by Debra Phillips
September 1, 1997
Entrepreneur Bernadette Williams did everything right. Wanting to expand her fledgling Culver City, California-based Web site design company - yet constrained by a limited marketing budget - Williams followed the advice of mentors and began to aggressively network. She joined local organizations for small-business owners. She volunteered time to worthy community causes. She gave speeches. She coached disadvantaged youth on using computers. And, in the process of raising her company's profile considerably, the 29-year-old Williams ended up feeling . . . spent.
"It's very easy to get sucked in," says Williams, reflecting on all the networking she's done to promote her On Track Internet Strategies Inc. "Here I am, this young African-American female in a technology field, so I'm just sticking out everywhere I go. Everybody was after me."
Welcome to the downside of networking. Although entrepreneurs are told they need to sell, sell, sell their businesses, too much networking could be hazardous to the health of your business - and you. For Williams, whose peak networking period lasted from 1993 to 1995, commitment overload revealed itself in all sorts of ways.
"I started getting resentful," confesses the founder of the 6-year-old technology company. Pouring 10 to 15 hours every week into networking activities also made Williams physically tired and unable to spend much time with friends and family. Although she says her small staff enabled her to continue servicing clients, Williams still found it increasingly difficult to wade through all the administrative work she needed to handle herself. And, as far as driving time went, Williams was ahead of the pack even by Los Angeles standards - she estimates having put 500 to 1,000 miles on her car during especially hectic weeks during her two-year networking tour de force.
"There is a method to your madness," says Williams. "You're doing all this to build your business - and my business was growing. But what I needed to do was acknowledge the business had grown, make sure it was growing in a strategic manner and to take care of myself."
* OVERDOING IT
"This problem of overextending yourself is particularly an issue with entrepreneurs because they're the boss and [the business is] their baby," says Beverly Potter, a Berkeley, California, psychologist specializing in workplace issues. "You need to know when to say no, what to say no to and what to say yes to. That's the critical thing - and the difficult thing."
It certainly is - especially for an entrepreneur with a newly formed business to launch. What do you do when every invitation to a charity fund-raiser reads like a golden opportunity to rub elbows and - not incidentally - do some civic good? "There are so many different organizations," says Williams. "There are so many different causes."
And, unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day. You need to clearly identify those activities that will most benefit your business and most closely adhere to the long-term mission you've set for yourself, stresses Potter. "There's [an idea] that if you work harder and longer, that that's the key to success. Wrong," she says. "The key to success is doing the right thing at the right time. It's doing the key activity that gives you the most mileage."
It's learning, in essence, how to say no when the time calls for it. "You don't have to take every opportunity that comes up," assures Williams, who has since significantly reduced her networking load. "Be as visible as you can - but set those boundaries as early on as possible."
Williams expects her more manageable
schedule to allow her
to quadruple On Track's 1996 sales of $250,000 this year. Perhaps even
Williams now has a life again. She takes three-day weekends, works out
enthusiastically watches football games on television. Laughs the
networkaholic, "I even know what movies are in the theaters now!"