3 Reasons Why You Stink At Networking

Gene Marks

I am frequently asked to give advice about networking.  And if you’re taking advice from me on this, then you’re probably going to the wrong place. That’s because I totally stink at networking.  And admit it: you do too, don’t you?  There’s something a little smarmy about being a good “networker.”  It conjures up an image of the travelling salesman with the big yellow tie and the loud sport jacket, shaking hands, winking, waving at people across the room.  Insincere. A bit…dodgy.  So if you’re bad at networking, like me, don’t get bummed. It’s probably for these three reasons. And although I’m not great at it, I’ve learned a few ways to handle these issues.

Reason 1: You feel pressure.

You’re at the networking event – it’s a business card exchange, or a Chamber breakfast, or a cocktail reception.  You could be home with your family.  You could be walking the dog.  You could even be in your office quietly doing paperwork with music playing softly behind you.  But instead you’re at this event and you know nobody.  And you’re thinking to yourself “Confound it, I’m here. I need to be networking! I need to be doing something!”  And so you find yourself in forced conversations, making awkward small talk with people you don’t know and for the most part you don’t care about.  The solution?  Forget the metrics and don’t worry about how many business cards you’re going back with.  Just one good conversation can make the event worthwhile, either personally or professionally. Just chill and have a good time.  When I lower my self-imposed expectations I find that I just have a better time. Did that turn into more leads?  Who cares?

Reason #2: You’re in the wrong place.

Could anything be more bizarre than exchanging business cards with a complete stranger at a bar you never go to on a night you would never go out, drinking a drink you would never drink?  Feng-shui is a big part of networking.  The place has to be right.  The atmosphere has to work.  You have to be comfortable in your surroundings.  So make it a point to only go to networking events in places that you like.  Maybe it really is a bar.  Or maybe it’s an event at the ballpark.  Or a bowling alley.  If you put yourself in a place that’s strange and weird then you’re going to act strange and weird too.  Like real estate, networking is all about location, location, location.

Reasons #3:  You’re not having fun.

Is going to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the town library fun?  Or a business card exchange at a diner?  Please say no. Because it’s not.  These places aren’t fun.  Unfortunately, most networking events aren’t held backstage at a Paul McCartney concert. Instead they’re at libraries, diners, bars and hotel meeting rooms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself and also meet some new people at the same time.  Pick networking groups that participate in activities that you like.  Join a bike club.  Play softball. Attend a reading club.  Or if you want to gravitate towards something more professional, pick a group on meetups.org that focuses on a topic of professional interest that you like:  sales and marketing, technology, psychology, Keurig maintenance, napping.  You’ll find like-minded people there from all sorts of different places and backgrounds and you may even stumble on an opportunity or two as well.  At the very least, you’ll learn something that you can use on the job, which also has its value.

I’m terrible at networking.  You’re terrible at networking.  Why?  Because you’re a normal person.  And networking isn’t normal.  But you can make it better – even enjoy it, if you want.

Related: Learn more ways to make networking less stressful via our Small Biz Ahead Podcast


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17 Responses to "3 Reasons Why You Stink At Networking"
    • Jimmy Toubin | July 18, 2019 at 11:28 am

      I will pass on to my sales force.

    • steven | July 6, 2019 at 4:48 pm

      I have found that too many people care more about new clients than existing ones. There is a saying that goes like this, “It takes months to gain a new client, but it only takes seconds to loose one”. Sometimes it can take a decade to get a new client. They are not going to give you a chance until their supplier burns their bridge. The companies I compete against have lost client after client. I see them constantly trying to network. I know they are loosing clients because I am getting them. I am sure most of them are lost due to consistently getting orders wrong or unpredictable pricing. I haven’t lost one client in 8 years except maybe one. Your competitors offer a discount for new clients (unloyal strangers), and no discount to someone who has been loyal for years. This is why I will never offer a discount to any client. It’s not fair to offer a discount to one client and not another. They are competitors and if they found out I gave their competition an unfair advantage, I am pretty sure it would leave a sour taste in their mouth. I have given discounts extremely rarely. Once because the client made a very huge order and the other times I have been given a budget to spend and because they allow me the freedom to use what I have on hand and not order new things I give them a lot of extras. I probably would do better if I networked but I have 3 businesses and little free time so it has never been something I have made time for.

    • Kate | July 2, 2019 at 11:43 am

      Thanks for the article! It’s spot-on how awkward networking can be for someone as introverted as myself! I really appreciate the suggestions.

      • Hannah Stacy | July 9, 2019 at 9:47 am

        Thanks for the feedback! We’re glad it helped.

    • David Picard | June 27, 2019 at 10:48 am

      One of the other major reasons people fail at networking is the tendency to sometimes try to convey too much information and not actively listen during a limited engagement time. Listen for indicators of an opportunity, show interest and ask questions to verify those indicators, engage and convey how you share that experience or how someone in your current network has shared that experience.

      Make note of the engagement – follow up at a later time and ask how your new contact has progressed. Provide information to help if the context is in your strength area, refer the new contact to a friend who might be a better fit to help solve problems if it is not.

    • Duane Brovan | June 27, 2019 at 10:36 am

      Happy for you and your networking enjoyment…. But for the rest of us the article is helpful… You are a special person and hopefully are gaining great rewards with this talent …

    • Bob Cheatham | June 26, 2019 at 1:07 pm

      Sorry, I found your article disappointing. There are lots of “normal people” that enjoy networking. Granted, it’s not easy at first but neither was taking our first steps. Your article should be more positive and encouraging rather than telling people they’ve lost the battle before the fight.

    • Marsha | June 26, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      This is my favorite Hartford post so far. Great insight! On a lighter note, I’m gonna look for a napping group on MeetUps right away. I hope their meetings aren’t at a diner.

      • Hannah Sullivan | June 27, 2019 at 7:58 am

        Thank you Marsha!

    • Duane Brovan | June 26, 2019 at 12:12 pm

      Wow, I couldn’t agree more. So many places to have fun and Network at the same time… Thanks for the reminder.

    • stephanie | June 26, 2019 at 9:41 am

      Networking is not something you ‘set out to do’. It is a way of engaging. It’s from the heart concern for what someone else is doing or who they are. It’s about gravitating to someone you can help or they can guide you. All the talk in the business world about networking gives me a creepy feeling. It is always stated as a game you play to climb the ladder. If people stopped for a second and put their phone down and lifted their face up and just looked to connect and interact with each other, there would be no cold term “networking”….the word itself gives the connotation that it’s WORK. It’s the farthest thing from it. For years when my family was young and we tried to leave mass right after but couldnt because “mom is talking again” is the EXACT example of what human connection means. Take time to engage with other people in random places and be interested and involved in topics/issues around you and when you CARE about interacting with others, “networking” is going on all the time.

    • Linh | June 26, 2019 at 8:44 am

      It’s really helpful. Thanks!

    • Timothy F. Ruef | June 26, 2019 at 8:23 am

      Networking can be tough, frustrating, and tiring. Just remember that negative expectations are all in your head. The vast majority of people are grateful even honored regardless of whether they respond. Have fun with it!

      • Hannah Sullivan | June 27, 2019 at 7:52 am

        Great advice, Timothy!

    • Theopalis Gregory | June 25, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      Thanks !!!

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