Many view business networking mainly as a means of finding new customers and suppliers and, while this is certainly one advantage, it brings countless other benefits, from helping generate fresh ideas to gaining new perspectives on business challenges.
Of course, you can only reap the rewards of networking if you know how to do it well, but many business owners trip up on the same common mistakes when dipping their toes in the networking pool.
Here are just a few ways you could be approaching networking wrong and, crucially, how you can avoid making the same mistakes twice.
Being too pushy
When first setting out on an exciting new business venture you feel passionately about, it’s all too easy to be forward or aggressive in your approach to pitching your ideas to others.
Whilst it’s true that your enthusiasm is what will connect you with potential customers and suppliers, being too heavy handed is likely to have the opposite effect and drive them away.
It’s great to spread your genuine and unwavering business passion, but try to avoid doing so in a manner that seems self-righteous, greedy, or even desperate, and keep in mind at all times how you could be perceived by those around you.
Not practising your pitch
Some entrepreneurs you encounter might boast that they never plan a pitch and can excel by just saying whatever pops into their head. This could be the case for those who have been pitching for years, but it is generally a good idea to put some thought and planning into what you want to say if you’re new to the game.
You don’t need to get too hung up on creating the perfect pitch, but you should prioritise making sure you speak in a way that gets your point across quickly and clearly.
You may want to start with a relevant joke or question to break the ice and grab your audience’s attention, or to touch upon a need or problem they may be facing and how you could provide the solution. Tell the story of how your product or service has made a difference to your life, or to the lives of your customers. These anecdotes can go a long way in ensuring both you and your pitch stay fresh in peoples’ minds.
Expecting too much straight away
It’s important to get to the point when pitching to potential contacts, but it’s just as crucial not to demand what you want from them straight away.
Networking requires patience and tact, so get to know the contact and think about what skills and services you can offer them without focusing too much on what they can do for you.
Ultimately, the goal is to expand your network by forging meaningful connections with people, but you must remember that networking is a two-way street and often you have to give before you can get.
Talking when you should listen
Networking is not simply a chance to show off your skills and experience, but rather an opportunity to get to know other professionals and create meaningful and valuable relationships with them.
Instead of devoting the entire session to promoting yourself and your business, take some time to ask questions of those who you meet and give them the chance to speak about what interests them.
Striking a balanced and conversational tone is likely to lead to a more beneficial and meaningful exchange.
Failing to follow up
If you focus all your efforts on building up your network but don’t make time to follow up with your newfound contacts, the chances are they will soon forget about you. Not only that, failing to send information or connect with someone after you promised you would can make you seem unreliable or insincere.
This is something we see often, in fact a recent LinkedIn poll concluded that 38% of professionals struggle to stay in contact with their network, even though they recognise the importance in doing so.
Even if you just send a brief catch-up email every now and then, it’s so important to remember to follow up with your connections, not least because it shows them you value their ideas and experience.
It’s all too easy to fall victim to these common networking pitfalls, but by making small tweaks to your approach, you can ensure you deliver an impactful and memorable pitch to build mutually beneficial relationships and a network that becomes one of your business’ most valuable assets.
Further reading: How to get better at networking
Business Networking Groups in the UK
About: Formed in 2006, its members get access to online networking meetings running 6 days a week to “connect, share ideas and pass leads on a daily basis in order to propel them, their business and their network further.”
Name: Athena Network
About: A networking, training and development business club for female executives and entrepreneurs. Its mission is to create opportunities for members to make strategic connections and accelerate business growth.
About: An organisation that connects women, businesses and organisations all over the world, using a powerful combination of inspiring, informative and educational content.It offers “a suite of engaging digital tools, brilliant female role models and quality learning resources”.
Name: London Professionals
About: Established in 2007, it is one of the UK’s largest business groups with 40,000 members covering over 50 different industry sectors (from professional services, property and construction, to retail, industrial, media and technology) at start up, SME and global size levels.
About: Various small business networking groups organised via the meetup.com platform. UK-based meetups include: African and Caribbean Business Masterminds, Entrepreneurs in London, London Entrepreneurs Network, Manchester Small Business, Networking 4 Business, Pathway2Grow, Start-ups’ Pitch, New Connections, Scottish Women’s Business Club and hundreds more.
Name: Midlands Business Network
About: A platform to promote Midlands-based businesses wanting to increase their sales pipelines and raise brand awareness.
Name: MINT Business Club
About: A Members only Facebook group for the self-employed, micro business owners, or those with businesses employing less than 10 people. There are weekly ‘Connect, Support, Ideas’ sessions, training courses and ‘MINT bootcamps’ to aid business growth and development.
Name: Network B2B
About: A networking group for businesses of all sizes which has a distinct guidance system for meetings that aims to improve the effectiveness of each session and ease the pain of finding new clients and network in structured yet relaxed groups.
About: A professional networking group where the members are the owners and directors of service businesses and partners in professional firms. The group enables members to build trusted networks for business, support and friendship.
Name: The Better Business Network
About: A peer to peer network connecting and supporting business leaders to help their businesses grow, whilst also working towards attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Part of the network’s revenue allows members to be part of a Climate Positive Workforce with Ecologi and supoprt non-profit organizations through their partnership with 1% For The Planet.
Name: The Business Network
About: A national organisation with local chapters hosting events and seminars in Birmingham, Chester, Exeter, London, Manchester, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, and Humberside. Its mission is to provide business owners and directors with an effective and focussed environment to do business.
Name: The MET Club
About: A provider of lunchtime business networking events for ‘senior decision makers’ operating in within the Property, Construction, Investment, Transport and Infrastructure sectors of Yorkshire and the North East.
Name: The Yorkshire Mafia
About: A LinkedIn group that brings together members of the Yorkshire Business Community to meet, network, share experiences, build relationships and ultimately create trade opportunities.
Name: Women in Business Network
About: A forum for women who wish to gain new business opportunities through word of mouth in order to support each other through collaboration and the sharing of business contacts and opportunities.