“Hold your drink in your left hand so you don’t have to give a cold wet handshake when you introduce yourself.” A tip you’d heard many times before? Just like there are a hundred and one tips that make networking easier, there is an equally long list of little things that make your contacts uncomfortable. Breaking down your network goes once as fast as building it up, and worst of all, you only notice the damage when it’s too late. So don’t do the following!
The dont’s of networking
Playing the gossip girl
Make sure you never, ever gossip. The worst thing you can do at a networking event is talk ill of other entrepreneurs. You give the impression that you are quick to talk bad behind others’ backs; will you do the same to them when they turn around? Also, you have to know that the entrepreneurial world is not that big a world. Many people know each other, and you never know who is friends with whom. Therefore, pay attention and think twice before sharing negative experiences.
Tip: be honest, of course. If someone else has a negative experience because you recommended it, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
Let your network go cold
Building good connections is a long-term process. Unfortunately, your efforts disappear like snow in the sun when you stop investing in your contacts. If you don’t actively maintain your network and take a long time to answer emails or phone calls, then certain ties you’ve painstakingly built will slowly but surely die. You want to avoid that at all costs.
Forgetting what you promised
If you promised to send feedback, introduce two parties, work on a small task, send an email, … do so. Other people count on you, and if you don’t live up to that, you break that trust. You come across as someone unreliable because you make promises you don’t keep. Be careful with that, because such a judgment is easily made.
Asking but not giving back
Give at least as much as you ask. Just asking for favors and giving nothing in return is not going to get you anywhere. If people make an effort for you, you should be prepared to do it in return.
Be grateful, too. If someone makes that effort, be sure to thank them. Better a little too much than too little. Even for the little things. And especially when someone introduces you to someone else! After all, they are also putting their reputation on the line, so you’d better be grateful. You will notice that sending a thank-you note is not explicitly appreciated… However, they will notice if you don’t send one.
But what are the do’s of networking?
Approach it professionally
You’re an entrepreneur with a plan. Therefore, make sure you plan each networking event. How do you do that?
- Prepare for the evening. Your chances of success then increase significantly.
- Set some goals for yourself. How many new connections do you want to make? It gives you more direction and motivation.
- At the end of the evening,evaluate what you did well and what could be improved. Be honest with yourself.
- Have confidence! Even if you are very insecure.
Train your memory
Try to remember as many names as possible. People appreciate it when you remember them. ‘What was your name again?” makes for an awkward start to the conversation. Also, it seems like you weren’t really interested last time. Make the other person feel important. Be genuinely interested and ask questions. Let your interlocutor talk a lot. Remember the things you found interesting for a future meeting. This way you don’t look stupid.
Watch your timing
Always be a little early at networking events. If you arrive ten minutes earlier than the rest of the people, you can already choose a table to stand at. That’s easier than inserting yourself into something while the conversation is already going on.
Always leave a little earlier. You miss out on the boozy bar talk that doesn’t accomplish anything anyway, and you then have some time to process your business cards with new contacts. Make a note of who you’ve met, what they do and what they can do for you, because a week later you probably won’t remember.
As the event draws to a close, line up at the exit: there you can talk to the last people you missed during the evening.
Don’t neglect the old school resources just yet
Always have a pen in your pocket. You never know when you might need to illustrate your pitch or write down an important email address.
Don’t throw away your business cards just yet! With the rise of digital, you’d think it’s a bit passé, but a physical memento of a meeting at an event can still yield many great things. Besides, not everyone has LinkedIn yet, and if they do, you sometimes quickly get lost in a long list of connections.
Ready to get started?
Look for events that are relevant to you. Don’t waste your time on happenings that are not interesting for your line of work. Eventbrite, Meetup, Birdhouse‘s event page, but also Facebook are interesting places to keep your eyes open for relevant events.
Get your tickets
You can order tickets for various events. Not only will you be sure to get your spot, you’ll often get a name card with your company on it, which makes networking easier and increases the chances that people will notice and remember your name.
Make sure you have business cards, or a similar alternative. It looks a lot more professional than leaving your e-mail address on a paper napkin. Of course, there are countless apps that serve the same purpose, such as Cardify, Camcard, About.me, Bizz Card, … The app store and Google Play Store are full of them. Go for the option that works best for you.
Maintain your LinkedIn profile
Clean up your LinkedIn profile for when interviewers look you up the day after the event. Make sure all information is up to date so you don’t miss any opportunities. For example, if your start-up has recently changed its name, make sure you update that across your profile. Keep adding relevant work experiences. Also proactively add new connections yourself.
Work on your networking pitch
Make sure it is a networking pitch, not a sales pitch or investor pitch! You want to briefly tell what you do, you’re not trying to bring in a new customer. Make sure your story comes out smooth and that you can personalize it depending on who is in front of you. See how your audience responds and make sure you keep improving your pitch, time after time. Feel free to ask for feedback as well.