7 Deadly Entrepreneurial Networking Mistakes

by Peter Shallard

Deadly networking mistakes that all entrepreneurs make

A great network is the foundation of every successful entrepreneurial career.

As tempting as it sounds (especially for introverts) big business wins don’t happen from years of slaving alone in your basement. A bit of that is always required but as always, it’s about who you know.

To cut the preamble short: This quick-and-dirty article breaks down the seven most deadly networking mistakes I see all sorts of (otherwise smart) entrepreneurs making.

Since you know who’s blog you’re reading, I barely need to tell you that these are so counter intuitive you might actually hear other “experts” giving contradictory advice.

Only amateurs do the following… 

1. Go to “Networking Events”

Don’t do it.

Something so counter-intuitive has never been so true. Networking events are usually full of desperate newbies who’ve been told they need to network to grow their business.

Everyone in the room is looking for sales leads. By default, they’re not looking to buy. Or help. You see the problem?

2. Network for Direct Sales

Yuck.

If your business model requires you to personally go fishing for prospects, we need to have a chat about “scale” and your business model. Hint: It’s broken. It’s also icky.

Chances are you’re rocking a model that will reward success with increasing hard work, which can only ever result in a burn out. There are a tiny few exceptions to this rule, especially in cases where the entrepreneur is networking with extraordinarily wealthy people to sell extremely high margin products. In other words, if it’s worth it and you can do it with integrity you’re in the 1% of people who can violate this rule quite successfully.

3. Network without a clear outcome in mind.

Huge mistake.

Networking is for these purposes: Forging powerful partnerships, finding amazing staff, raising capital, connecting with mentors, whatever. Not Sales (see #2).

Having a clear idea of what you’re after is key to finding it. Psychologically, metaphysically and conversationally. If you’re lucky enough to connect with someone who digs your vibe and really wants to help you, being able to articulate what you’re looking for is critical.

Know your ideal outcome before you engage in your networking experience (conference, party, meet up) and then dive in and forget about it. The forgetting is to avoid mistake #4

4. Cling to your goal like a needy loser

You’re networking, which means that you’re making friends with business people.

If you are focused only on your own needs, you are going to come across as a total asshole. In fact, you are being a total asshole. 

Having clarity about what you want is important but once you engage in conversation, just relax. Go with the flow and focus on the other person. What can you do for them?

#5 details more of this mistake in action…

5. Treat networking as anything other than making friends

Too many people screw this up.

Real networking, with the real mega successful people, is just hanging out. It’s chilling.  It’s certainly not some kind of speed dating “what-can-you-do-for-me?” type game.

Networking is making friends. High level entrepreneurs find hanging out with like minded people to be both a rare and very rewarding experience. So do that. Just hang.

Most entrepreneurial friendships won’t turn into business relationships without multiple points of contact. In other words, you need to make friends for real. To do that, you need to avoid mistake number six…

6. Be boring

Nobody is born boring but quite a few people grow into it.

Here’s a secret to “making friends with successful entrepreneurs” as described above: Get a hobby.

Mega successful entrepreneurs don’t really spend all day talking about marketing tactics and staff management. They’re passionate people, and that passion bleeds over into other spheres of life.

If you cultivate a passion for something, the mega successful will recognize your winning enthusiasm. Plus, you have something refreshing to talk about. Plus, you’ll get invited on trips/experiences to do your hobby with some extraordinary people.

Just don’t get too caught up in your hobby that you screw up #7…

7. Be uninterested in your own work

Do not engage in networking when you’re not interested in your own work. It’s biggest disaster of them all.

Always be working on an interesting project. You don’t have to have completed it yet or hit a home run. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be directly related to your core business model. Just be working on something. It gives you a reason to talk, ask questions and pick the brains of smart people (which they love). It’ll give you something in common with other entrepreneurs who’ve worked in related fields.

At the highest level networking event I’ve ever attended, I dined with a couple of household name entrepreneurs who were all captivated by a 22 year old kid at the table. He had done nothing but spend the last year interviewing the world’s top neuroscientists. He stole the evening and everyone’s attention. Collected a few business cards too.

Have an interesting project to talk about.

Final thought: 

Networking is vastly misunderstood by most entrepreneurs.

It’s really about forming strong friendships with like minded business owners. It’s about building an exponentially vast network of trusted relationships that can be counted on to provide advice and key partnerships when needed.

Everything works in both directions.

Even if you feel like you have nothing to offer and desperately want something from everyone you meet, you must find a way to help others. Helping people to succeed is all that matters. This isn’t a numbered piece of advice, because it should be as obvious as a slap to the face.

The more people you aid and elevate through the network you create, the more successful you’ll be.

Got a question or know of another mistake that you’ve seen people make? Leave a comment and let other readers and I know!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

James Chartrand - Men with Pens February 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

This is a brilliant post, Peter, and rather timely, with the world-famous SXSW event coming up in Austin.

That’s actually the perfect example of an event where I can say that millions of people are getting it wrong. I’ve been twice and watched everyone rush around to do all the things on your list above… while I was chilling at the Palace, having drinks on the terrace, chatting away about all sorts of cool stuff as I hung around with some very interesting people.

It’s a far better place to be than scrambling around to try to get introduced to so-and-so so that you can make them a pitch… oy.

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Peter Shallard February 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

Well, you’re lucky in that you had a palace to withdraw too and you’ve got an established enough network that people *came to you*. This is actually an important point though: The best networking I’ve ever done was built on a backbone of pre-networking. Getting to know people via their work, online, whatever.

Then you have some connection to capitalize on in person.

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Gary A Krause February 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thank you; I am going to work on my resume & writing skills, talking is a reflex.

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Peter Shallard February 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

Writing skill will make you known before you even arrive at an event. Smart.

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Susan February 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Something my business partner and I have had success with is to develop small networking groups of interesting colleagues. We typically meet once a month to problem solve issues that have come up for our businesses or clients. The net result is that we get to know each other personally and professionally. A couple of people from these groups have become our largest referral sources and I’ve made some BFFs along the way (not to mention the educational material that helps support me in my day-to-day conversations.) We are also accessible to each other “off line” to answer challenging questions – the doors always seem to be open to people who know and trust you.

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Peter Shallard February 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

This is cool. I have a mastermind group I go to in New York too – it’s a great resource. The goal wasn’t to network though, rather to go really deep with a very small group of people.

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Susan February 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Yes… would love to establish a true mastermind group. These groups were never intended to be anything other than networking. At the same time, we’ve developed some great relationships that go beyond the boundaries of just networking. They provide access to quick professional feedback when a challenging situation comes up.

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Lakshminarayanan April 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

Would it be important to limit the size of the group to ensure it does not meander or become unwieldy or the relationships sort of flounder/under-developed

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Sarah Li Cain March 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

You make some great points! I know when I was a beginner I never thought I had anything to offer. But everyone has something to offer. I would start off small, helping in ways such as showing other freelancers posts written by other people that might be useful to them, or even looking over posts for others. I’ve seen some people constantly posting questions on online forums or comments in the likes of “help me!” and never once try to offer any advice. Needless to say, some of these people aren’t freelancers anymore.

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Peter Shallard March 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hey Sarah, I think I get what you’re saying – this goes way beyond just freelancers too. It’s ubiquitous.

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Celia Milton, Celebrant March 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm

To me, half of networking is proactively referring people you love to work with. I’m a freelance wedding officiant in NJ, and I have the opportunity to recommend at least 10 categories of vendors to many of my couples who find me before they find a photographer/florist/music. On my interview intake sheet, I have a space for each of these vendors, and if a client (or even a prospective one) is missing someone, I make sure they get my short list of people I respect. If I get a press call or PR inquiry, I always forward it to the same group.

It’s really all about thinking about how you can benefit others’ with your efforts. Everything stems from that.

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Milton August 9, 2013 at 12:48 pm

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Deandre August 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Thanks Deandre

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Jason K December 23, 2013 at 5:35 am

Very interesting and informative article, Some of us had few of the above experiences and can relate them with this article. Thanks!

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