While we all know how much the right connections can help us grow our businesses, most of us don't relish the idea of walking into a crowded room of people where we might not know anyone. But even once we've mustered up the courage to walk up to complete strangers to meet someone new, whether at a convention or a chance meeting in a restaurant, we can sabotage our own efforts. Here are a few common networking mistakes that will tank even the best of opportunities.
Seizing the Wrong Moment
Every city has popular networking hubs where you're more likely to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in your community. The upside of frequenting these locations is the opportunity to be a part of the local scene and stay casually connected to a large number of people. The downside is that you can ruin your chances and leave a terrible impression if you are over-eager in your efforts to connect.
No matter how tempting, don't make the mistake of invading someone else's private lunch meeting or interrupt their deep conversation in order to make yourself known to them or to make a request. This applies, even if the CEO of a company who could be your next big sale is seated at the table next to you. It still applies, even if you spy an investor who hasn't yet responded to your pitch deck - especially if they are meeting with another entrepreneur. And, yes, it apples, even if they make eye contact or smile back at you. If they don't invite your over or to join their conversation, either say a quick hello and move on or give them their space.
If you invade on their current conversation, instead of admiring how you seized the opportunity, they will now know that you didn't respect their time enough to allow them the space privacy while they were meeting with someone
Instead, send a follow up email later that day letting them know you were happy to see them but didn't want to interrupt their meeting but that you did want to follow up with them. They will appreciate your manners and your respect of their time. It could even turn a previous no into a yes.
Monopolizing the V.I.P.
I have attended conferences with the express goal of meeting a VIP guest on the speaker list who I believed was a strategic contact to add to my network. And when we spend precious funds to get in front of someone, it can drive even the most discreet among us to get a little aggressive to make sure we accomplish our goals before returning home.
If you want to meet a VIP at an event, by all means get in line and be persistent. Most speakers understand that part of what they are there to do is give the attendees some face time. Most are quite gracious about meeting and speaking with each guest in line. To get the most out of your opportunity, introduce yourself, tell him what you liked about what he said, ask your question, or tell him why you want to connect. If your question or request will require a follow-up, ask if it is ok if you follow up. Don't ask him to follow up with you - and give him a job on top of taking time to talk with you. If he says it is ok for you follow up, ask the best way to make contact. You can also have a business card ready with a personal memo written on it if you have a specific ask or reference. It doesn't mean he will follow up with you, but it will mean when he is cleaning out his luggage, your business card will have a personal reminder that will jog his memory.
Persistence pays, but being classy while persistent will pay off far more often.
One of the best ways to make someone regret sharing their contact information with you is if you fill their inbox with introductions to other people without their permission. Even when done with the best of intentions, you leave your contact in the awkward position of now having to reject someone they never planned on meeting if the connection isn't welcomed.
Instead, email your contact and let them know who you want to introduce them to. Include the background of the person and specifically why you want to facilitate an introduction. What is your expectation from the introduction? Are you hoping they'll find their efforts similar enough to perhaps collaborate or are you hoping that your contact will be able to give advice to the person you're wanting to introduce? Are they in a position of influence where they might be able to help this person? By communicating clear expectations, your contact will be able to quickly assess whether the introduction is something they can accommodate.
If the answer is no, don't take it personal. Their time is precious, and they have an obligation to manage their time to effectively meet their own obligations. Protect the privacy of the people within your network, and they'll be much more likely to be accessible to you when you need them.