5 most common networking mistakes

Still trying to tap your network for favors before you've offered anything yourself? Big mistake.

Everyone tries to network, but few people do it well, often making the same basic mistakes.

Here’s what not to do when you’re trying to expand or leverage your network:

1. Try to take before you give. The goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact, etc. When we network, we want something.

But at first, never ask for what you want. In fact you may never ask for what you want. Forget about what you can get and focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship. Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.

When you network, it’s all about them, not you.

2. Assume others should care about your needs. Maybe you’re desperate. Maybe partnering with a major player in your industry could instantly transform red ink into black. No one cares. No one should care. Those are your problems and your needs.

Never expect others to respond to your needs. People may sympathize but helping you is not their responsibility. The only way to make connections is to care about the needs of others first. Ask how they’re doing. Ask what could help them.

Care about others first; then, and only then, will they truly care back.

3. Take the shotgun approach. Some people network with anyone, tossing out business cards like confetti. Networking isn’t a numbers game. Find someone you can help, determine whether they might (someday) be able to help you, and then approach them on your own terms.

Always select the people you want to network with. And keep your list relatively small, because there is no way to build meaningful connections with dozens or hundreds of people.

4. Assume tools create connections. Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections are great—if you do something with those connections. In all likelihood your Twitter followers aren’t reading your tweets. Your Facebook friends rarely visit your page. Your LinkedIn connections aren’t checking your updates.

Tools provide a convenient way to establish connections, but to maintain those connections you still have to put in the work. Any tool that is easy or automated won’t establish the connections you really need.

5. Reach too high. If your company provides financial services, establishing a connection with Warren Buffett would be great. Or say you need seed capital; hooking up with Mark Cuban would be awesome. Awesome and almost impossible.

The best connections are mutually beneficial. What can you offer Buffett or Cuban? Not much. You may desperately want to connect with the top people in your industry, but the right to connect is not based on want or need. You must earn the right to connect. Find people who can benefit from your knowledge and insight or your connections.

The “status” level of your connections is irrelevant. All that matters is whether you can help each other reach your goals.

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