Networking is a useful route to all sorts of business opportunities and the value in building up a solid base of contacts can’t be underestimated.
Events set up for the express purpose of networking now bring in over a quarter of new business leads for SMEs, but new research has found that small businesses could be losing out due to simple networking faux pas.
Business insurer Premierline and the BNI networking group conducted a survey with over 300 small businesses, which found the most common mistakes budding entrepreneurs make when attempting to establish useful contacts.
A quarter of networkers forgot the name of the person they were attempting to introduce during the event, while over half forgot their business cards and of those that did remember, 48 per cent then didn’t remember to use them during the event.
Some 25 per cent of those trying out networking misjudged greeting etiquettes – dithering between whether a handshake or kiss on the cheek was most appropriate and often delivering an awkward mixture of both.
Not everyone is the smoothest of operators in social situations and two in five people have encountered people networking with spilt food or drink on their clothing – a possible route to breaking the ice, but definitely a risky one.
Having a drink in hand may help to allay any nerves, particularly if you aren’t fond of big crowds, though most would say keeping an eye on the number of glasses of wine is important. The research found many people weren’t being so careful – over half of networkers have seen someone, or have themselves, been noticeably drunk at an event.
Similarly, while an early piece of advice for those trying to network for the first time would usually be to work the room and meet as many people as possible, over two thirds forgot to do so and ended up talking to the same person for the entire night.
You may think it’s best to stick to fairly conventional topics during conversation, and the study reflected the perils of possibly veering into more controversial territory. A quarter of networking small businesses have experienced a serious disagreement or argument at a social event for entrepreneurs.
Charlie Lawson, author of The Unnatural Networker and co-national director of the BNI, offered some tips on how to deal with these faux pas. When someone remembers you and you’re coming up short as to where you’ve met them before, he advised to ask, “where have I met you before?” as their answer should contextualise the situation and jog your memory.
Some twenty per cent had said they had turned up to a networking event in the wrong dress code, while nearly half had seen it happen. Lawson suggested “wearing what is appropriate for your profession”. He used the example of an accountant, if they “turned up in anything but a professional suit, it wouldn’t reflect well on their business”.
Finally, he recommended sticking with the mantra that these events are solely for business, “so if you meet people noticeably worse for wear, that’s what they’re going to remember of you: hardly the best way to build relationships to develop business.”
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