By now, I know you know how important it is to network—whether you’re job searching, starting your own business or side gig, or simply looking for people to join your kickball team.
And in theory, networking sounds great. Building real, human relationships with mentors, peers, colleagues, industry friends, and other inspiring and smart people who may be able to help you achieve your goals? Amazing.
But here’s the thing about building and nurturing those real, human relationships: They take time. In some cases, a lot of time. And if you don’t have a whole lot of extra hours in your days (#preach), that can feel like too huge of a commitment to take on.
I’ve met some serious networkers in my time, and they’re at breakfasts and dinners and coffees and events every day of the week—which works for them. But for the rest of us who don’t have all that time to spare, here are three ways to build and nurture valuable relationships while still keeping some white space in your Google calendar.
1. Host Regular Events
Growing up, I was the friend who was always saying, “Guys, come hang at my house! I’m making cookies!” (Or, as we got older, “I found beer!”)
I loved being able to bring different groups of people together and spend quality time with them—and then I loved having the next few days all to myself.
The same applies for networking. By, for example, hosting women entrepreneurs for drinks in your neighborhood, inviting your favorite peeps out for dinner every third Wednesday of the month, or introducing cheese night at your place for some new contacts you’d like to get to know better (and who would likely benefit from knowing one another), you get valuable face time, but you only need to devote a single evening to it.
Added bonus? All that hosting positions you as a leader, which is a great trait for your community to see—especially if someone in your network is hiring, bringing on a consultant, or looking for a co-captain.
Last reminder: A “regular” get-together doesn’t have to be weekly. I recommend holding events monthly or—if things are super nuts—quarterly.
2. Join a Meetup
If you don’t want to host an event, but like the idea of devoting small amounts of time to getting to know large amounts of people, join a Meetup that’s relevant to the professional community you want to build.
This could be anything from “graphic designers in NYC” to “comedians in Chicago” to “entrepreneurs under 30.”
Just remember that networking isn’t speed dating. So while you’re purposefully meeting a lot of people in one night, the goal is not to leave with a pile of business cards. The goal is to introduce yourself, see who you click with, and make a plan to get in touch with those people in the near future (on a day when you can spare an hour to write a few emails or grab a coffee in person).
3. Join a Facebook Group
I’m a big fan of in-person relationship building, but I do believe you can do some seriously great networking online.
One of the best ways to do that? Facebook groups.
In the same way that you’d search for Meetups related to the wine-making business or introverted professionals, you can search for Facebook groups.
I’m currently a member of several that bring together people interested in women entrepreneurship, marketing, and coaching. A few times a week, I pop in and see what people are talking about. If there’s a way I can help or add value to the conversation, I jump in. Similarly, I ask for help when I need it.
It’s become a valuable resource for both my life and business, and I’ve met several people who I now consider to be great contacts and friends. That said, spend a little time getting to know the community before you start posting. I’ve found that while many groups mimic the intimacy and humanness of in-person networking, others feel like a bunch of people shouting into the abyss of the internet without offering help and advice in return. Which is a waste of your time—especially when you don’t have much to spare in the first place.
While these three options will take less time than attending networking breakfasts and dinners five times a week, they’re not the end of the story. In whatever ways you choose to nurture your personal relationships—like sending emails or handwritten notes to say thanks, checking in regularly to see how your family or friends are doing, and giving as much (or more!) than you’re taking—consider cultivating your professional network in those ways, too.
Because in the end, if you’re doing it right, they usually end up being the same thing.