I Hate Networking …. and So Should You!

I hate networking. I really hate it. A rather strange comment coming from the self-proclaimed Godfather of Networking in COSE-land. Yes … but let me explain.

I’ve been networking to support growing my consulting business for a long time. My strategies and tactics have changed dramatically over the years as I learned how to network with focus, finesse and flexibility. And I get increasingly annoyed with people who still don’t network that way.

Too many people continue to network ineffectively today. It makes me crazy … and probably make you crazy, too. So, here’s a summary of 10 Worst Practices and why I hate them … and so should you.

1. Networking without a strategic focus. People don’t go to a networking event with a specific goal or purpose in mind. They just go to ‘network’. They often waste their time … and usually the time of the people they talk with.

Much easier to evaluate their results afterwards with specific defined objectives up front. Plan your networking … then network your plan.

2. Networking without practical alternatives. Not considering optional sources first and simply randomly seeking information from strangers at an event. Asking them ‘Do you know any accountants who specialize in small service businesses?’

Instead, who do you know who might refer someone who meets your basic requirements. Review your Linked In or other existing networks for possible sources and send them an individualized email or text asking for referrals. Far more time-efficient.

3. Networking without reality. Seeking new relationships or referrals – naively thinking that meeting a stranger can automatically and immediately lead to developing a new mutually beneficial relationship or a referral to potential new customers.

Yes, an initial conversation can lead to additional conversations or meet ups which can, over time, lead to a casual business relationship. But asking that person for a referral will be awkward without first-hand knowledge of your skills and abilities or products. Better to ask existing customers for those referrals, since they do know you and what you bring to market.

4. Networking without class on LinkedIn, Using the generic system-generated ‘Ralph, please add me to your professional network’ request without taking 30 seconds to personalize the message or connect the other person to you. Lazy and lame.

Far better to take the extra time with – ‘Bob, we met at the chamber event Monday night. I thought we could discuss some potential collaborations. Would you add me to your Linked In network so we can begin to dialogue?’ Longer and more time to create, but sends a much different – and better – message about you and your style and values.

5. Networking without an effective and engaging elevator speech. Using an elevator pitch with too much feature information and not enough benefit information. Pitches that are too long, too rambling and too sales-like. No one likes to be sold, especially from someone who leads with a title.

The pros share information about benefits and value instead. Meet one and you might hear ‘I’m with Marketing Stars – where we help small service businesses define their marketing messages and deliver them with style and impact.’

6. Networking without really good questions. Asking strangers ‘How about those (name of local sports team)’ … is harmless, but not everyone cares about sports and it implies lack of business focus. ‘What keeps you up at night’ is interesting, but a bit invasive and can be off-putting. ‘Tell me your story’ is great, but can lead to a very long monologue. Initial conversations should be short and interesting for both people.

The pros start simple and focused with something like ‘Tell me about (name of business)’ or ‘What’s new at (name)’ or ‘What’s the story behind the name ‘Three Guys Marketing?’ And the totally old school ‘What do you do?’ still works for them. Make it an engaging … and short … conversation.

7. Networking without business card finesse. How often does a stranger hand you a card at the beginning of the conversation? That behavior often looks pushy, rude and lacking in class. Great way to make a bad first impression very quickly. Sometimes I can’t resist the temptation to say “I don’t recall asking for your card.’

The alternative is simple – wait until the end of that conversation, determine if you want to share contact information at all and simply ask for the other person’s card for a follow up. If they don’t ask for yours, just say ‘And may I give you my card?’ People rarely say no to that courteous question.

8. Networking without uncommon courtesy. You’ve encounter networkers who stopped caring about courtesy every day – or never did. They don’t respect your time, your needs or your style. They talk too much and say too little. They sell. They bore you. They rant.

The solution is so simple. Find your personal blend of interacting with other people based on the Golden Rule – treating them the way you want them to treat you – and the Platinum Rule – treating them the way they want you to treat them. Talk Less, Listen More. Tell Less, Ask More. Be interested first, then try to be interesting. Value their time and don’t bore them. Ever.

9. Networking without timely follow up. Follow up is everything. Especially when it’s timely. Has this ever happened to you. You get an email indicating ‘We met in the Spring at that chamber networking function. I wanted to get together and learn more about your business.’ Not real compelling is it. Better to not follow up at all than to do it so late.

If your networking objective is to gain specific information, thank the people immediately who shared some sources or contacts. If any of those prove fruitful, thank them again. Emails are fine – fast and easy. Better is a hand-written note. Even better is a quick call the next day, even if you get voice mail.

10. Networking without returned courtesy. There are two kinds of networkers – the Takers and the Givers. How many Takers do you know? They ask for help or input or want someone to listen to them rant. They rarely say thank you or offer to return the courtesy. Their usual response is to ask you for help again. They’re the ‘Black Holesof networking, sucking your time and energy through a one-way worm hole to a parallel universe.

Givers are willing to share their time and expertise without expecting anything in return. They believe that Givers Gain and what goes around truly does come around. And when people help them, they look for ways to be sincerely helpful in return. Which type sounds more like you?


So, now what you do? Short answer – turn all the above worst practices into Best Practices by doing the opposite. Simple to understand and relatively easy to do. Just make the commitment to quit the amateur ranks and network like a pro. Then, no one will hate how you network … especially me!