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The Greatest Mistake in Networking

Updated on March 11, 2013
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Background

I moved to North Carolina in July and I knew 1 person here who was not the most connected person around since he traveled each week to a different state for work. I knew no one and was starting my own law firm. Thinking back, that seems ridiculous.

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The Greatest Mistake

So what is it? What is the number one thing to avoid when networking? Here it is: Never treat networking like sales. There are so many reasons this statement is true, so let's jump in.

First, nobody at networking events wants to be sold to. They all showed up to get to know people and develop relationships that may last years. The expectations are set that they will have discussions about someone's job and then follow up with them to build some sort of relationship. If they end up using the services, that's great, but there are so many other things that a networking relationship can provide, and those should be what you aim for. Networking would be an incredible pain if everyone in that room was looking to sell you their product. Can you imagine how many realtors you would have to hear the same pitch from? And, you'd get nowhere because all you would know about their business is what they're selling.

Now, imagine you are talking to a realtor that specializes in commercial property, specifically warehouses. You have no need for this, but he's not trying to sell to you. I would stay in that conversation longer because I don't need a house right now either, and I'd rather hear how this person's business is going and what kind of client they're looking for than here about how much I really need a three bedroom house and how this is the right time to buy.

I then take the information my new contact gave me about commercial real estate and think about people in my network that may want to meet him. For example, I know someone who provides inventory software. They should definitely meet because they have the same clients and can compare client lists if they like and trust each other. Personally, I'm going to want to meet this person one on one so that I can discover other areas he will want introductions in and he will examine my business and determine if there's anyone he can introduce me to. Let's say he knows a small business consultant. I'd like to meet that person, so he would make the introduction because the small business consultant would enjoy meeting me as well. This is how strong networks are made.

Now, let's pretend I tried to sell my services to everyone. Maybe that commercial realtor needed an attorney to expand his business. There's one client, maybe. I'd have to go through the sales pitch and try to convince him I'm better than all the other attorneys he's met for this job. Instead of doing that, let's look at what would happen in the original route. If that realtor enjoyed meeting me, and we struck it off nicely at our one to one meeting, he will have some level of trust in me. If someone at a later date asked him if he knew an attorney who worked with small businesses, he would be more inclined to recommend myself to that person.

If you sell yourself, you don't open those relationships. In six months, I've probably met 2,000-3,000 people in networking events. I could have passed out cards to every single one of them and gave the sales pitch. I tried that for a month and a half. The conversion rate was about 0.2%. That means that out of 2,000 people, I would have 4 clients. Instead, I went the route I did and have a reach of 600 people in my network with an average network size of around 500. Some of my best connections have networks of 2,000-5,000 people. My reach is in the tens of thousands this way and I have 30+ clients instead with the potential for many more without any added work.

Having others sell for you is also an incredibly less stressful mechanism for you marketing as well. When I was selling for myself, there were very few successes. It was depressing seeing no results. Now, my results are when I can connect members of my network together. Last night, I made 45 introductions between members of my network. This builds trust and ensures those people are constantly thinking about me when they go about their week. If one referred connection plays out well for them, it is a sure thing they'll return the favor.

Part of making networking successful is asking the right questions and realizing the correct pairings. I'm working on some software to make the pairings portion easier, but the questions are imperative Have you ever heard someone say they hate the question "what do you do?" My question for them is always: "What brings you to this networking event?" That's my kind way of asking if they're sure they should be networking, but they indirectly bring up a good point: You can't ask too many questions or you'll eventually lose your connection. My questions revolve around what the person does, who they're looking to connect with at these events, and who their ideal client is. With that information, I start scanning my own network to discover good introductions and as soon as I start rattling off names, they start listening.

Fatigue wears on people at networking events if they're introverts. You need to find ways to peak certain people's interest, so asking the right questions will get them going. For me, if you ask why I love what I do, I'll talk for hours. Others, you have to ask very broad questions and narrow your focus in order to get their energy rolling. Once the energy is there, they will engage with you with a higher level of trust and enjoyment, thus associating you with those feelings. If you are an introvert, don't let the fatigue get to you. Fake it or take breaks. The guy sitting down away from the crowd essentially creates a cloud around him of disinterest. Breaks, however, are great ways to recoup. I am an introvert and I take breaks. I step outside for some air, but I make sure I am no longer visible to the crowd so they don't associate me with breaks or disinterest. The good news is that you really only should be making 3 good connections per hour at an event and around 10 per week. If you exceed that, you're going to be spending too much time networking or you'll be neglecting your connections and won't build the type of relationship needed to have a strong network.

So, introverts, make up for your networking stamina by doing research beforehand. Know who you want to meet and meet them. Also, take breaks when needed so you can have high energy when you're in the crowd. Extroverts, it may seem like you have the advantage in a crowd, but don't be too energized that you forget why you're there. The relationships are great, but you're also building trust and analyzing whether you can trust the person standing across from you. Never be afraid to step away from a connection if you feel there's something fishy going on. I've done it many times for an assortment of reasons.

Summary

In summary, the greatest mistake about networking is the mindset that networking is about sales. Networking is about making great connections and if those connections pan out, they will surely lead to sales. I've had many discussions with networking experts about the types of people who show up to make sales, and we all agree this is a horrible approach and it destroys a brand as well as yields very slow results.

Networking should yield exponential results if done correctly. You won't see any return right away, and from what I've found, even the best connections take months to develop. Therefore, it is easy to get discouraged while networking as no sales come in from it, but you should look at what you have gained: knowledge, the ethos of a wider network, and people who you can call on if you or your clients need an area you otherwise cannot handle.

If you like this hub, please follow me here on HubPages or visit my site at www.bobholzlaw.com. The information contained herein was the findings of my networking and the advice of those who I've spoken to. I have no formal education in sociology of networking or any similar practice, but I can certainly look at my own statistics and share what has worked and what hasn't.

Finally, please send questions, comments and suggestions to me on this one. No one is perfect when it comes to networking, and I am always interested in learning what works for others and finding out where people struggle with their own networking.

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