Maintaining a professional network requires effort and precision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Learn more about the most networking mistakes to avoid.
You cannot afford to prejudge people; you simply don’t know who they know or who they can connect you and your business with. Some of the best referrals come from people who you might initially assume couldn’t be of any use. We’ve all heard the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ but many of us do. Instead, give people time and your full attention. At the same time, not all that glitters is gold; be open-minded and don’t jump to conclusions with a professional contact.
Not following up
It happens at nearly every industry-related gathering; people get great contacts, collect business cards, and make plenty of introductions, but they ultimately fail to follow up with their new contacts. Letting a contact go cold is one of the most egregious networking mistakes to avoid. Top referral achievers know how to follow up and they do so with all of their contacts, keeping in touch regularly.
The professionals you meet at business networking forums are there as equals; they don’t want to be sold to and they definitely don’t want to be treated as prospects. Even if your new contacts may become clients down the road, your immediate objective is to learn who they are and to build rapport with them. This approach is what turns a contact into a client and allows you to become an advocate of their business. It’s also worth keeping in mind that in business, top performers develop skill and success through persistence and a focus on continuous improvement. Networking is a marketing tool and not just an event that you attend; one of the biggest networking mistakes is hesitating to reconnect with a contact.
No clear objective
Everyone wants to acquire quality business relationships. Your objective should be to build relationships with the following three criteria: know, like, and trust.
- Know: Getting to know your contact first is vital. A good way to get the conversation going is to ask open-ended questions where the person cannot easily answer yes or no. Example questions include: How did you get into this business? What type of businesses are you looking to be referred to?
- Like: This is all about building rapport and getting along well. Many business referral clubs have annual membership investment fees that seem expensive at first glance. However, too many people undervalue the unique opportunity that this investment can give them and their business. Getting a return of 40 to 50 times your investment isn’t out of the ordinary here.
- Trust: Mutual beneficial business relationships are built on trust. Any relationship affects the reputation of both parties, so ensure you have no hidden agendas.
Your ability to listen is one of the most important skills you have; it will give you the edge if you can learn, develop, and cultivate it properly. This isn’t about just hearing what people say; it’s about actively listening and interpreting what someone else is saying. Real listening requires complete focus and attention. What are people looking to achieve? What do people think is important about their business, job, personal ambition, and family? One of the networking mistakes to avoid is focussing what to say next instead of focussing on the other person’s words. Devote less attention towards yourself in a conversation; instead, show the person respect by focussing solely on them.
Talking about what you do
Talk in terms of what benefits you deliver to your clients, suppliers, customers, and contacts. Speak enthusiastically about what you do, but strike a balance between being specific and giving unnecessary levels of detail at an initial meeting at a networking event. Effective questions worth answering include: What is unique about you? Why do you do what you do? How do you deliver more value than your competitors? Many succumb to one of the networking mistakes to avoid; saying that your service or product quality differentiates you from the competition. This is far too generic; instead, explain how and why your work stands out from the rest.
One of the biggest networking mistakes to avoid is ignoring the long-term nature of building a relationship with a person. Don’t be a hunter or a deal-chaser. In order to get the best results from networking, you need to take a long-term approach and limit the amount of desperation you show. For every interaction you have, take a collaborative approach and try to think of how both parties can benefit from one another. Aim to make a positive impact rather than just increasing your own business; cultivate relationships for mutual long-term benefits.
Effective people take a farming approach to networking, they focus on cultivating relationships for mutual long-term benefit and they definitely do not chase deals or instant sales. You may attend a networking forum and do business initially that’s great.
Letting fear get the better of you
Feeling nervous about introducing yourself to a complete stranger? Congratulations; you’re a perfectly normal human being! Many cultures stress to children to be wary of anyone you don’t know; this is a defense mechanism, designed to protect the vulnerable from harm. In a globalized business environment, however, it’s better to engage with a complete stranger. Making new business contacts gives you the opportunity to learn something at the very least; over time, you may even develop highly lucrative business ties but this shouldn’t be the assumption driving your interactions.
If you only speak with those you already deal with, you’ll miss opportunities to make new connections. Set targets for yourself before you attend any networking event. Decide how many new contacts you want to make or how many strangers you want to meet. Above all, make it fun; turn it into a game and take yourself out of your comfort zone. With practice, you’ll discover that avoiding common networking mistakes is one of the best business decisions you’ll ever make.