7 Networking Mistakes Even Harvard MBAs Make
Success always has two foundations: what you know; and who you know. Once you’ve picked up the knowledge you need, you need to pick up the contacts who can help you make the most of what you know. Ignoring the need to create those contacts -- or worse, letting relationships wither -- is a mistake common to even the best-trained executives. Here are seven networking mistakes even Harvard MBAs make.
1. Not building the relationship.
How many business cards do you have piled in your desk drawer? And how many of those people have you actually contacted since taking those cards? You probably thought their owners were very interesting when you met them but you also believed you would contact them again one day… and never did.
If you don’t actually do something with the connections you’ve created, you might just as well have never met them. When someone gives you their business card, follow it up. Follow them on social media and when you see an event you might both be attending, ask if they’ll be there. Make them feel wanted, and they’ll want to spend time with the person who gives them that warm, welcome feeling.
2. Not building the relationship consistently.
When people do follow up a new connection, that first contact often comes soon after the initial meeting. And the second contact never comes at all. Even if it’s only a comment on a Facebook post, regular contact shows that you’re still thinking of them and still believe you have interests in common. Relationships aren’t built once; they’re re-built constantly over time.
3. Not showing your gratitude.
Some connections turn into the kind of joint projects that bring tremendous benefits to both parties. But sometimes, people just want to help. They’ll pass your name on to someone who needs your services, or give you exactly the advice you need. They don’t benefit at all from that sharing, so make sure that you show your gratitude. Surprise them with a targeted gift from Etsy. Send a box of chocolates to their office. Show that you appreciate what they’ve done for you and they’ll be more inclined to do it again.
4. Looking to take without giving.
People who attend networking events often go with an idea of what they hope the people they meet might do for them. That’s the wrong attitude. Networking is like any other aspect of business: you have to give before you can expect to get. You have to invest. When you meet new people, try to think of something you can do for them. As you start giving, you’ll start to see the payback.
5. Focusing on the result, not the relationship.
In the short term, that payback isn’t likely to be a joint venture or an introduction. It’s the relationship itself. It’s the pleasure that comes from knowing someone interesting, of being able to pick up the phone and call them or to stop them for a quick chat at a conference. You get access to their ideas, their insights, and their experience. That’s a value that goes beyond anything you might win from a new business venture.
6. Skipping the personal branding.
You’re not going to be the only person in touch with your contacts. Just as you know lots of people, so the people you meet know lots of people. You need to stand out. Invest in your website. Put an effort into your profile photos and your branding. Make sure that people can see you, remember you and understand that knowing you brings value into their lives.
7. Failing to press the flesh.
In the days of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to keep track of the people we’ve met. But while the occasional “Happy Birthday!” on a Facebook page or the odd comment at the bottom of a LinkedIn post keep a contact alive, it can’t compare to the real connections made with a handshake and a shared experience. Social media is valuable, but the strongest bonds are formed at conferences, conventions, and get-togethers. Get to know your local chamber of commerce and try to attend a real networking event at least once or twice a month. Who knows, you might even see me at one of them!