The 10 Worst Networking Practices and How to Avoid Them

Make your next networking event as effective as possible by avoiding these 10 mistakes.

I hate networking. I really hate it. Yes, it’s a rather strange comment coming from the self-proclaimed Godfather of Networking in COSE Land. But let me explain.

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    I’ve been networking to support my business for a long time. My strategies and tactics have changed dramatically over the years as I learned how to network with focus, finesse and flexibility. And I get increasingly annoyed with people who don’t.   

    Too many people still network ineffectively today. It makes me crazy and it probably makes you crazy, too. Here’s a summary of the10 worst networking practices and why I hate them. And so will you.

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    Worst Networking Practice No. 1: Networking without a strategic focus

    Some people don’t go to a networking event with a specific goal or purpose in mind; they just go to network. They often waste their time, and the time of the people they talk to. It’s much easier to evaluate results afterward with specific defined objectives up front. Plan your networking, then network your plan.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 2: Networking without practical alternatives 

    People don’t consider optional sources first but rather randomly seek information from strangers at an event. They ask them, ‘Do you know any accountants who specialize in small services businesses?’ Instead, consider who you know who might refer someone who meets your basic requirements. Review LinkedIn or other networks for possible sources and message them individually for referrals. This approach is far more time-efficient.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 3: Networking without reality 

    This includes seeking new relationships or referrals, naively thinking meeting a stranger can automatically lead to developing a new mutually beneficial relationship or a referral to a potential new customer. An initial conversation can lead to additional conversations or meet ups which can, over time, lead to a casual business relationship. But asking that person for a referral will be awkward without first-hand knowledge of your skills and abilities. Better to ask existing customers for those referrals, since they know you and your work

    Worst Networking Practice No. 4: Networking without class on LinkedIn

    People will use the generic system-generated ‘Ralph, please add me to your professional network’ without personalizing the message or connecting the other person to you. This is lazy and lame. It’s far better to take the extra time with ‘Bob, we met at the COSE meeting last week. I thought we could discuss some potential collaborations. Would you add me to your LinkedIn network so we can begin to dialogue?’ It may take more time, but it sends a much different—and better—message about you and your style and values.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 5: Networking without an effective and engaging elevator speech

    I hate when people use an elevator pitch with too much feature information and not enough benefit information; pitches that are too long, too rambling and sales-like. No one likes to be sold, especially from someone who leads with a title. The pros share information about benefits and value instead. Meet one and you might hear, ‘I’m with Marketing Starswhere we help small service businesses define their marketing messages and deliver them with style and impact.’

    Worst Networking Practice No. 6: Networking without really good questions

    Asking strangers ‘How about those (name of local sports team)?’ is harmless, but not everyone cares about sports and it implies lack of business focus. ‘What keeps you up at night?’ is interesting, but a bit invasive and can be off-putting. ‘Tell me your story,’ is great, but can lead to a very long monologue. Initial conversations should be short and interesting for both people. The pros start simple and focused with something like, ‘Tell me about (name of business)’ or ‘What’s new at (name)’ or What’s the story behind the name Three Guys Marketing?’ And the totally old school ‘What do you do?’ still works. Make it an engaging and short conversation.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 7: Networking without business card finesse

    How often does a stranger hand you a card at the beginning of the conversation? That behavior often looks pushy, rude and lacking in class. It’s a great way to make a bad first impression very quickly. Sometimes I can’t resist the temptation to say ‘I don’t recall asking for your card.’ The alternative is simple: wait until the end of that conversation, determine if you want to share contact information at all and simply ask for the other person’s card for a follow up. If they don’t ask for yours, just say ‘And may I give you my card?’ No one ever says no to that courteous question.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 8: Networking without uncommon courtesy

    I can’t stand encountering networkers who stopped caring about courtesy—or never did. They don’t respect your time, your needs or your style. They talk too much and say too little. They sell. They bore. They rant. The solution is simple. Find your personal blend of interacting with other people based on the Golden Rule—treating them the way you want them to treat you—and the Platinum Rule—treating them the way they want you to treat them. Talk less, listen more. Tell less, ask more. Be interested first, then try to be interesting. Value their time and don’t bore them. Ever.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 9: Networking without timely follow up 

    Follow up is everything, especially when it’s timely. Has this ever happened to you: You get an email indicating, ‘We met several months ago at that chamber networking function. I wanted to get together and learn more about your business.’ Not real compelling, is it? Better to not follow up at all than to do it so late. If your networking goal is information, thank the people immediately who shared some sources or contacts. If any of those prove fruitful, thank them again. Emails are fine—fast and easy. Better is a hand-written note. Even better is a quick call the next day, even if you get voicemail.

    Worst Networking Practice No. 10: Networking without returned courtesy

    There are two kinds of networkers—the Takers and the Givers. How many Takers do you know? They ask for help or input or someone to listen to them rant. They rarely say thank you or offer to return the courtesy. Their usual response is to ask you for help again. They’re the “black holes” of networking, sucking your time and energy into a one-way worm hole to a parallel universe. Givers are willing to share their time and expertise without expecting anything in return. They believe that givers gain and what goes around truly does come around. And when people help them, they look for ways to be sincerely helpful in return. Which type sounds more like you?

    So, now what you do? Short answer: Turn all the above worst practices into best practices by doing the opposite. It’s simple to understand and relatively easy to do. Just make the commitment to quit the amateur ranks and network like a pro. And no one will hate how you network, especially me.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. He is also a popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations.

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    Next up: The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users

    The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users

    Many small businesses today are finding success promoting their brand on social media. But for every success story there are dozens more about the ineffective usage of social media. One of the main reasons social media can be a valuable marketing tool is that it gives businesses the ability to interact and engage with a wider audience. Big or small, everyone today is looking for strategies that work to gain visibility in this new marketing age.

    Many small businesses today are finding success promoting their brand on social media. But for every success story there are dozens more about the ineffective usage of social media. One of the main reasons social media can be a valuable marketing tool is that it gives businesses the ability to interact and engage with a wider audience. Big or small, everyone today is looking for strategies that work to gain visibility in this new marketing age.

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    The Art of Social Media, published in December 2014, was written by Guy Kawasaki, the legendary former chief evangelist for Apple and a pioneer of business blogging and social media use for business, and Peg Fitzpatrick, a successful social media strategist.

    This book offers sound practical advice on ways to be effective in the digital market today and has quickly become the go-to resource for small business owners looking to up their social media game. “I am a passionate marketer and have seen the amazing importance of winning in the digital marketing space over the last 10 years,” says Mike Foti, president of Innovate Building Solutions. “This book is practicable and actionable and written in bite-sized chunks so you can learn some things, put them into practice, and then pick it back up at a later date for more input/advice.”

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    “Small business owners all have the same challenge – time – and the reality that social media is free is a myth. It takes time to do it right,” says Foti. “This book provides resources and methods to save time on social media and offers helpful advice and important lessons that any small business owner can use to improve their social media footprint.” 

    This article originally appeared in the July 6, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.


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    Next up: The Best Decision I Ever Made

    The Best Decision I Ever Made

    The best decision I made in my business was to incorporate the theory of mise en place [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas] in everything that I do. Mise en place is a French phrase meaning to ‘put in place.’ It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging ingredients.  I learned the term in my first year of restaurant management and it stuck.

    “The best decision I made in my business was to incorporate the theory of mise en place [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas] in everything that I do. Mise en place is a French phrase meaning to ‘put in place.’ It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging ingredients.  I learned the term in my first year of restaurant management and it stuck.

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    Putting everything in place to me means having every aspect of my business or work day arranged so my team and I can execute it in the most effective and impactful way. If you have everything laid out and are prepared for the unexpected, it is easier to handle the inevitable daily chaos. 

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    As a business owner, it is extremely important to ‘set the table’ and get everyone focused and on board with both strategic goals and daily tasks. The catering business offers exciting daily challenges and every one of our teammates at Food For Thought is set up for success by having the best ingredients at their fingertips to create a consistent wow-factor for our customers. If you are able to always put the right ingredients, including talent and resources, in place at the beginning, you will be able to exceed expectations. I believe our focus on mise en place is our secret ingredient.  

    If this kitchen analogy doesn’t resonate, think of the soft high lob on the tennis court, the set-then-spike in volleyball, or teeing it up on the golf course. Whatever vision works, create the set up and have confidence in your deliverables.”

     

    BONNIE MATTHEW, President/Owner, Food for Thought

    This article originally appeared in the August 3, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.


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    Next up: Video: The Biggest Challenge Facing My Business Is...

    Video: The Biggest Challenge Facing My Business Is...

    During COSE’s recent Annual Meeting, we asked attendees what the biggest problem is that is currently facing their business. And, more importantly, what steps they’re taking to overcome those challenges.

    During COSE’s recent Annual Meeting, we asked attendees what the biggest problem is that is currently facing their business. And, more importantly, what steps they’re taking to overcome those challenges.

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    Watch the video below to find out what they had to say.

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    Next up: The Doctor Is In: Discipline, Desire Lead to Sales Success

    The Doctor Is In: Discipline, Desire Lead to Sales Success

    Our “Sales Doctor” Marvin Montgomery is accustomed to diagnosing all types of sales woes that could impede your success, and he provides the prescription to alleviating these ills. Today’s column focuses on how to achieve the self-discipline you need to stay on task and get your critical action items checked off every day.

    What are some of the most important tasks you have to do every day, but you procrastinate because you don’t feel like doing them? Is it cold calling? Writing proposals? Maybe you delay filling out your CRM report?

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    Pre-Check

    If you do not have self-discipline, none of the above will get done in a timely manner and your work is going to suffer. Retaining a healthy amount of self-discipline will help you get all of your checklist items done when they need to be done because it requires you to do:

    1. what you are supposed to do;

    2. when you are supposed to do it; and

    3. whether you feel like it or not.

    Tips for Prioritizing:

    1. Collect a list of all your tasks.

    2. Identify urgent vs. important.

    3. Assess value.

    4. Order tasks by estimated effort.

    5. Be flexible and adaptable.

    6. Know when to cut.

    Start today holding yourself accountable for all of the important tasks that you need to accomplish today. A lot of this comes down to having the desire to succeed, plain and simple

    The desire to succeed

    At the end of the day, you must desire success. The dictionary defines “desire” as: “A strong feeling, worthy or unworthy, that impels to the attainment or possession of something that is (in reality of imagination) within reach: a desire for success.”

    When you have that strong desire for success, the self-improvement that you are trying to attain will become a reality. You may want to improve your time management or become an active listener and do less talking. It’s right there within your reach! It just requires a desire to make a change.

    Marvin Montgomery is an author, motivational speaker and professional sales trainer. Learn more about Marvin by visiting www.MarvinMontgomery.com. And you can reach him via email at SalesDoctor@MarvinMontgomery.com.

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    Next up: The GCP Submits Testimony on the Importance of Access to Capital

    The GCP Submits Testimony on the Importance of Access to Capital

    On Oct. 11th, the Ohio Senate Transportation, Commerce, and Workforce Committee received testimony from the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) regarding House Bill 10 (HB 10), legislation that would permit intrastate crowdfunding in Ohio. 

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    Building capacity and improving access to capital for businesses across the state is just one of the many important undertakings outlined by our members in the GCP Public Policy Agenda.  HB 10 would allow Ohioans to invest in businesses through an online OhioInvests Portal.

    Access to capital promotes stability and greater predictability and can allow entrepreneurs to create jobs and thrive in an ever-changing environment,” said Marty McGann, Senior Vice President of GCP Government Advocacy.  “The importance of continuing to make strides to maintain an economic environment conducive to startup entrepreneurship cannot be understated and the need for Ohio not to lose ground on strides made in other states is critical to our collective success.

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    This summer, approximately two weeks after the GCP provided testimony to the House, the bill cleared the Ohio House Representatives.  The GCP will continue to monitor activity in the Ohio Senate and advocate on behalf of our members.

    To read the entirety of GCP’s submission to the Ohio General Assembly on HB 10 click here.

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