You show up at an industry event, business cards in hand. In the space of about two hours, you've handed out dozens of cards, met lots of new people and shaken so many hands you think you may have developed tendinitis.
In the next couple of weeks, you send a blizzard of e-mails to your new business contacts, pitching your product, asking for referrals and even making some forays into requesting investments in a startup project.
You're just the kind of networker that makes Thom Singer groan.
"You don't propose marriage on the first date, do you?" Singer says. "It's the same with networking. You're supposed to share experiences and get to know people - to find a mutual trust and respect before trying to get something from them."
Singer, a networking guru and author of two books on the subject, says that too many people think that networking is just an opportunity for them to further their own ambitions, a sort of "it's all about me" mentality.
And, he adds, online networking has made the problem worse in many ways.
'REAL TUG OF WAR'
"Online networking is a tool, just like wearing a nametag is a tool and having a business card is a tool," Singer says. "It's useful, but the problem is everyone uses it differently, and they criticize anyone who doesn't use it the way they do."
Singer himself recently experienced someone being upset with him because he declined an online network invitation through LinkedIn, simply because he believed he didn't know the person well enough to serve as a connection. But others have argued that the whole point of online networking is to connect with people you don't really know.
"Online networking is useful and it's not going away, but it's become a real tug of war," Singer says. "It's growing so fast that it's growing without rules, and there's no one really policing it."
Still, Singer believes there is a protocol when it comes to networking, whether it's online or not. His suggestions:
Don't be a dive-bomb networker. This means that swooping in on people, jamming a business card in their pocket and swooping out again is not effective networking. You must make a genuine connection (ask questions about what they do, how they do it and what mutual interests you have), then follow up with a phone call or e-mail in the coming weeks.
Singer says it takes seven to 10 interactions before a real connection is made.
Do give more than you take. Singer says that a good rule of thumb is that you must give three times as much as you want. Be patient - it usually takes time to make a real connection with someone.
Do know when to quit. If you're giving and giving and getting no real response from a contact, then it's probably time to move on. Don't take it personally, since many people may have the contacts they already need.
Don't be rude. Singer says that even if you decline an online invitation to connect or don't feel comfortable with someone's efforts to network with you, "always obey the social conventions and be polite."
Do know that networking is mutually beneficial.
"A lot of people are self conscious about networking, but you should always remember that you bring something of value to the table," Singer says. "You make a connection with someone and you learn one another's strengths and then you are able to articulate that to other people. You become an evangelist for the other person, and vice versa. It's a matter of having mutual respect for one another, so you enjoy singing one another's praises."
If you're interested in more information on how to be an effective networker, consider reading Singer's book, Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships (New Year Publishing, $21.95), or check out his Web site at www.thomsinger.com.
And, for more on networking, join the blog discussion at www.anitabruzzese.com.