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.
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 Stars—where 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.