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Getting A Life

One entrepreneur's tale of trying to have it all.

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."

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Getting A Life.

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