Buffalo Wild Wings in Saugus, Massachusetts hosting a networking event sponsored by the Saugus and Peabody Area Chambers of Commerce

Socializing is one of the most basic of human activities. This has been true since the dawn of man. Whether around a fire after a grueling hunt, or the television after an episode of American Idol, we love to gather and tell stories. We are social creatures. It’s what we do.

Socializing With an Agenda

I like to think of networking as socializing with an agenda. Madison Avenue got it right in the seventies with this classic commercial for Faberge shampoo. (I’m not hawking Faberge products. The video is for illustrative purposes only.) Remember the line “they’ll tell two friends and so on”? That’s networking.

Then there’s the young man who, in the early forties, developed a method for turning black polyethylene slag, a waste product produced in oil refinement, into a material that was flexible, tough, non-porous, non-greasy, odorless and translucent. He knew he had something but it wasn’t until he met Brownie Wise in 1948 that he and his product became household names. Brownie’s idea was to hold informal social gatherings in peoples’ homes to demonstrate the product. “If we build the people,” she was fond of saying, “they’ll build the business.” Apparently, Mary Kay and others were listening. The man was Earl Tupper and to this day, the Tupperware Home Party, remains the exclusive outlet for Tupperware. Earl Tupper sold his company to Rexall in 1958 for a staggering $16 million. That’s networking.

Note: Thanks to the Archive Center of the National Museum of American History for the Tupperware story.

Networking Etiquette

I said that networking is socializing with an agenda. There is nothing wrong with that. But you must play by the rules or you will lose the social capital you have earned and may never get it back. Here are some tips that work well for me:

  • don’t play at being interested in others. Be genuinely interested.
  • ask people what they do before you start talking about yourself. Listen to the answer. Really listen.
  • don’t lead a conversation by trying to sell your product or service. Instead, seek to establish your expertise or authority.
  • dress appropriately – thisĀ  may seem obvious but I’m still amazed at how many people show up at networking events dressed for the beach, or the nightclub or …. well you get my point.
  • act appropriately – this too may seem obvious, but if you’re spending more time chatting up the bartender than the other professionals in the room ….. well you get my point.
  • business cards – yes, exchange business cards. That’s why you’re there – to expand your professional network. But don’t, I repeat, don’t add your new contacts to your mailing list without asking permission. This is a real pet peeve of mine.
  • don’t be shy – this is a tough one. If you’re shy by nature than the whole idea of networking is probably challenging for you. Remember that everyone is there for the same reason – to make new contacts and expand their sphere of influence. Once you introduce yourself to a few people you will get into the groove.

The thing about networking etiquette is that the rules aren’t codified or written down anywhere; they’re mostly a matter of common courtesy. But like all rules, violating them comes with a penalty. Many of the people you are likely to meet at networking events are seasoned business professionals. If you come to the party shamelessly selling your wares or talking about yourself non-stop or grabbing business cards and leaving, you will not be taken seriously. That’s the penalty.

And Now Back to You

Are you a networker? Do you belong to any Chambers of Commerce or other professional networking organizations? Has your participation helped you grow your business? What tips can you give others to get more out of networking? Talk to me.

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