When it comes to career advice, people readily extol the virtues of networking, emphasizing the fact that relationships often matter more than résumés. This principle holds especially true for entrepreneurs. The greatest business idea in the world can inevitably fail if a company’s leader lacks a strong network. Startups need a social foundation in order to grow.
Although building up a list of connections may seem relatively simple in theory, business professionals tend to forget that networking is an art. As a result, many fail to maximize their efforts because, whether knowingly or not, they continue to make mistakes that are easily avoidable. Here are a few examples of missteps to watch out for.
Starting without a plan
Perhaps the worst networking mistake is when people attempt to build connections without first deciding what kind of network they want. Who will help advance the business? What type of skillset will they have? What industry organizations offer valuable membership? Without answering important questions like these, entrepreneurs will achieve little more than aimless wandering.
Networking usually comes to mind when people need something, but one of the best times to branch out is when you have something to offer. Either way, entrepreneurs should strive to look outward first when they network. Additionally, they should always find a way to give whenever they are on the receiving end of a deal or a favor.
Forgetting to ask
Between attending industry events, going to dinners and lunches with colleagues, and the interactions that occur naturally in business, the average entrepreneur meets with quite a few people on a regular basis. Simply meeting is not enough, however. Networking depends on asking for contact information and requesting permission to reach out in the future.
Failing to be active on social media
Social media is a great tool for making connections with other professionals. For entrepreneurs, Twitter can be particularly useful. In addition to the utility of searching and messaging people, business owners can leverage these platforms to help establish their own credibility. Inactivity on these sites, however, dramatically reduces the number of potential resources from which one can draw.
Ignoring online networking
The Internet is replete with networking options beyond social media. Entire websites like LinkedIn and E.Factor dedicate their services to helping business-minded individuals connect. These sites are excellent ways to make initial acquaintances and for ultimately build relationships with other talented leaders. Successful networking takes full effect offline, but it increasingly begins online.
Neglecting to update contacts
Contacts can easily become outdated without the proper attention. Addresses, phone numbers, and job positions all change. Entrepreneurs should strive to keep their networks as up-to-date as possible by reaching out on a regular basis. Sharing an interesting article, passing along a business opportunity, or offering congratulations on a recent achievement are all easy ways to maintain contact.
Overlooking the consumer
The common conception of networking is that it involves connection-building between businesses and professionals. However, that view leaves out the potential power of the customer. When looking for ways to increase resources and relationships, entrepreneurs should consider including their client base in the process. After all, who knows the buyer better than the buyer?
Reaching out to everyone indiscriminately
Entrepreneurs definitely need to take initiative and proactively reach out to others and ask for their help. However, they should show some discretion in the process and not just take business cards from everyone they meet. Having a group of 10 strong contacts will always trump having 1,000 faceless acquaintances.
Underestimating the value of in-person interactions
Online networking is an invaluable practice, but it only achieves half of the goal. Entrepreneurs must find ways to meet with their associates in person to develop actual relationships with them. In-person meetings, or Skype calls at the very least, allow individuals to communicate more freely – without having to navigate the nuances of emails and messaging.
Showing impatience with the process
Just like every other aspect of running a business, the networking process requires time. Startup owners should avoid setting unreasonable expectations for results when working with other people. Very rarely do two professionals reach a major agreement after sending a LinkedIn request.
Failing to respect the time of others
When meeting new people, especially at large networking gatherings, remember to give others their space and not keep them in conversation for the entire time. One-on-one meetings and phone calls should similarly benefit both parties. Everyone has a schedule and everyone needs to be heard.
Failing to follow up
Following up with a thank you is one of the easiest things to do, which also makes it one of the easiest things to forget. Showing appreciation for a meeting, whether after a quick discussion over coffee or a more in-depth conference conversation, will go a long way every time.