Nothing But the Ruth
How to Suck at Networking
If you’re a law firm owner or partner, you know the drill — when you’re not working in your business, you should be working on your business. For most of us, that includes a lot of networking — attending mixers, going to lunches, interacting with contacts on social media and the like.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in annoying networking behaviors that are at best ineffective, and at worst a guarantee that I will never do business with those people or send them any referrals. (I use Sage ACT! to manage my contacts and there are actually entries that have a note saying “NEVER REFER ANYONE HERE.”)
I wasn’t sure if it was just me who was getting frustrated by these behaviors, or, frankly, which ones are the most annoying, so I sent out a simple survey to get input from lawyers and other professionals. According to the 50-plus people who responded, these are the three worst networking offenses.
Sounding Like an Infomercial on Social Media Instead of Conversing
The purpose of social media is to interact with others. It is a communications platform for two-way conversations. It’s about making connections and building relationships.
If you sound like a billboard or an infomercial, you’re doing it wrong. If every post is about your business or promoting your product or service, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve seen many law firms that are guilty of this on Twitter — all of their tweets are links to articles about themselves, and they never respond if you tweet to them.
Adding You to Their Email Lists Without Asking Permission
Here’s how this scenario plays out. You meet someone at a networking event. You chat for a bit about who you are and what you do. You exchange cards and move on to the next conversation. The next week, you’re suddenly getting their company newsletters — not that you asked to be added to the list.
Adding someone to your mailing list without asking first is the digital equivalent of junk mail. It’s not just annoying, it’s disrespectful. If someone asks if they can add me, I usually say “yes” and give them one mailing to dazzle me. I never add anyone to my mailing list without consent. This means my list is smaller than others who add their entire rolodex but I know that my recipients want to hear what I have to say.
The worst offenders are people who just send mass emails instead of using a service like Mail Chimp that gives recipients a one-click unsubscribe option.
Turning a Get-To-Know-Each-Other Meeting into a Sales Pitch
Ugh. These people are the worst. I like one-on-one meetings because they’re a great way to get to know new contacts in a more relaxed environment, possibly as a follow-up to a larger networking mixer. I’ve learned as a business owner that people hire people they know, like and trust, so you have to get to know someone to develop that type of a relationship.
But then there are the people who start giving their sales pitch from the moment they sit down with you. I really hate when the person assumes that I need whatever’s being pitched and should hire them on the spot. It’s because of these people that I’ve implemented the Law of Two Feet in my professional life, whereby I have permission to leave any event if my needs aren’t being met.
Similarly annoying are people who request to connect on LinkedIn and then immediately send you a sales pitch within five minutes of you accepting the invitation.
A Few More to Avoid
Although these didn’t make the top three, they are also instances of people doing annoying things in the name of networking:
- People who, when you first meet you, shake your hand with their right hand while handing you their business card with their left hand
- People who introduce themselves while looking for the next person to meet
- People with limp handshakes or who do not make eye contact when introducing themselves
- People who ask a question but don’t listen to your response because they’re just waiting for their turn to talk so they can pitch
Remember, networking is about making connections and maintaining long-term mutually beneficial relationships. It’s a process, not an event. Likewise, social media provides platforms for interacting with others. Treat it like an online cocktail party where you get to talk with others, not at them.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.