We have all been there: a cold room filled with complete strangers. Everyone walks around, tightly gripping their business cards and cocktail glasses in their clammy hands.
If this is your idea of networking, it is time to re-evaluate your methods.
Networking has become a buzzword that is grossly misinterpreted. What should be a worthwhile business practice is often so poorly executed that it can actually harm your business through inefficient use of time and poor first impressions. This isn’t to say that networking is useless.
In fact, if executed well, networking and meeting new business contacts can often be the best use of your time at certain stages of your career. Consequently, it is vital to avoid commonly made networking mistakes so you can maximize returns on your time and get the most out of your new connections.
The mistakes below are all too common. Be sure to learn from the mistakes of others so you can thrive where others have failed.
The notion that “life begins at the end of our comfort zone” is great, sound advice, particularly when it comes to business networking. The most common mistakes people make when attending seminars, conferences or mixers is clinging to the bar or the wall rather than leaving their bubbles of comfort and meeting new people. Networking in this way is like trying to fish without ever throwing a hook in the water.
Do not hesitate. Take a couple of small steps into the crowd, bump into a small group of people and simply ask them where they are from, what they do and why they came. Once the ice is broken, the rest of the conversation will take care of itself.
Just as clinging to the wall obliterates the notion of valuable networking time, clinging to one person can also yield dismal results. A common strategy of making contacts at a mixer is to find one person or a small group and “work together” to approach other groups. By doing so, you can take the pressure of approaching new people alone away and increase the number of contacts you make.
You do not want to make the fatal mistake of following one person around like a lost puppy. Clinging to a single contact cannot only detract from the number of people that you meet; it can also potentially damage your credibility and lead you to appear less confident.
Once you have found your wingman or wingwoman, approach one group together then find a new person with whom to work or better yet, use your new confidence to approach the next group of people independently.
If you’ve ever seen a wave of anxious individuals handing out business cards at machine gun speed, you’ve come across a spammer. They don’t even bother to introduce themselves or learn about you and your business, but rather hand out their contact information as though it were a flyer.
A dose of common sense will help you to avoid this mistake. If you hand your business card out like a flyer and move on, the person who receives it will also treat it like a flyer, throw it away and forget that he or she ever saw you. Take the time to learn about your new contact and bond. Only after you spark a solid connection can you exchange business cards and move forward.
The Mute And The Rambler
Although it seems like common sense to avoid being silent or speaking too much, a huge number of people still manage to alienate potential business contacts by being utterly silent or speaking like a Gatling gun.
These unfortunate problems are normally a symptom of nerves and are completely natural. You can take steps to avoid these issues by speaking with strangers more often and making efforts to build your confidence. Practice makes perfect and networking is no exception to this rule.
Business is business. Even if you find yourself at a conference packed with dozens of amazingly attractive individuals, keep your eye on the prize and commit yourself to networking for your business. Venturing off track to try to meet your soul mate will not only take valuable time away from your evening that can be used to build your professional network, but it can also catch other people’s attention and damage your credibility.
As soon as you flirt with someone at a convention, word will spread and every person with whom you speak for the rest of the day will think that you are trying to take him or her out for a drink. It is amazing to see how many people violate this rule and end up damaging their reputations.
Similarly, speaking with people who are obviously extremely attractive and staying focused on how your two businesses can collaborate will help to build your credibility. Be sure to remind yourself why you are meeting these people and stay true to your goals.
The Vanishing Act
When all the dust settles and the event is over, odds are that you will have collected a thick stack of business cards. As unbelievable as it may seem, many people make the mistake of either filing the business cards away on their desk or in a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system.
Do not waste your hard work!
After the event, it is essential to follow up with everybody you met to ensure that they remember you. Sort your contacts into three categories: high potential, secondary and non-essential. Contact the “high potential” connections first via email and LinkedIn. Allow them about a week to reply and then, if they haven’t, give them a call and try to schedule a meeting. Follow up with the secondary group a couple days later with a template email simply stating that it was nice to meet them and you hope to stay in touch. As for the “non-essential” group, you can consider simply inviting them to connect via social media. No matter who you meet, be sure to show that you value their time.
Effective networking professionals may meet between so many new contacts at each mixer. Their business-card holders starts to overflow and their mobile phone bloat with email addresses and phone numbers that are hard to associate with faces and names.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember people’s names, their places of work and their appearances. Nothing can hurt your chances of networking success more than meeting somebody for the second time, having forgotten everything about them.
One effective strategy to help you avoid future awkward scenarios involves using the person’s name multiple times during the conversation. Once you have met, use his or her name for the first couple sentences. You can also carefully study his or her business card immediately — seeing the name will add a visual cue and help you if you are not an effective auditory learner.
Building good rapport is essential to your success, so be sure to truly know with whom you are speaking.
There is no magic formula for effective networking, but avoiding the mistakes listed above will help to guide you down the right path. For entrepreneurs, new sales people, marketers, recruiters and many other professionals, networking can be easily overlooked, but it's often the best and most underutilized method for building businesses.
Networking is a numbers game. The more quality contacts you make, the more chances you have of building strong business partnerships. Networking also provides value for adding to your brand recognition (both personal and organizational), driving referrals and building reputation.
Don’t be shy and don’t panic. Just put yourself out there and confidently leave your comfort zone.
Zachary Ludington is a writer at Career Hack. Career Hack is a portal that helps Gen-Y destroy student loan debt, escape unemployment, and adapt to and thrive in the 21st century economy. Follow him @careerhackers.
Photo via Blue Devil Tumblr