Sometimes, as a business coach, it is my duty to share my really, truly cruddy experiences with you to ensure that you don’t have those same cruddy experiences. It is my cross to bear. Today’s blog, for example, is brought to you by a cruddy networking experience I recently endured. Networking can be tricky, and events specifically designed to facilitate networking can be even trickier. Often, we go to these events, have a wonderful experience, make some awesome new connections, and head home a happy camper.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not the case. I recently attended a networking event that, little did I know, would rely heavily on religion. Literally, they had a six-foot-tall “ten commandments” cutout at the entrance and the first speaker claimed to have already died and been brought back to life by Jesus himself to come to this conference and tell her tale. Now, I’m a religious person. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to get involved in religious events and meet cool people who happen to share your professional interests. In fact, I think that’s awesome! But this was over the top. The slew of speakers that followed all had lots of passion, and a lot of bogus advice on how to connect with others and reach my potential.

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The point is, this networking event did virtually nothing to help me move my business forward or meet likeminded professionals to connect with. Instead, I got a lot of preachy elevator pitches and a handful of business cards from people promising to help me “sparkle in my female entrepreneur venture” or “live my genuine life.” Yuck.

Before you dive into the expansive world of networking, I wanted to set up a few guidelines for you to follow when you’re doing your research on what events to go to. Please, learn from my mistakes.

1. Don’t Go Just Because You Were Invited

Not everyone has a business coach in their pocket to tell them the ugly truth about networking – not all events are created equal. So, when someone (or ten people) invite you along to an event they’re thinking about attending, don’t immediately jump at the chance. Instead, make sure you ask a few questions first, like, “What makes this event so great?” If the people who are inviting you are invested in the results of this specific event, they’ll have answers!

2. Think About Why You’re Going

Don’t just go to go. The idea that being there or showing up is what guides you down the path to networking success is not entirely true. You have to be showing up to the right events to see any success. Before committing to a networking event, ask yourself a few questions. Why are you going to this particular event? Who are you expecting to meet there? Are those the kinds of people whose work you’re interested in, or who will be interested in your business?

3. Think Outside the Box

Networking events are not always “the” place you’ll make lasting connections or grow your client base. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own and do some research. Ask people in your local area where they’ve met clients. Better yet, hit the internet. In today’s digital age there are tons of online networking groups and forums readily available to dive in and connect with people who will have a genuine impact on your business. For example, many of my clients are in the financial planning realm. I always recommend they hit up XY Planning Network VIP Facebook Group because it’s a great place for advisors to connect with one another for advice, or for clients to look you up and seek you out. Win-win!

4. Have a Plan B

Whether you’re going to a huge event, or you’re headed out to have coffee and scones with a cool new contact you’ve made, always have a Plan B. Your time is incredibly valuable, and if a networking event turns out to be a bust, or if you get stood up, it’s important to have a backup plan so you aren’t wasting any of your professional time or energy. If your professional coffee meeting gets rescheduled at the last minute, no problem, because you’ve brought along some notes for your next blog post or some emails you wanted to catch up on. If you realize the event you’re at isn’t really doing it for you, that’s okay, because you have an “escape hatch” phone call planned to get you out of there. No, I’m not kidding. There are apps for this, people. Use them to your advantage. There is no shame in planning ahead and making sure you’re using your professional time efficiently and effectively.

5. It’s Okay to Say No

Finally, it’s okay to say no. Give yourself that permission right now. I don’t care if your five best friends and Brad Pitt ask you to go to a networking event – if it doesn’t speak to your business’s “why,” or if you get a bad gut feeling about it – don’t go. There’s nothing wrong with being selective in your networking. In fact, when you start carving out more time for people who matter and who genuinely care about your business (and spend less time meeting with yet another entrepreneur trying to sell you chemical-free cleaning products for your home) you’re more likely to have more successes! Now, that’s what I call reaching your potential and living your genuine life.

I wish that there was a networking rulebook that I could distribute to all business owners and make all the bumpy aspects of networking disappear. Unfortunately, much like all of you, I’m still learning. So, what I can do is share my mistakes and negative experiences with you so that you can do better and find your networking success – whatever that looks like. Good luck!

Do you have a yucky networking experience you’d love to share? Let me know in the comments here or shoot me an email – I’m always up for commiserating or brainstorming a plan to help you avoid the “yuck” moments in the future!