Networking is not about collecting business cards or building a large list of contacts. It is an essential means of building the relationships and strategic partnerships that are critical to business growth.

Like all successful business endeavors, networking requires proper execution to achieve the best results. You need to invest time and effort, do your homework, and focus on avoiding the pitfalls that can result in a less-than-effective networking experience. Here are nine common mistakes that people make while networking and tips for how to avoid them:

1 – Underestimating the Value of Meeting Face-To-Face

Many small business owners want to do everything online, relying on email and their existing networks instead of communicating in person. However, there is no substitute for getting out there and meeting people who might know just the right supplier or job candidate. Make an effort to attend a few meet-ups a month hosted by professional organizations or groups that are relevant to your business-building goals. The objective is to introduce yourself to people you haven’t met and find out if you have common services, interests, or needs.

2 – Thinking You Already Know Everyone

While it certainly makes sense to cultivate connections with people you already know, it may be beneficial to broaden your professional horizons. Meeting new people often results in learning more about your industry or gaining valuable business insights in addition to getting leads. Reach out beyond your current circle of colleagues to expand what you know, as well as who you know.

3 – Avoiding Social Networking

Social media can be a valuable tool for expanding your network by connecting with people you would never have met otherwise. The key is to move beyond your initial online interactions to form real relationships. Engage in your contact’s LinkedIn discussion, share their upcoming event on Facebook, or tweet them a question. If you are both local, invite them to meet for coffee. Business-centric platforms like LinkedIn also offer the opportunity to deepen relationships with contacts you meet in person.

4 – Taking Without Giving

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when networking is to think only about what you can get from others. Instead of pitching your sale right off the bat, take the time to get to know your contact and see what services or support you can provide for them. The goal is to find ways to continue to connect so that you may be able to help each other in the future. Networking is about give and take, and when you go the extra mile for someone they may be more willing to reciprocate when you’re the one asking for a favor or referral.

5 – Not Being Specific

As a small business owner, you don’t have time to waste. The key to making the most of the time you spend networking is to be specific. For starters, make sure you have a clear purpose in mind before you begin identifying networking opportunities. If you are seeking funding for a startup, the networks you need to access are very different than if you are looking to hire a CPA for your growing business. Once you have a goal in mind, you must be able to clearly articulate what you’re looking for. In order to get referrals, people need to understand what you do, what makes your product or service special, and why they should refer you. When you are specific, your new contacts will have an easier time asking questions and determining how they can be of assistance.

6 – Talking Instead of Listening

A networking event is not the time to tout your skills and experience, make a sales presentation, or tell your life story. It’s an opportunity to get to know other professionals and forge meaningful relationships. If you want to make a memorable first impression, avoid shameless self-promotion and, instead, ask questions of those you’re networking with. Most people love to talk about themselves, so give your networking contact the opportunity to share what interests him or her. A balanced conversational approach will ultimately lead to a much more beneficial exchange.

7 – Limiting the Playing Field

If you are limiting your networking activity only to professional meetings or events, you may be short changing yourself. Networking can happen anywhere, anytime, so be open to the possibility of making a business connection whenever you step out of your front door. If you strike up a conversation with someone while waiting in line or in the elevator, you may be surprised by where it leads.

8 – Failing to Follow Up

If you’ve been busy building your network but haven’t followed up with any of your contacts, it is easy for people to forget you. If you promised to send information or connect a contact with someone and dropped the ball, they may think you’re unreliable or insincere. Remembering to follow up, even if it’s only sending an email now and then, is essential to maintaining your network. Share information, offer assistance, or invite the person to join you at an event. Give them a call to schedule a catch-up lunch. If you were given a lead, take action and update your contact regardless of the outcome. This shows you value the idea and the person.

9 – Forgetting to Say Thank You

Not showing gratitude to your networking contacts can make a negative impression, and that’s the last thing you want to do. Sending a note thanking someone for their time will leave them feeling positive about their interaction with you. Since it’s easy to get busy and forget, create a reminder to show your appreciation to your newly acquired professional contacts.

As a small business, Summit Financial Resources understands that networking is a skill that doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Making mistakes offers the opportunity to fine-tune your approach to establishing mutually beneficial relationships that provide genuine value for you and your business.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.