By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

Networking is increasingly popular and yet still so many businesses fail to maximise the opportunity it presents. If you are going to invest time, resource and effort into networking you need to make sure that you don’t fall into the many traps that can stop it working for you.

Here are ten of the main reasons why businesses struggle to succeed through networking:

1 - They don't have a clear message.

We all think that we communicate clearly what we do, but few of us do this successfully.

TOP TIP - Ask people in your network for their perception of what you do, who for and when people need your help.

2 - They don't know what success will look like

We join networks with a vague idea that they will help our business but without planning out exactly how.

TOP TIP - Work out the REAL cost of your networking to you, and then set yourself a challenging, yet realistic return which will justify your investment. How will you reach that return?

3 - They fail to commit

It's not enough just to join a network or plan a strategy, you have to see it through. It's an old cliche, but you really do get out what you are prepared to put in.

TOP TIP - Look at your networking memberships and goals and ask yourself what YOU have to do to get the results you are looking for. Then ask yourself how achievable it is. If it's too much, adjust your activity to make it more realistic. If it's easy, perhaps you could be doing more.

4 - They don't do their homework

"Fail to plan and you plan to fail". Before you attend a meeting, prepare for it. If you have to give a presentation, know exactly what you want to achieve from it and what you are going to say before you go.

TOP TIP - Put time in your diary each week or each month to look at forthcoming events and why you are going. Work out who you can catch up with or meet there and, if appropriate, contact people in advance to arrange to hook up. And plan any presentations you may have to give.

5 - They don't follow up their referrals

If you get a reputation for being unreliable, you won't get referrals. Whether you value the referral or not, FOLLOW IT UP. Even more importantly, make sure you feedback to the person who referred you and keep them in the loop.

TOP TIP - Keep a list to track all referrals received and latest action. If you are not responsible for following it up, make sure you know who is and get feedback from them to pass on. Most importantly, say thank you.

6 - They focus on the sale, not the relationship

Few people go to networking events to buy. So you have to ask yourself what the point is of trying to sell to people who aren't in buying mode. Think beyond the short-term gain and develop relationships. After all, wouldn't you prefer to get ten referrals from a long-term relationship than one sale from a passing contact?

TOP TIP - Go through your contact management system or business card file and pick ten people to whom you haven't spoken for a while. Re-establish contact and then stay in touch.

7 - They are '9 to 5 Networkers'

Many people believe that joining a network and either turning up to a meeting or logging in is enough. It isn't. The most successful networkers meet with their fellow members regularly OUTSIDE of meetings; whether socially or in 1-2-1 and small group meetings.

TOP TIP - Set time aside in your diary every week to meet people from your network, and make sure you fill that time. Attend your networking group's social events and get to know your fellow members even better.

8 - They are 'destructive' rather than 'constructive'

A network thrives on positive energy. If you are in a group that is struggling, use the meeting time to focus on making what you have work, keep concerns outside the meeting. If you want to contribute to blogs and discussions online, keep your comments positive and constructive, don't destroy other people's hard work with nasty or negative comments.

TOP TIP - Focus on being positive whenever you engage in your networking. People don't want to buy from or refer to negative people. If there are problems, keep your comments positive and constructive, focusing on the solution.

9 - They are collectors

Whether it's business cards at networking events or connections online, there are people who believe that he who has the most wins the game. Networking doesn't work like that.

TOP TIP - Collect and hand out cards if your conversation dictates it. Connect online with people with whom you have something in common, and talk about them when you connect, not yourself.

10 - They like their comfort zone

Many people attend events and find it a waste of time, because they've spent the whole time talking to their work colleagues and best friends.

TOP TIP - Don't let your nerves get in the way, break out of your comfort zone and meet new people. If you are going to talk to people you already know, make sure it fits with your strategy, not just because it's safe.

Are you getting results from your networking, or could you be achieving so much more? If you’d like to find out more about how to implement a networking strategy and get more from your networks, visit www.lopata.co.uk or email Harvey@lopata.co.uk.

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