I have been practicing martial arts since 1978 so their practice is very much embedded in everything I do in my life; many martial arts use coloured belts as ranking system, in order to indicate seniority, and often experience/expertise within the school. For many schools and styles the yellow belt indicates the level that students can reach after a few months of practice and by passing their first grading.
During the last few weeks I attended as a guest a couple of networking events organised by two of the largest networking organisations in the UK. I was surprised to see how many people which, albeit in position of responsibility within their networking group, act and behave like a yellow belt rank would do in a martial arts club; they lack technique, confidence and expertise to look the part. It was very interesting to notice the wealth of typical mistakes. I left BNI in 2010 with enough experience to run, manage and organise a networking organisation. I decided I would not try to make a living out of networking per-se and started three different networking events running respectively weekly, monthly and biannually. So if there was a belt ranking system in networking I could probably wear a black one.
When I first joined BNI in 2008 I was very much a novice in what can be considered formalised networking. There is a big difference between the informal, casual networking you can do in various social settings and the regimented and organised networking you practice when you become a member of BNI or 4Networking, just to mention two (inter)national organisations.
The biggest mistake that most people make when running networking group is failing to be actively welcoming and entertaining guests. I personally need little help and feel confident in walking to strangers during these events and simply start chatting to them. The majority of other people feel less so and tend to stick to the first person they meet and talk to them for the duration of the event. Here a short list of mistakes I experienced in the last two events:
- The group members with positions of responsibility (the yellow belts which inspired this post) barely said hello/welcome; none of them actively interacted with me and invested time to understand whether I would be interested in joining them
- The few follow ups I received by Email were barely to sell products/service to me, without first qualifying whether I was a good prospect
- The people who invited me to these events did not actively introduce me to several other members of the group; in their defence I could say they knew I am reasonably self sufficient so I need less assistance than less experienced networkers
- One person in particular stood out in a negative way. He first introduced himself as a business consultant of some kind. As soon as the formalised meeting was completed he literally run toward me explaining how great his services are; even when I said that my second business is about business coaching and consultancy he kept going on. When I was running my business coaching business as main activity I learnt how I would ask a few questions to check whether my services could help the person in front of me and carry on in the sales pitch just if there was a positive match. This guy assumed my business needs him and for the few minutes he spoke to me he was irritatingly pushy.
Formalised networking organisations like the ones I mention rely on recruiting new members for the very survival of the group and the financial support that each group brings back to the main business. I feel they could spend a bit more time and effort to help their members to be better networkers for the very sake and surviving of their whole business.