June 10, 2013
5 Networking Mistakes Almost Everybody Makes

Everyone tries to network. Few people do it well. Most make the same basic mistakes.

Here’s what not to do when you want to expand and leverage your network:

1. Try to receive before you give.

The goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact, etc. When we network, we want something.

But at first, never ask for what you want. (In fact you may never ask for what you want.) Forget about what you can get and focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship.

Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.

When you network, it’s all about them, not you.

2. Assume others should care about your needs.

Maybe you’re desperate. Maybe partnering with a major player in your industry could instantly transform red ink into black. No one cares. No one should care. Those are your problems and your needs.

Never expect others to respond to your needs. People may sympathize but helping you is not their responsibility. The only way to make connections is to care about the needs of others first. Ask how they’re doing. Ask what could help them.

Care about others first; then, and only then, will they truly care back.

3. Take the shotgun approach.

Some people network with anyone, tossing out business cards like confetti and sending connection requests like spam.

Networking isn’t a numbers game. Find someone you can help, determine whether they might (someday) be able to help you, and then approach them on their terms. Carefully select the people you want to network with.

And keep your list relatively small, because there is no way to build meaningful connections with dozens or hundreds of people.

Networking is like marketing: Targeting is everything.

4. Assume tools create connections.

Twitter followers, Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections are great—if you actually do something with those connections.

In all likelihood your Twitter followers aren’t reading your tweets. Your Facebook friends rarely visit your page. Your LinkedIn connections aren’t checking your updates.

Tools provide a convenient way to establish connections, but to maintain those connections you still have to put in the work. Any tool that is easy or automated won’t establish the connections you really need.

Use a tool to help make an initial connection, but then go old school to make a real connection.

5. Reach too high.

If your company provides financial services, establishing a connection with Warren Buffett would be awesome. Or say you need startup capital; hooking up with Mark Cuban would be awesome.

Awesome… and almost impossible.

The best connections are mutually beneficial. What can you offer Buffett or Cuban? Not much. You may desperately want to connect with the top people in your industry, but the right to connect is not based on want or need.

You must earn the right to connect. Find people who can benefit from your knowledge and insight or your connections.

The “status” level of your connections is irrelevant. All that matters is whether you can help each other reach your goals.

  • Jeremy Blake

    Hi Jeff, lovely concise 5 tips some commonly got wrong. People always want to take business cards to networking occassions rather than make a connection. Just as its more romantic to find the details of the person you bumped into, its the same with business. You can find out people’s contact details later. Interestingly in the UK we say sniper is direct marketing and shotgun less untargeted as is shoots the shot out of the cartridge in many ball bearing pieces of shot!

  • Rachel Braun Scherl

    When I go to an event or networking opportunity, I consider it a success if I meet one person I want to follow up with.

  • Deborah Whitehouse

    Finally tips on what I believe to be true too. Not only do I believe it, but it’s played out this way for me for many years! These tips are valid, truthful and direct. I have read others’ advice, and we all know the basics,…. keep eye contact, don’t scan the room, be genuine, etc.. but this says it all in that you must be networking just to get to know people, not with the intent to go and receive a new client/contract/fee, etc.. So true! 30 years ago, I employed this philosophy in my hometown, and called it: “Sicilian marketing”, as in quietly powerful, caring and yet compelling, like the culture is.. It translates to not being obvious about YOUR needs and making your new colleagues genuinely feel important. In the return, they wanted YOU even more. I plan to link back to this excellent article in my upcoming blog.

  • Gloria Sinibaldi

    I think your suggestions are valid and insightful. You’ve brought up points that are often overlooked. I also agree with Rachel. If you make one contact you’ve been successful in your networking efforts. Thanks for sharing a good article.

  • Barry Deutsch

    Jeff – you hit some great points in this article. My favorite was about people who try to take before they give. I treat these folks like blood sucking parasites.

    Every book and study I have ever read on effective networking and referrals makes the best practice point that you must first give to gain the trust of your potential referral source. Asking for a referral from them before you’ve helped them – ideally through a referral – should be considered a show stopper and recognition that you should end the relationship right there – it’s not worth putting more time into it.

    Pretty basic element of successful networking and referral generation – here’s my key question: why do so few people practice this core element of networking and referrals?

    I’ll go way out on a limb here – although I have found no scientific studies or done actual research into why most folks are ineffective at networking and referral generation – I would hazard a guess that less than 5% of all service providers selling services to CEOs (lawyers, executive recruiters, benefit consultants, and strategic planners to name a few) are great at obtaining referrals to those highly valuable CEOs from fellow consultants.

    Any thoughts as to why most consultants/service providers are so bad at this core element of fundamental networking and referrals?

    Barry Deutsch
    IMPACT Hiring Solutions

  • Guest

    Networking is such a general term that is loosely used without a purpose or goal defined. I recently have been working towards building my professional network and did not truly understand what that meant, or more importantly, how to do that. One of the biggest barriers I have had with networking is determining who I want to network with and once I have that opportunity, what is it that I am trying to accomplish. I found your article to be extremely insightful. After reading the article I was able to understand that building a network isn’t about what I need to get out of numerous interactions but what value can I contribute to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Great topic! Thank you for sharing!