Is your network not what you hoped it would be? Take a look at the list of mistakes to avoid when networking below and see which ones are tripping up your networking efforts. Networking mistakes are often difficult to spot. Or, they may seem innocuous. However, all it takes is a small perceived slight by the other party to sink your attempt to connect.
If you are struggling to make connections, you’ll most likely find a few culprits here. Once these networking mistakes have been rectified, you will see your network start to become far more engaged; and an engaged network is a strong network.
Networking Mistakes Don’t Find and Fix Themselves
You need to look honestly at your behavior while interacting with others in person and online. Try to step back and, using the list of networking mistakes below, find the gaps in your relationship-building technique. In so doing, you’ll be able to spot the problem and fix it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.
1. You’re waiting to build a network until you need it
This is one of the most common networking mistakes.
Building a solid, engaged network takes a long time. If you think you can start building a network to help you out of a tight spot when trouble looms, you are sadly mistaken. Like investing for retirement, the earlier you start, the better the rewards will be.
Even if you feel you have a decent network, spend some time every week making new connections and reconnecting with your existing ones.
2. You are rushing your prospective connections
When connecting with new network prospects, don’t contact them too often and don’t appear too eager. Being too forward and pushy is extremely annoying, and most people you inflict yourself upon in this way will run for the hills assuming that you want to sell them something.
Reconnect with each member of your network every two or three months unless you have a specific reason to reach out to them. However, do the latter only if this will benefit them. As you get to know them better, you can reduce the interval between outreaches, but it’s best to ensure that you never become a nuisance.
3. You are not asking for anything
Once you have established a connection and have settled into your routine interaction cycle with them, don’t be afraid to ask for advice or introductions. This will not only help you by allowing you to gain insights and new connections you otherwise would not have had, but it also makes the other person feel important as if their opinion matters.
4. You are asking for too much
Related to the previous point, don’t overdo it and ask for too much too early. You need to get to know your connections well before asking for anything substantial, and if you have built your relationships with them by being generous and thoughtful, there is a good chance that you won’t have to ask for anything: they will offer.
5. You are talking too much
Don’t talk. Listen. The trick to building relationships is to ask questions and then listen attentively, no matter whether you are interacting face-to-face or via email or online messenger. By listening, you discover nuggets of information that will allow you to build your relationship further.
Obviously, if the other person asks you a question, answer it with enough detail to satisfy their curiosity but don’t go off on a tangent or launch into a soliloquy. You can end off your answer with a question of your own to keep the conversation flowing.
This can be a challenge when the person you are engaging with is shy or appears disinterested, but in those situations, it’s best to move on instead of flogging a dead horse.
6. You are not listening
This is relevant in face-to-face interactions only. In such situations, make no mistake that people can tell when you are listening (or not) to them when they are talking to you. Make sure you look at them – in or around their eyes, if possible – and show them that you are taking in what they are saying by nodding every now and then. Be sure to smile and appear receptive. In other words, don’t cross your arms or turn your body so they are not in front of you.
Stay focused on their words and try not to get distracted from what they are saying by thinking about what to say next.
Finally, for the love of Mike, whatever you do, do not accept interruptions especially from your cell phone.
7. You are fabricating the truth
Don’t embellish or enhance the truth – don’t lie! There is nothing more embarrassing than getting caught lying as it can ripple through a business community and the associated networks at lightning speeds.
Some people believe that you need to “fake it ‘til you make it” and this true, but you can do this without actively lying about you or your business. When you “fake it”, others are making assumptions about you through their perceptions of who you are and how successful you are. If cornered, always be honest. Don’t confirm their assumptions and risk getting caught out. Most business people understand that everyone does a little faking when starting out. It’s harmless and helps go a long way towards establishing a person.
8. You are not giving
The initial phase in building a relationship with a prospective connection is giving; giving praise, giving links to online resources, giving attention, giving favors. Giving is the grease that allows the wheels in the networking machine to turn. If you don’t give, and give a lot, your relationship will go nowhere.
Bear in mind that when you are trying to reach out to others, you will be doing all of the giving for a while, so don’t expect any reciprocation for the first few months. People who fail at networking aren’t willing to drive their potential relationships forward through their generosity and expect reciprocity way too early.
The fact that the person you are spending so much time and effort trying to get acquainted with might never reciprocate and will not become part of your network contributes to the reticence of many people to network. Those are the breaks, unfortunately.
However, get into a routine and stick with it and over time, your network will flourish.
9. You are interacting with others to sell to them
Don’t do this. This is one of the most important networking mistakes to avoid as it will kill an interaction faster than anything else. People will figure out pretty quickly that you are only trying to get a sale and will blow you off – or tell you off.
Networking is about building relationships for mutual benefit; that’s reciprocity. It’s about going beyond merely the seller-buyer paradigm. It’s about helping and supporting the other person when there’s nothing in it for you except the gratitude of that other person. Some people may see this as a waste of time but there’s a reason that most successful people attest to the power of networking. There is no substitute for a power network if you want to achieve business success.
10. You are not connecting with people who have a similar job title
If you are thinking that connecting with others in your industry is a waste of time, you are missing a great opportunity to engage with others who might be able to reveal facets of your industry that you don’t see. You may be surprised how much you can learn from them about the industry that you think you know so well; new ways to streamline your business or operation, new ways to attract prospects and new ways to avoid roadblocks.
Granted, most people in the same industry will play their cards close to their chests for fear that you are trying to get at their secrets but over time, as you build your relationships with them and they realize your intentions are pure, you’ll find they will open up more and more.
11. You are not making a good first impression
There is a lot written about how important first impressions are and that people will “measure” you within seconds, assigning assumed traits and characteristics and pigeonholing you in the blink of an eye. Quite often, the assumptions made are incorrect, but you shouldn’t take the risk.
It’s important to make a good first impression.
If you are at an event, make sure you are decently and appropriately dressed and neat.
If you are reaching out online or via a messaging app, make sure to be friendly, brief and polite.
12. You are not prepared for an interaction
If you know who you will be interacting with, be sure to do your homework on them beforehand so you have an idea who they are, what they do which industry they are in so that you can keep the conversation centered around them. They will also appreciate that you took the time to find out about them.
Finding information on people is fairly easy as most will have a LinkedIn account or a website or blog where you can find information about the person.
13. You are dismissing people who don’t appear important
Stories abound about seemingly unimportant people having connections to powerful influencers through their family, friendships or the work they do.
Ivan Misner tells a story that perfectly exemplifies this.
There’s a well-known story among referral networkers about a project management consultant who did business with large manufacturers and was asking for referrals. He was talking with a woman who owned a small gift-basket business, and she expressed interest in helping him. The consultant loftily informed her that he didn’t see any possible way she could help him.
“Well, tell me what you do,” she said.
“I go to manufacturers and help them with their processes. I’m sure you’ve never heard of any of the people I need to meet.” He turned and walked away.
The gift-basket woman smiled and said nothing. She had a secret. Among her clients were several large manufacturing companies. She knew personally many executives at higher levels in these companies. Moreover, her father-in-law owned the largest manufacturing company in town. She was the best referral source the consultant could ever have, and he had rudely turned his back and walked away without realizing how much money he had left on the table. She smiled, but she wasn’t going to be saying good things about him.“You Never Know Whom They Know” by Ivan Misner on entrepreneur.com
If you treat everyone with respect, you may be surprised to find how valuable some of them are as resources.
14. You are uninformed
This is one of those networking mistakes that can be easily remedied. You gotta know your stuff!
You have to know what’s going on in the world, or at least in your industry. This is especially important when meeting people face-to-face, as your conversation may stray to politics or the economy and if you have no idea what events are unfolding, especially as far as headline news is concerned, you won’t be seen in the best light. You don’t have to know all the details and minutiae, but at least take a look at the newspaper from time to time.
15. You aren’t handing out business cards
Business cards are still important, so make sure you take a handful with you to any events you attend. Actually, it’s a good idea to carry a few with you all the time; you never know who you might meet in the grocery checkout line or who you might be seated next to on a flight.
On a related note, make sure your business cards look professional. They don’t have to be a work of art, but they will need to speak for you when the person you give one to is going through their Rolodex.
16. You are collecting business cards like points in a game
The aim of a networking event is not to collect as many business cards as possible. The goal is to get to know someone well enough to want to get in touch with them again for a particular reason and to ask for their business card so that you can follow up or stay in touch with them. You should only be collecting a few business cards at each event.
Tip: After an event, make sure that you send an email to each person whose card you have thanked them for their time and perhaps finding out if you can schedule a follow-up meeting over coffee. This way, you stay front-of-mind and you can start building a relationship with them.
17. You are pushing your way into conversations
At networking events, do not push your way into conversations. It spoils the established dynamic between the participants and tends to not only destroy the conversation but reflects badly on you. There are ways to enter a group conversation, but this involves positioning yourself outside the group and listening and only engaging with the participants if invited to do so.
18. You are not following up
Follow up is the key to networking success. If you meet someone at an event, at the gym, at a bar or in a checkout line and if they give you their business card, send them a quick email the same day to say what a pleasure it was to meet them and opening the door for a future meetup.
Remember that relationships are built up over a series of interactions, not a single meeting. So, if you don’t follow up, you have wasted your time meeting them in the first place.
19. Your follow-up is about you
On a related note, when following up, don’t tell them what you are doing or what you want out of your relationship with them. They don’t care. Make it brief and make it about them.
20. You aren’t keeping in touch with your existing network
Another of the networking mistakes that can be fairly easily remedied..
Just as with sales, where you should be continually encouraging your existing customers to buy your new products, you should be nurturing your existing network relationships. You have taken the time to initiate a relationship with them, so why throw all that work away by not staying in touch?
Use a CRM (the Tribemine networking CRM is optimized for relationship building) as a good one will remind you when it’s time to reconnect with each person in your network.
21. You are misusing your connections
Another networking faux-pax that must be avoided at all costs. If someone gives you permission to use them as a reference to get a job or introduction, make sure that you don’t drop the ball and leave them looking awkward. It’s important to appreciate that when you are interacting to someone that your connection has introduced you to, it’s not only your reputation that you are upholding, but that of your connection’s as well.
22. You are not saying thank you
Every child is (or should be) taught basic manners, and so there is no excuse for not thanking someone who makes an introduction or does a favor for you. However, being polite extends beyond merely saying thank you to every part of your interaction. Unfortunately, many people have forgotten their manners and being polite and mindful of others can be a great way to set yourself apart and become more memorable.
23. You are not distinguishing yourself
With everyone networking, how do you stand out from the crowd? If you want your networking efforts to bear fruit, it’s essential to find ways to distinguish yourself. Take a little time to look around the Internet for inspiration on how to stand out from the crowd. This can be in what you wear to networking or other events, the way you write your follow-up emails and the manner in which you invite others to meet up with you.
There are scores of small things you can do to distinguish yourself so that you stand out from the crowd, and most take very little extra effort.
24. You are networking only at formal networking settings
You can (and should be) networking everywhere, not only at events. So many businesspeople make valuable connections in the most mundane of places. Striking up a conversation anywhere can lead to a reciprocal relationship that benefits both parties. However, you must look past the simplistic impulse to only be looking for people who can buy from you. Networking relationships can be so much more than that.
25. You are not using the other person’s name
Using a person’s name is essential if you want to make a good impression. The problem is that names can be difficult to remember and mixing up someone’s name can be very embarrassing, so many of us avoid doing it. I am guilty of this too.
However, with practice, you can remember names by repeating them in conversations when first meeting people. This repetition helps your brain store the name where it can be readily accessed.
BONUS – You are not taking networking seriously
Like anything worthwhile, your network requires constant care and nurturing. I liken it to a garden. If you plant a whole lot of flowers in your garden and then just abandon them, what happens? The flowers die and your garden gets overrun with weeds. Your connections are like those flowers. They need to be tended and nurtured through regular interaction and thoughtfulness. There are no shortcuts to building a network.
You should be reconnecting existing connections at least once every two to three months. And as in a garden, you should be pruning unresponsive connections and steadily adding new ones. With regular care, your network will flourish over time and become one of the most important contributors to your success.
Yes, there are many problems that can hamper your networking efforts, but most can be easily remedied. The important thing to remember is that successful networking requires sustained effort. So if you want to avoid the mistakes listed above, stick to the fundamentals and within a few short years, your network will thrive.