Most small business owners would agree that face-to-face networking still has an essential part to play in the success of any small business, even in this digital age. However, business networking can be quite a challenging art to master, and there are numerous faux pas entrepreneurs risk committing when mingling at networking events. Here are 12 of the most common networking blunders to avoid.
DON’T neglect your appearance
Whether we like it or not, first impressions count for a lot. The impression a new professional contact forms of you in the first few seconds can influence whether you win or lose their approval, their trust, and ultimately a contract. Be sure to dress smartly and appropriately, ensure hair, moustaches and beards are well-groomed, keep any make-up light and natural, and choose accessories with care.
DON’T turn up without a plan
Have a specific goal you aim to achieve as a result of your networking — for example, to schedule three follow-up meetings with potential new clients. Arrive with a few conversation starters up your sleeve to break the ice, and prepare a brief elevator pitch introducing yourself and your business. Both of these techniques can open the door to deeper conversations, and can be very helpful if you’re nervous about meeting new people.
Having a plan is one thing, but it is also possible – and unwise – to over-prepare. For example, some entrepreneurs think they need to memorise their mission statement, as well as three or more different versions of their pitch, so that they can use the most appropriate version for each conversation depending on who they are speaking with. This can be a recipe for disaster. So many things can potentially go wrong here – for instance, you could forget parts of your script (more likely if you are also nervous), and you will sound obviously “rehearsed” and unnatural, which in itself is unappealing and can even make you appear inauthentic.
DON’T stand on the side-lines
Some entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable at networking events because they feel like they’re walking into a party without knowing anybody. It helps to remember that everybody else is in the same boat. When you arrive, start by scanning the room and find someone who looks even more uncomfortable than you. Speak to them first, and you will soon be feeling more confident.
DON’T talk only to people you know
It can be tempting to remain in your comfort zone by hooking up with people you already know at networking events. Before you know it, you realise you have spent the entire event in their company without meeting anybody new. Of course, cementing existing relationships and connecting with peers in your own industry is an important element of any networking strategy – but it shouldn’t stop there. Meeting people from outside your industry can bring a fresh perspective to your business, not to mention potential new business opportunities.
DON’T make it all about you
Take care not to talk too much – especially about yourself. Communication is usually much more effective when you listen attentively and respond with relevant, insightful questions. Make the conversation about the person you are speaking with, demonstrate genuine interest in their business, their stories and views, and react appropriately. It doesn’t have to be strictly business talk either – connecting on a personal level can be very beneficial for fostering genuine business relationships further down the line.
This one follows on from the last point. If it is a mistake to talk about yourself too much, it is even worse to brag about your assets, abilities or achievements. The well-known saying, “nobody likes a bragger” is a well-known saying for a reason. Instead, try being humble and practice humility. You will gain much more respect from your peers this way, and new contacts are likely to be more interested in doing business with you.
DON’T bore people
So, now you know not to brag and not to talk too much – especially about yourself – but unfortunately there are many other ways to bore people too. Complaining about everything and everyone, being very negative about everything, and rambling on interminably about your new-born – none of these are behaviours that will have people lining up to meet you at business networking events. If you suspect that you may be boring somebody, check out their body language for visual cues – for example, if their feet aren’t facing towards you or they keep glancing at the clock, it may be time to let them move on. Or, you could try upping your social interaction game and start asking them questions about themselves instead.
DON’T act the fool
At the other end of the spectrum, it is also possible to be downright annoying in a very different way. We have all met people who are excessively jokey, jolly and loud, or those whose inappropriate remarks and behaviour completely overstep the mark. Remember that there is sometimes a fine line between being known as someone with “a great sense of humour” and being known as “a right pain in the ***”.
DON’T ask closed “yes/no” questions
When attempting to ignite a conversation, be curious about the other person and ask interesting, unpredictable, open-ended questions with plenty of scope for elaborative replies. Try not to ask the same old, “so what do you do?” question if you can help it. It would be better to ask, “What do you like to do?” or “How did you become involved in the fashion industry?”, for example.
DON’T go for the hard sell
This is almost as bad as cold-calling, and it just makes people appear self-absorbed and desperate. Before someone becomes interested in buying from you or doing business with you, they will need to trust you, and that can only be achieved through building a relationship. When we let go of the primary goal of selling, we actually improve our ability to build valuable relationships, and the sales will come naturally as a result.
DON’T be a taker; focus on what you can give
When networking, focus on what you can do for others, rather than what they can do for you. When you concentrate your efforts on helping others to solve a problem or reduce their “pain” in some way, you create a long-lasting bond that they will never forget. There is a saying that “life gives to the givers and takes from the takers”. Forming genuine relationships and adding as much value as possible to others’ lives earns you respect and appreciation. Indeed, many small business owners find that they gain more referrals and opportunities when they give without the expectation of anything in return.
DON’T collect business cards like football cards
Focus on quality over quantity. It is more valuable to build connections with five quality people than to accept business cards from 30 “contacts” you won’t remember afterwards. Similarly, it’s generally not a good idea to give everybody in the room one of your business cards either. If you haven’t formed proper connections with those people, you might just as well burn your business cards instead. It’s a waste of everybody’s time, as well as a waste of your money and resources.
We hope that our tips about what NOT to do at business networking events have been helpful. You might also want to check out our 13 tips about what TO do at networking events.