Business owners and employees who are skeptical of networking may want to reconsider. According to a recent survey from the Referral Institute, individuals who spent more than six hours a week networking garnered 47% of all business from their referrals and networks. Those who claimed that networking didn’t play a very large role in their business only networked less than two hours per week.
Yet, not all networking can be judged on equal terms. Many people could gain more from their networking efforts if they only avoided some costly mistakes. Others do not know enough about what works and what doesn’t, and thus lack confidence. Fortunately, both of these problems can be easily solved by taking a look at some common mistakes of networking.
Those who have a clear goal are much more likely to know how to prepare for networking — whether it’s to find a better job or to gain new clients. With a set purpose, you will be able to target your goal contacts and better prepare for networking opportunities.
The Mayo Clinic has recently changed its strategy for building a network of doctor and clinic referrals. It focused on to building an affiliate program and, as a result, expanded its networking reach enormously. Focus your own networking goals and you’ll find that your efforts will go much further.
Some business owners throw cards at everyone they meet. However, if you have a targeted client or contact in mind, you can be better prepared for networking with them. While there is nothing wrong with handing out business cards to people who are unlikely to call you back, knowing your target market will help you know with whom to spend the most time.
Most businesses should focus on reaching the second tier of clients — in other words, customers of business contacts. Job seekers may want to focus on contacts within their desired field of employment. However, do not go to the point of inflexibility. Be focused on who you want to target, but be prepared to think outside the box and change course if an interesting, off-target contact comes your way.
Business cards are a must. Neither clients nor business executives will give much weight to the person who says, “I don’t have any business cards — let me just put my name in your phone,” especially if you insist on entering the information for them. You’ll seem unprepared and will be violating their privacy.
Always practice your elevator pitch before networking, and refine and change it as necessary. You never know when you may stumble upon a killer contact when you are simply out running errands. You certainly do not want to be that person at networking events that doesn’t know how to talk about his or her business. Keep in mind that everyone is different: some people like details while others are big-picture people. Make your pitch somewhere in the middle of these extremes.
A rude networker is losing at networking. If you do not treat your prospects with respect, why should they want to spend more time with you and your company? Make sure that you give the other person time to talk, and listen carefully. Engage — make them feel like they are the only person who is interesting to you in that moment. Be respectful of their time, too, and limit your conversation to only starting that spark and exchanging business cards.
Some other rude mistakes networkers make are being too pushy or not pushy enough. You don’t want new contacts to feel like they are being cornered or bullied. However, you also do not want them to come away uncertain of what you are selling or whether you are even interested in your own offer.
Another big mistake includes lying. Never stretch the truth so that the other person hears what they want to hear. Always be honest in what you can provide. No one wants to hear that you can follow through only to find out mid-project that you never had enough resources. Never provide fake referrals, either. This is a sure way to make yourself seem like a fraud.
Taking a break
Even if you have too many clients or a secure job, never stop building your network. You never know when your biggest client may decide to join your competitor. In today’s shaky economy, sudden layoffs are quite common. While there may be seasons when you do not need to network as aggressively, steadily building your network ensures that you have a pool of contacts at the ready.
Attend local chamber of commerce networking events. Go to conferences in your field every so often, even if you are ahead of the knowledge being taught. Keep up your social media accounts so that when you need to get aggressive with networking efforts again, you won’t be far behind everyone else.
Avoiding face to face
It is easy in today’s world of digital media to hide behind our computers and simply send e-mails, texts, or messages via social media. However, it is easy to delete a message without giving it much thought, but meeting in person is harder to ignore or forget.
Keep in mind, too, that when attending networking events, be engaged. Ian Altman in his article “Why your smartphone should not join you at networking events” discusses a recent networking event he attended in which many of the participants stood along the walls focusing on their phones, rather than walking around and meeting people. Why waste your money and time in attending networking events if you don’t intend on meeting new contacts? If you are too tempted to hide behind your phone, do as Altman suggests: leave your phone in your vehicle or hotel room.
Not following up
The final most common mistake that networkers make is to not follow up. Many people are simply too busy — your offer sounded great, perfect in fact, but they don’t have the time to dig out your business card and make the call. So do it for them! Wait a few days to give them some time to think over your offer, but then make a call (preferably), send an e-mail or leave a message through social media.
When following up, remind them of your conversation, giving details such as the day, place, time, etc., and what was discussed. Then ask if they need you to help them take the next step. If this is a contact that you may need in the future but not at the moment, simply tell them that you enjoyed meeting them and hope to be able to talk again soon.
Unfortunately, too many professionals take networking lightly, mainly because they do not know how to network the right way. Networking is an art, so practice it until you can perform it flawlessly. Soon, you will find yourself networking almost instinctively, with a strong network regardless of where you are on your career path.
Tara Hornor has a degree in English and has found her niche writing about marketing, advertising, branding, Web and graphic design, and desktop publishing. She writes for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company that offers brochures, business cards, flyers, posters, postcard printing, booklets, and more printed marketing media. Connect with @TaraHornor on Twitter.