September 7, 2007

What not to do when networking



I recently wrote about my three rules of networking, and now I want to talk about what not to do at a networking event.

1. Look around for someone better to talk to

You might find yourself talking to someone with the personality of a peanut, and you can see that there are at least three more interesting people in the room. Furthermore, you absolutely know that one of those people has a business that's complementary to yours and you're sure that you could do business together. Why won't this peanut-head just go away and leave you alone?

Here's the thing: you never know how you might be able to help someone or they might be able to help you. If you focus on resources you can share with peanut-head, instead of how you can get stuff for yourself, you might find that peanut-head is a great resource for you and might even refer others to you.

But if you treat peanut-head like he's not worth your time, you've just burned a bridge and that person will certainly never refer anyone to you.

2. Talk incessantly about yourself and your business without inquiring about others

I talked about this a bit in the other post, but it bears repeating. We've all heard that transparency is good. But if what you're transparent about is that you don't care about anyone else and you only want to promote your business, that's not going to work for you in the networking environment.

When I was about six, I learned my first lesson about transparency. My grandmother came to visit and the first thing out of my mouth was "What did you bring me?"

Being six and being used to getting presents from my granny, it just made sense to ask. But my parents were less than thrilled with my greedy request and I was reprimanded.

Even if you want something from others (and of course, we all do when we're in business), you also have to want something for your colleagues. You can't approach networking like a greedy six-year-old with the attitude "me me me, it's all about me."

What can you offer others that's not about you but is truly about helping them succeed? How can you be listening for what they need instead of waiting to talk about yourself?

3. Cling to people you know and not let newcomers into your group

A fellow WEV graduate mentioned on our alumni panel the other night that, wanting to learn networking skills, she joined the Chamber of Commerce because they were known for the most brutal networking events. People would come to the events with their friends and then stand in tight-knit groups that a stranger could never penetrate.

I guess if you're attending the event for free food and drinks and to hang out with your friends, then you probably won't change your ways.

But if you want to meet people, promote your business and build relationships, you have to leave the safety net of your friends and mingle.

It's hard for someone to interrupt a group to introduce herself. So why not make an effort of looking for those people hovering around the edges and invite them in?

If you've been standing with a group for a while, move on and find someone new to talk to. This will benefit you in the long run, as the more people you meet, the more relationships you're able to build.

In the past couple of months, I've had the opportunity to meet a few dozen new people. Some of them have shown up at more than one event, and it's been great to have the opportunity to get to know them better.

I contacted one woman after visiting a store that carried products in her niche, to suggest it as a possible customer. I e-mailed another woman information about an online forum that I thought would help her grow her business. I visited another woman's shop while my niece was in town and we both ended up buying several items and supporting her business.

Put the other person first, rather than thinking "What's in it for me?" (Have you heard me say this before about your public speaking audience? Yep, it applies here, too.)

You'll gain confidence in networking, make friends, and grow your business in an organic way as part of a community of people working together.

What can you share with a colleague to help grow her/his business?

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