By Andy Lopata

Networking is constantly growing in popularity but yet people still make the same mistakes, have the wrong idea or fall into the same traps. Here are ten commonly held networking myths:

1. Networking is selling

Most businesses will attend generic networking events, such as BNI or Chambers of Commerce, to generate more business. That is fine; the problem is that they limit their scope to generating business from the people at the event, rather than looking to build the relationships that could lead to referrals.

That’s not to say you can’t allow people to buy from you, but they will make that decision based on your conversation, not from being sold to.

If everyone attending an event is there primarily to sell, can there be a worse environment to do so? After all, no one is in buying mode. Networking is an essential part of any business development strategy, but you should always look to sell through the people present, not to them.

2. Networking is easy

It’s easy to fall into the trap of attending a large number of events, contributing actively to social networking sites and believing you are a good networker. If you are comfortable in other people’s company and enjoy the interaction, it can be great fun.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to new business though. It’s not enough to enjoy the process, you need to have a clear idea of what your objectives from networking are, understand your commitment to your network to make that happen and communicate your needs clearly to those who want to help.

If you undertake the necessary planning, networking can be fun and feel simple. You do need to put the thought in first though, and keep tracking results.

3. Networking is manipulative

Many attendees on my workshops have a negative perception of networking. They feel that it is about using people for personal gain, putting on a false front at events and only viewing people for what they can offer you.

Effective networking is completely different. Networking is the collaboration between people and businesses to enable all of us to achieve a greater potential than we can achieve on our own. I have expertise, experience, ideas and contacts which could help you achieve your goals, and you can support me where I am weak.

There is nothing manipulative about networking if you are as willing to give as you are to take. And people putting on a false personality will struggle to build the deep relationships that lead to people wanting to support and connect them over a sustained period of time.

4. Networking is about events

Think of networking and most people will picture a room full of people wearing name badges and swapping business cards. Networking events are not ‘networking’, they merely help facilitate the process by presenting opportunities for people to build their network, develop deeper relationships and learn from each other.

Networking is the system of connections within a wider network, including work colleagues, suppliers, clients and (controversially for some) family, friends and social contacts. It is from this bank of relationships that true support will be freely offered.

5. Networking is about the size of your network

It’s not what you know or who you know, as many people believe. Instead, it’s who knows you and what they say about you.

Modern networking culture has been driven by numbers. Bosses will ask their staff how many business cards they collected at an event, not what they have done to follow up the people behind the cards and build the relationships. Online networkers will boast about the number of connections they have on LinkedIn, friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter.

Connecting with someone on a superficial level, by exchanging cards or accepting an online request, holds little long-term value. If networking is about supporting each other, the motivation to do so comes from liking and trusting people. That comes from building relationships, not adding extra notches to your networking bedpost.

6. Networking is not scalable

There is a belief among many larger organisations that networking is a pastime confined to small and micro businesses, that once you reach a certain size, networking is no longer relevant.

If you sell a product to millions of people then you won’t look for them at networking events; that is fair enough. However, we have established above that networking isn’t about selling anyway. Larger firms still understand the power of word of mouth and ‘Buzz’ marketing, with endorsements from friends and peers having more leverage than advertising. That means they need to tap into the networks of their customers and prospects to get their message across.

Networking also provides access to introducers, trusted suppliers, relevant expertise and market knowledge, all of which have an essential role to play in the success of any business, of any size.

7. You don’t meet anyone influential at networking

Another myth born of the ‘networking is selling’ school. First of all, you never know who you might meet when you are networking. I have met some amazing people and some who are in very influential positions.

Secondly, never forget the power of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. People don’t just bring themselves to events; they bring their networks; their family, friends, clients, colleagues and neighbours. Reading someone’s name badge may invite you to dismiss them as not of interest to you. Instead, get to know the people you meet, show a real interest in them and focus on building the relationship.

You will never find out to whom they are connected and who they might be happy to introduce you to if you don’t get to know them first.

8. Networking is hugely time consuming

Yes, you have to commit time to your networking. But if you plan it effectively it will both help you avoid attending events which don’t add value and also save you time elsewhere. After all, if you can get a steady stream of referrals from your network, recommendations for suppliers and access to new ideas and feedback for your business, you’ll make fewer mistakes and need to invest less time and money in other initiatives.

The time commitment needed to effectively use social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, also puts a lot of people off. However, if you invest some time at the beginning building your profile and connections, you can then target your time and activity to the result you want to achieve. I believe that, for example, after you have laid the initial groundwork, ten minutes activity a day, or even a week, on LinkedIn will produce great results.

9. Networking is awkward, difficult and embarrassing

Having co-authored a book based on the premise that people are frightened of walking into a room full of strangers, I can understand and sympathise with people’s reticence to do so.

The nerves are no reason not to attend events however. People don’t have the same trepidation about going out socially and meeting friends of their friends. They don’t put on an act, plan their conversation in advance or exchange elevator pitches.

If you act naturally and ‘be yourself’ networking events can be very enjoyable. Think of it as mixing with like-minded people, relax and find something in common to talk about. There may be some discomfort when initiating a conversation, but from there, more often than not, it should be plain sailing.

10. There are industries that don’t network

“Networking is fine for small, b-2-b businesses, but it doesn’t work for our industry”. Such comments are common when I talk to different groups about networking. But if I explore further I often find that the opposite is true.

This belief, like many of the others, comes back to the perception of networking as a room full of people trying to sell to each other. Yet most industries have professional bodies and associations who put on events for their members to learn more and to connect. Everyone, irrespective of their industry, needs to have networks of suppliers and buyers (formal or otherwise) and know to whom to pick up the phone.

Niche networks are growing, both online and face to face. Networking is becoming more prevalent in all types of business and all types of industry. Those who don’t believe it is for them are the ones who will be left behind.

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk; 01992 450488

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