Networking Dos and Don’ts: Learn the Trade

Be patient with yourself as you learn the trade of successful networking. Some people are natural networkers. They can walk into any room and they’re comfortable. For other people, it doesn’t come as easily. However, they can still be great networkers. At NIA®, we challenge you to come as an active participant, and we create avenues to help you do so more naturally. From the way that we arrange the room to the activities we choose, our aim is to help you successfully network, even if you’re not already an accomplished networker. We gently put you in a position to naturally stimulate your networking skills. To take full advantage of that opportunity, you need to come with your game face on and be ready to go.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Be Prepared

You need to have a focus prior to coming into the meeting. Just as you wouldn’t walk into a sales call, a webinar, or any other presentation without being prepared, you shouldn’t walk into a networking meeting without some kind of preparation either. Sometimes that’s just as simple as looking in the mirror and having a meeting with “the board of directors” and deciding that you’re going to make this the most valuable time of your week or month because it has the potential to increase your business.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Use Your Business Card Appropriately

The number-one mistake I see most often is people not carrying a business card, not having a card that appropriately represents their brand, or using the business card as a way to avoid making an adequate connection with other people.

Bringing business cards sounds so simple, but even I sometimes find that I didn’t bring enough cards to an event. However, you absolutely need to have a professional business card that represents your brand. It amazes me when I meet people who understand the value of branding, spend large amounts of money to brand themselves, and then throw together a business card that’s unprofessional, doesn’t represent their brand, or don’t even carry a card with them.

Others may have an appropriate business card, but they don’t know how to use it. They immediately stick the business card in people’s hands before they’ve even had the chance to make eye contact or some other form of emotional connection to get the person to remember them. Giving out a few business cards doesn’t mean you’re networking, nor does the number of cards you give out serve as an appropriate measure of whether or not you had a successful event. Yes, you want business cards. Yes, you want them to be professional. But you don’t want to simply let the business cards do the talking for you.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Avoid Cliques

Most networking groups are full of cliques, though that is the last thing you want when you’re paying to connect with all the members. This isn’t just true for those who may be left out of cliques—this is also true for the “in crowd.” Each member in your group comes with unique gifts to offer. Don’t limit your association to just a few select members, or you will miss out.

You’re not likely to see cliques in our groups, even if you have a tendency to move toward them. Our leadership is armed with strategies that guarantee you’re not going to see a clique for more than one meeting. We train our franchise owners to be on the lookout for them. Because we move around in every meeting, we can move people who are in a clique to another spot to participate in another activity with other people. No one in the group even knows it’s happening. However, one of the things that I’m told most often by guests is, “I’ve never been to a networking group where I was so welcomed and felt so little pressure to join.” I’m often told by members, “You know, one of the things I love about Networking in Action is that there aren’t any cliques.”

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Check Your Mood at the Door

Be sure to check your mood at the door. There’s no one in the group who is going to listen to you go on and on about the drama in your life and then feel comfortable referring to you. If you show up and only want to talk about your children’s problems and how they’re taking you away from work, or how you can’t focus because you’re getting a divorce, or how you’re taking care of a sick family member and you’re taking time off to deal with that—why would anyone want to refer someone to you? And yet, people do just this all the time.

We had a member a couple years ago who represented a local dental office. She came to every meeting and bashed her employer the entire ninety minutes. After two or three meetings of this, I finally pulled her to the side and said, “Do you think there is anyone in this room who wants to send their family members or friends to your office for dental work when you’re bashing all of its business principles and questioning its integrity? Nobody’s going to refer to you. You’re wasting your time.” After another month or two of the same type of attitude, we replaced her.

Bringing drama into a meeting does not give people confidence to refer to you. It’s not a place to go to dump your problems and your attitudes on the other members. They’re there to learn about your business—and you. If you want others to refer to you, refrain from airing all of your or your company’s dirty laundry. Treat the opportunity professionally and check your drama at the door.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Send a Sub

When you can’t be there in person, it’s important that you send a substitute. We understand that things come up—an opportunity for a big sale, client fires, or a personal matter that requires immediate attention. That’s going to happen to you, as it happens to the best of us. However, when it happens, send someone to attend in your place.

If four people are getting together for a campout and they each agree to bring one of the four meals that weekend, what happens when only three people bring food? The whole group is going to have to skip a meal, and you can bet there is going to be some animosity towards the person who didn’t bring his share. It’s the same thing with networking. If thirty people show up when they all could have been doing something “more important,” and yet they still make the sacrifice to come, and you don’t, what you’re screaming at them is, “My time is more important than yours.” That’s the last thing you want people to feel when you’re trying to build trust.

People often don’t realize how important it is to send a substitute. However, those who value networking and value relationships will take the time to find one. And honestly, finding substitutes for an NIA® meeting is not nearly as painful to find as it would be for those traditional meetings. At our meetings, they are going to be treated to real networking, a beer or wine, a nice appetizer, and the meetings are full of great business owners and decision makers.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts: Show Up – Mentally and Physically

Showing up physically is important for obvious reasons. If you’re not there, you’re not networking, which is a sure way to ensure that networking isn’t going to work for you. So, first and foremost—be there!

People join networking groups and sabotage themselves all the time by thinking they just have to sign the check and walk through the door. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you take the time to be there in person, make sure you’re also showing up with your attitude, heart, and mind. I have seen people come into other meetings and sit down in the corner and pull out their laptops and start doing work instead of mingling. As previously stated, networking is like a sandwich—what goes on before and after the meeting is just as important as what happens in between. So, if you’re there working on your computer, what are you saying to your fellow members while they’re walking around getting to know each other? You’re screaming at them that you’re socially uncomfortable, your work is more important than theirs, or that you just don’t care about learning more about them. So why would they want to refer to you? These are all great ways to keep members from getting comfortable with you. Put away the distractions and be present.

We do our best to create an environment that will help you do that. We know 100 percent of the people in our meetings have cell phones, so after checking in on Facebook at the beginning of the meeting, giving yourself pavement points for attending, and putting your next Network In Action meeting and any coaching sessions you have coming up onto your calendar, the franchise owner requires everyone to put their cell phones away. It’s just too tempting to be distracted when you have your office right at your fingertips.

In many of our groups, the group leaders have instituted a rule that if someone is on a cell phone at all during the meeting, then that person has to buy someone else in the group a drink at the end of the meeting. Whatever the rules are from group to group, at the end of the day, we’re creating an environment where people want to be there, and they are committed to making the other people in the room the most important thing for the next ninety minutes.

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Networking Dos and Don’ts

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, said, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.”

The value of creating and maintaining your personal network can completely transform your business. However, there is an art to it, and if you’re doing it wrong, you’re lucky if the only consequence is no business as a result! In the typical networking meetings out there, you may be able to get by even if all you do is sit back and watch because the meetings are designed around the guests. You can go to most traditional networking groups and sit there very passively with an attitude and still get some value out of it. (However, most weekly networking meetings leave little time to truly network.)

To become a master networker, however, you need to adopt the best networking practices. This takes mindfulness and intention. You will be most successful when you take time to prepare yourself for each networking meeting you attend. If you were going into a meeting with someone who is building your website, you would be prepared. You would be focused and know the purpose of that meeting before you ever walked through the door. That is the same way you should treat any networking meeting. Be prepared by knowing what to do and what not to do.

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