Word-of-mouth marketing is a sure-fire way to generate new business. A single referral can start a chain reaction of new business as positive word spreads. It's no wonder networking groups pay off handsomely in referral business and that membership in a good networking group can be worth a considerable amount of money; especially if you calculate the time you spend each month and the value of that time.

So make your time and efforts worthwhile. Don't squander your opportunity by doing the wrong things in those meetings.

Success in a networking group comes when the rest of the group members trust you enough to open up their best referrals to you. Unless they've seen your work, you have to earn that trust by demonstrating your professionalism to them. Since founding BNI almost 25 years ago, I've seen how people truly succeeded in networks and I've seen how people totally waste their time in them.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid if you don't want to waste your time in a networking group:

  1. Go ahead, air your grievances among your fellow networkers and guests; after all, they really want to hear about your complaints.
  2. Wing it in your regular presentations to fellow members--don't worry, you have a mulligan.
  3. Use one-on-one meetings to talk about your networking groups' issues instead of learning more about each other.
  4. Focus your efforts primarily on selling your services to members of the group.
  5. Don't rush to follow up on a referral when someone gives you one. Hey, they know where to find you if they really need you.
  6. While other people are doing their introductions, that's the perfect time to think about what referrals you can give that week.
  7. Never invite your own guests, just focus on those who show up.
  8. Don't worry if you get to the meeting late. No one will notice.
  9. Absenteeism, it's no big deal. You can just call in your referrals ... right?
  10. Take that phone call and check your messages during a meeting. No, no, it doesn't bother anyone; actually it's a sign of real professionalism that everyone admires.

Imagine how you'd respond if someone in your networking group continually exhibited the behaviors above. Would you be enthusiastic to pass them referrals? Of course not! You'd be hesitant, rightfully, because they've convinced you that they are unprofessional and irresponsible. Of course you'd withhold your valued connections.

We all need to beware of these common pitfalls and take great care to avoid them. They're great reminders that doing business through word-of-mouth marketing requires a special ingredient that only you can supply--commitment.

Commit to the process from the beginning. You have to be an active, responsible, professional, accountable participant and show your fellow networkers the respect, attention, and support that you want them to give you.

You see, the key concept in referral marketing is relationships, and referral relationships don't just spring up full grown--they must be nurtured. Avoid the 10 mistakes on this list because they're detrimental to growing your referral relationships; they will cause the time you spend in your networking meetings to be nothing more than a waste.

Focus on growing your referral relationships by acting in ways that are exactly opposite of what's described above and concentrate on building relationships based on mutual trust and shared benefits. You'll get a lot more out of your group and so will your fellow members.

Remember, if you start putting together your network when the need arises, you're too late. The better way is to begin developing relationships now with the people whose help you will need in the future. Your networking group meetings offer the perfect opportunity and the perfect place to do this. Make the most of this opportunity because there's no room for wasted time. And if you see chronic offenders at your next meeting, print out this list and pass it along.