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10 networking mistakes to avoid

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These are the mistakes you make in the midst of sipping that drink. Ordering that appetizer. Searching for that business card. Making that small talk. Checking that email. Contributing to that 50/50 raffle. You make them, and then you wonder why you don’t get more business out of these events. You wonder what you’re going to do with all those business cards you’ve collected.

All events are different. Your approach to networking often depends on the type of meeting, the type of people in attendance and the type of venue. I showed up to a networking meeting last week as the speaker to find that it was set up like a night club, with a bar, television screens everywhere, multi-level wooden dance floors, spotlights, mirrors, and loud music. My contact had described the facility to me, but I really had no idea until I saw it. It was a great event, but different than most business meetings.

So, yes, all events are different. But if the focus of the event is to get business people together, you want to make the most of it from a networking standpoint. What does that mean? It means making great connections that lead to great relationships that lead to great business. To do this, you need to avoid mistakes. The good news (or great news) is that the 10 mistakes I’m going to mention are completely preventable. Here they are.


Mistake No. 1: Losing focus.

At networking events, it’s great to be a social butterfly and flutter around talking about movies, vacation spots and children’s birthday parties. You should have fun. But remember why you’re there, whether it’s to gain more business, land a job, learn something or solve a problem. If you’re there for social networking (as in making friends and landing dates) then it’s a different business plan and probably a different meeting altogether — but my remaining points still apply.


Mistake No. 2: Focusing on the sale.

Repeat after me: No selling ever. Focus on the relationships and the business will be there. Maybe not right away; it takes time to develop relationships. There isn’t a business meeting, networking function, chamber mixer, meet-up or association meeting I attend where a financial planner, travel agent, web developer, social media guru or network marketer isn’t pitching me their business. Don’t be one of them. Be there to make connections, start relationships, learn something and help someone. These are the things that will get you noticed in a positive way.


Mistake No. 3: Not getting involved in the event itself.

Put yourself to work! Introduce yourself to the event planner or coordinator and offer to help with handing out paperwork, running the raffle, greeting, registration, arranging furniture, whatever. Bottom line: Get involved. Even if those in charge don’t need your help, they will remember that you asked. Often it’s the thought that counts. Being a mover and shaker always translates into being a mover and shaker.


Mistake No. 4: Getting caught up in the food and drink.

Don’t let the buffet table and the bar take you away from why you’re there. Grab a bite, sip a drink and keep your focus on who you’re looking to meet, what you’re going to say and what you want to accomplish.


Mistake No. 5: Not doing your homework.

Shame on you if you don’t know who you want to meet (titles, professions, industry, even names), the type of event you will be attending (chamber, association, networking roundtable, service group), what you’re going to say (specific questions, speaking points, elevator pitch), and the outcomes you seek. Prepare index cards ahead of time with your notes and lists while doing your research. This is what LinkedIn and Google are for.


Mistake No. 6: Not asking the right questions.

If you ask the right question, you get the right answer. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no. Good rule of thumb: Ask those you meet questions that you would want to be asked. So, what type of work do you do? How did you get involved in your field? How long have you been at it? What differentiates you from the “bad guys” (competition)? What brings you to this event? Who are you looking to meet? Why? Do you have a target market? How can I help? Ask these types of questions of the people you meet and see what happens.


Mistake No. 7: Failing to use a strong elevator pitch.

You must know what you do, what you’re looking for and how to convey all of this eloquently. If you don’t, who does? Keep in mind an elevator pitch should not be a script, but a structure. Your “pitch” is simply a set of guidelines that forces you to stay focused on communicating your profession, expertise, target marketplace and call to action — when asked.


Mistake No. 8: Not being collaborative.

Networking is not all about you. It’s always about the people you meet and like. Focus on helping them and they may help you right back. The relationships you seek should ideally be a “we” thing rather than a “me” thing. Otherwise, they’re not really relationships at all. Attitude drives language. Language drives relationships. Relationships drive business. And business drives more relationships.


Mistake No. 9: Not having a follow-up strategy.

Follow-up starts at the event, not when you leave.Plan to establish follow-up when you’re still at the event. Say something like, Should we exchange business cards and explore how we might help one another? When would be a good time to reconnect and brainstorm? You should always know which of the business cards you’ve collected will be part of your follow-up strategy. How? Because you’ll take notes on them to ensure that you do.

finish line

Mistake No. 10: Not keeping the end in mind.

Remember why you’re at an event, meeting, or function. I attended a huge national association meeting a couple of months back and my expectation was to meet the people on my list (met them all), get my questions answered about their industry (got my answers and then some), get introduced to others on my target list (check, check) and get an article in their national publication (landed a monthly column). Focus on the outcome and as long as your expectations are reasonable, you’ll meet or exceed them.

Put a fine point on not making thesemistakes at the events you attend and see what happens. You may make other mistakes, but be critical of yourself and try not to make the same mistakes over and over. Some people call that learning.

Onward and upward and hopefully worth the price of the 50/50!

For more from Michael Goldberg, see:

7 ways to be more extroverted

How to get more referrals from a networking group

5 things advisors don’t say to their clients ­— but should


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