology has its place, but online groups should never replace the real experience of meeting people face to face.

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Julie Desmond is a recruiter with Hunter Hamilton Professional Resources in Minneapolis. Write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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