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Written by: Cal Axe

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a sales agent, or job hunting, networking is the foundation of business success — plain and simple.

I’m considered a decent networker in my industry (commercial real estate), but I struggle with consistency. If you’ve ever been responsible for business development, then you know what I’m talking about. How do I know I’m not being consistent? Easy, whenever my business plateaus.

Here are the mistakes I’ve made that caused my business to plateau.

Mistake #1 — Waiting until I have to network

Do you hate networking? It’s likely because you’re doing it out of necessity and not to add value.

Most people network only when they need a job or to impress their new boss. In my case, I wait until my business dries up before I realize I need to network again. It’s a sin.

Networking is like tending a garden. The work is never complete, and consistent cultivation is key.

Mistake #2 — Forgetting to write thank-you notes

Vendors invite me to cool events all the time. Woe is me, right?

Here’s the problem, I don’t make enough money to pay them back with my own gifts. What’s the second-best thing? I try to write as many handwritten, heartfelt thank-you notes as I can. It’s a trick I learned from my mother.

I’ll pay them back one day, but for now, showing how much I care with my words will have to do.

Mistake #3 — Not commenting on posts

It’s incredible how people don’t respond to LinkedIn comments.

C’mon, you’re not an influencer, and the people who comment are doing you a huge kindness in the form of social engagement. You can spend a few minutes telling them how much you appreciate it.

On the flip side, spend 15 minutes a day commenting on other people’s posts. There’s so much social currency in that minor act — perhaps more so than chatting at happy hour.

Mistake #4 — Writing emails all about me

I know I’m off my game when my emails don’t even mention the receiver.

When the body reads: “my service does, this, this and that. And it’s all about me.” An entire email without context — word vomit. Emails should be about the receiver. What value can you bring that addresses their problem?

Here’s a quick fix. Before you hit send, highlight the number of times you use “I” to start a sentence. Then rewrite the sentence using the receiver as the subject.

Mistake #5 — Forgetting someone’s name

I’m horrible with names. I’m so ready for what they’re about to say next that their name just slips away.

But names are fundamental! A person will subconsciously like you if you remember their name. It makes them feel good. Here’s a trick you can use to save face. If you recently meet someone but can’t remember their name, introduce yourself by your name again. “Hi, my name is Cal. We met last week.”

Why does this work? Because they probably forgot your name too, and you just saved their ass!

Mistake #6 — Talking overmuch

Ben Franklin wrote an essay about the do’s and don’ts of networking. What was his biggest faux pas? What he called “talking overmuch.”

A good conversationalist doesn’t say interesting things simply to impress the other person. Good conversation is about banter and sustaining a back-and-forth dialogue between friends. It’s cool to be a good talker, but the best talkers are even better listeners.

Networking isn’t a one-sided game. Pass the ball. Put the spotlight on someone else.

Mistake #7 — Leaving the party early

I’m an introvert, so I literally always leave the party early. Don’t do it.

It’s tempting to leave early, especially after a long day at the office. But you could miss some great opportunities if you do.

As a networking rule of thumb, it’s better to stick around till the end.

Mistake #8 — Not blocking off time to cold call

Nobody likes to cold call. I treat phone prospecting like eating broccoli; I hate eating it, but it’s so dang good for you.

You will tell yourself you’re going to cold call today, but it’s one of those tasks that everyone procrastinates. Don’t let that happen. Clear your schedule and block out an hour or two each day to call.

Mistake #9 — Not making a meeting “MB”

Entrepreneur and writer Miki Agrawal has a rule before introducing herself to someone: Every conversation should be “MB” or mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

Here’s Miki’s strategy:

She runs a pizza shop in Manhattan, so she offers free pizza to people in exchange for a meeting. Free food? You can’t get more MB than that! The rest of us might have to get a little creative.

Here’s the bottom line, frame all meetings, cold calls, emails in such a way that everyone wins.

Mistake #10 — I don’t network with competitors

Commercial real estate gets a reputation for being a cut-throat industry. Survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog, you know, all those clichés.

The first thing I learned from my mentor is that sportsmanship matters. Why? Because you never know when you will need help from your competitor.

I’ll leave it at that.

Mistake #11 — Not following up

Following up tells the other person you appreciate them and value their time. It’s more memorable than you think.

Many people think a follow-up means a long email expressing your most profound gratitude. No one wants to read that. I simply send a text that reads: Hey! That was awesome. So great talking to you. Catch up soon!”

That will get the job done.

Mistake #12 — Not using the network I’ve built

What’s the point of a network if you don’t use it?

Sure, you don’t want to overdo it, but asking for help actually nurtures relationships in a backward way. Ben Franklin would borrow books from his rivals or ask them for advice — the gesture would blossom into a friendship. People like it when people ask them for favors. It makes them feel valued.

Remember, your network is there to help you. All you have to do is ask.

Mistake #13 — Not connecting people

The most significant value you can provide to someone in your network is the gift of another connection.

I bet you can think of a few friends, coworkers, or colleagues who could benefit from meeting each other. Go ahead make the connection!

You’re in the value add business, so add value.

Mistake #14 — Relying too much on social media

I spent an entire year only networking on LinkedIn and Instagram. Instead of cold calling, I wrote blogs, filmed a news show for LinkedIn, and posted TikToks.

What happened? I fell a little short of my business goals.

You could send hundreds of direct messages or create LinkedIn videos all day to build your network, but let’s be honest, it’s overused. How about something simple?

Something that was traditional but can now be considered… creative? Like just calling or meeting them in person.

Social media is a wonderful tool, but don’t let it replace face-to-face quality time.

Mistake #15 — All I do is invite people to happy hours

People are sick of happy hours and lunches. I can’t stress that enough.

I don’t do them anymore, and it’s the single best networking strategy I do. Instead, I invite my network to play a beach volleyball game with coworkers, or a pickup basketball game, or a volunteer event.

There’s something about activities that bond people closer together. Happy hours and lunches are fake.

Mistake #16 — Not asking for what you want

I often show up at meetings without an end goal in mind. That’s called a missed opportunity.

Meet new people with intention and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Stick around long enough, and everyone experiences a business plateau. Entrepreneurs and sales agents always talk about how they’re crushing it, especially on social media. The truth is, we’re not.

Like all things in life, your business will ebb and flow. It’s only when my business plateaus do I look back and realize what I was doing wrong — that I got an ego and stopped networking.

Put yourself out there, have fun, and tend your garden.

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