How Not to Network — Plus Some Pointers on Doing It Right

A man I don’t know approached me via email, without introduction, without telling me how he got my contact information, and asked to meet in person.

This happened right after I gave a presentation and he did reference the presentation — however he made it clear he wasn’t there as he “heard through the grapevine” that it was a hit. His reason for wanting to meet: “to know more about what you’re up to in Nairobi.”

I gave him the benefit of the doubt at first. Maybe someone told him that the presentation was great and he should reach out right away. That person would have had my contact information as I did share it with the group. Maybe this guy simply fired off a quick email without thinking.

My response to his email: “Thanks for the kind words — I am glad to hear that people liked the presentation. I take it you weren’t there. I don’t recall meeting you at the event.

Maybe you can tell me a little bit about yourself and what you wanted to discuss?”

His near immediate reply back to me: “Sure.

Interest “I’m curious to know more about what you’re up to in Nairobi.””

Yes. He quoted back his original email.

Let’s go back to how I started this article. A man I don’t know approached me via email, without introduction, without telling me how he got my contact information, and asked to meet in person. When I asked for detail I got a passive aggressive response.

I told him I was not interested in meeting. I made my perspective clear. I told him for all I knew, he could just be unprofessional. Or, he could a predator or serial killer. I have no idea. I only know him from the email exchange.

I know that there a many examples of men behaving badly. I know this is not the worst example. I know that most likely he’s not a serial killer (although he could very well stalk women). I know that women do this kind of thing too. And I know that this is a person who is completely unprofessional.

Perhaps, in middle age, I have forgotten what it is like to be young. (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that his unprofessional behavior is more tied to youth than personality. I could be wrong.) Perhaps young entrepreneurs like him, without a lot of company experience, don’t know how to network. Here are some tips:

  • Introduce yourself. This person doesn’t know you. Tell that person who you are and what you do.
  • Share how you found the person’s name and contact information. No one likes a stalker.
  • Be specific in what you want from the person, especially if you want to meet in person. We are all busy. Not everyone has the time to meet with you or carry on a communication exchange. Just learning more about a person is not sufficient cause to meet. You can glean that from looking at a LinkedIn profile. If you want something, people will sense it. Be open and tell them what you need.
  • Which leads to…some people are nice and will help just to help if they can. Others, who are also plenty nice, might not be willing to help you out of the kindness of their hearts. Offer something in return or at least show an appreciation for that person’s time and expertise.
  • Understand that networking, even at its simplest form of merely connecting, is asking a favor. You are asking to be associated with a person.

Above all, do it with respect. Otherwise, not only will you fail to grow your network, but you will instead create a bad reputation for yourself. Don’t let the way you reach out to people turn you into an industry pariah.

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