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    How to help without hurting yourself

    Q. I run a small consulting business providing information technology expertise. I am doing well, but building my business. I work seven days per week. I love the work. The problem? I get about five networking requests per week. Some are from people I don’t know. Some are from people I went to college with 25 years ago and have not kept in touch with. Some are from friends and family. More often than not, they are friends of friends of friends. I want to be helpful, but this is turning into my part-time job. This time should probably be used building my business. Help!

    A. Your letter hit home with me. I live that same personal challenge. I probably receive about 10 requests per week, so I think I have you beat.

    I also struggle with maintaining a balance of focusing on my business while trying to be helpful. Here are some guidelines that I established for myself:


    - I limit my networking meetings (coffees, breakfasts, etc.) to two per week. Between travel time and the time away from my business, I have found this limit to be manageable. When job seekers call me I tell them my available times, which are often three or more weeks in the future. If that doesn’t work for them, then that is their choice.

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    - If networkers want to meet in person, they have to make it convenient for me.

    - I am more open to a phone call, which does not require travel time, but I still have to limit these calls.

    - I have had many job seekers ask me to revise their resumes and help them find jobs. I do this type of work, but I charge for it.

    - Sometimes I have to say, “No.” It is difficult to do. But if I have met them, shared job seeking strategies, given them feedback on their resumes, and offered other advice, at a certain point I’ve done enough.


    Finally, I do believe in giving back. Sometimes additional business can come from these networking meetings, but even if it doesn’t, I still believe it is the right thing to do.

    Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.