January is all about setting intentions and resolutions for the year ahead. This is the time of year we start thinking about what we want to do and who we want to become. We start envisioning what those changes will look like and making grand plans for how we’re going to get there. For many of us we are looking for ways to reconnect with old friends or grow our social circles. Professionals and entrepreneurs might be thinking about how they can connect with colleagues or peers as well as develop their customer base and expand their professional networks. Many of us are feeling the urge to connect and grow our circles of influence.
Unfortunately, these ambitious visions and hopes for new connections and renewed friendships quickly fade away. Old habits kick in and we can easily slip back into chilly evenings snuggled up with Netflix or a good book. For others it may come down to a lack of confidence or direction on how to get started. It can feel like we’ve failed before we’ve even started. Or perhaps for some of us, we’ve just bitten off more than we can chew and set our goals - and expectations - too high.
Experts tell us that most new year resolutions have been thrown out of the window by the third week in January.
I'm here to show you that that doesn’t have to be your fate. Setting realistic and specific goals and making a plan of action that fits your lifestyle is a great way to keep your resolutions alive. However, taking your awareness and planning a step further and allowing for obstacles and those sneaky ways you may be sabotaging yourself will allow you to master those bad habits or lack of direction. Following the three easy steps below will help you set defined goals, stay on track and grow your personal and professional networks with gusto throughout the year.
Step 1: Set Your Goals
Start by asking yourself who you want to connect with this year. Do you want to add new friends to your social circle or reconnect with friends you've been out of touch with lately? Do you want to connect with colleagues or meet peers in similar career fields? Do you want to grow your client base and find new customers? Who would you like to connect with? How many new clients would you like to find this year? Who would you like to collaborate with?
Break your list down into personal and professional, new connections and re-connections. If anyone immediately comes to mind start making a list right now! You will continue to add to your list throughout the year so there’s no pressure to think of everyone right this instant.
Step 2: Become Aware of Self-Sabotage
Having a plan is one thing. Following through is another. Becoming aware of possible self-sabotage or go-to excuses is a whole new ball game! Take a moment to be real with yourself and write down common excuses you’ve used in the past to get out of making new connections, including ways you have sabotaged yourself. This could get uncomfortable or hilarious depending on how you look at it...but please do look at it.
For example one way in which I sabotage myself is not making eating a priority in my day. I quickly run out of steam by the time evening networking events come around and I often end up leaving early, or not going at all! (And I’m certainly not at my best)
Can you relate? How else do you get in your own way? Mismanage your time? Delay rsvp’ing until the event is sold out? Talk to the same people you already know and not meet knew people? Perhaps it’s an issue of confidence or not knowing how to start up a conversation with someone new? Maybe it’s having one too many drinks and acting unprofessional? Maybe you are being inauthentic or aggressive and unconsciously turning people off?
Look back over the last year and find those common excuses, actions or inactions that set you up for missed networking opportunities. Write them out and make a plan for eliminating them. If you’re like me that might include carrying snacks around and not skipping meals to keep your energy up. Maybe you need to bring a friend or co-worker along to networking events to prevent nervousness. Perhaps you need to develop some skills or research a topic if lack of knowledge or experience is holding you back. Whatever your common excuses or self-sabotaging actions are, if you can name them, you can prevent them.
Step 3: Make a Plan
Now that you know who you want to connect with and how you can stop sabotaging yourself it’s time to make a tangible plan. This begins with a few more questions such as how many events do you want to attend each month? How many existing friends and connections do you want to reconnect with, and how will you reconnect with them? Who would you like to get to know better within your professional networks? What kinds of people do you want to add?
Think about the types of people you want to add to your network or reconnect with along with how you are going to connect with them. You might set Skype dates, phone calls, brunches, cocktail hours, networking events, local attractions and events, sporting events, fitness activities, or even a simple email or text. At the beginning of each month take some time to break it down and plan it out. Remember to include existing clubs, activities, and social events you currently attend.
Most importantly, make sure your plan fits your lifestyle. It’s easy to get overzealous and over-schedule ourselves, leaving no room for life’s other necessities. Make a plan that’s doable, enjoyable and includes plenty of time for following up with connections as you expand your circles.
*Hint: spreadsheets and CRM’s can help! Utilize any tools you need to keep you organized and on track.
A little forethought, organized planning, and self-reflection will go a long way in helping you achieve your networking goals for the year.