I attended a networking event earlier this year where there were a number of small businesses interacting with their mentors.  It was a spring party in celebration of the business owner’s progress and to give thanks to the volunteer mentors who gave up their time to nurture the new wave of business leaders.

A straightforward event one would think, right?  Snacks, some wine, great speeches from successful business and networking amongst the group. I met a number of interesting people with great talent, motivation and the drive to succeed.

However, the behaviour of one person particularly stands out. One particular person who on the surface appeared to also hold these qualities disappointingly later failed and I was astonished at their behavior following the event, as they clearly do not understand the power of the network in business.  I’ve removed the identifying details as it serves no purpose to expose their identity.

In short, I met this person at the event, who later in the week was also at seminar I attended. Our interaction at both events was positive, chatty and included meeting someone new: as someone was standing nearby alone, I introduced myself to them also and drew them into our conversation. We farewelled with an exchange of business cards suggesting a green light to stay in touch. I’m a strong believer of following up with people I have met after a networking event as it’s polite (since they have given their time to speak with you) and helps expand your networks- after all isn’t that the point of attending events?  I sent a brief note to this person, thanking them for the conversation, wishing them all the best in their business and to stay in touch because I always like to see people and businesses progress:

Hi X

Nice to meet you at both the London event and the crowd funding session.  Keep in touch – would be interested to hear how your platform progresses.

My details are below.

Thanks and Regards,
Laura

In response I received a rather unpleasant email:

Thanks for your email.

During the start up networking, you created a mixed impression I know that you are super talented and you can market any business. It’s a shame your website is not live. Since you are mentoring one of my business competitors. It does not make sense for me to keep in contact with you and discuss my software project.

Not only did you try to get knowledge about my business, you promoted my competitors in front of me to X  and you have the cheek to send an email. It’s not my style to shaft or stab people in the back to become successful.

In the words of the dragon’s “I’m out” please don’t ever contact me, if I see you at networking events, do not approach me otherwise you will see the not so nice side of me.

Oh Dear – What an epic fail….Now it’s fine if you don’t want to stay in touch – I’m not everyone’s cuppa tea, so either ignore the email or politely decline. However, much to my surprise (now remember I met this person at multiple events, and we chatted on both occasions) the response was aggressive, rude and actually quite naive and immature and definitely poor business practice. It implied that by making introductions to various people I was, in fact, promoting their competitors above them. Now let’s be clear; firstly at an event such as this you are going to encounter some of your competitors in person and secondly, I’ve only just met this person and in their 1 min pitch they never mentioned anything that would be deemed IP or who the competitors were.

Good networking is all about connecting people: expanding your own networks, introducing people to each other Networking events can sometimes be daunting for people therefore when people are hovering or attempting to join the discussion it’s my natural tendency to introduce them so they do not feel awkward.  I was merely being inclusive – that’s just plain manners.

My response to the email:

Dear X

My sincere apologies if you have taken offense to me following up with you.  I felt that at both events we had a good connection and spoke for sometime.  One would also assume since we exchanged business cards, there is the suggestion to stay in touch.

To be clear I DO NOT mentor X or any of your “competitors”, whoever they may be.  Both my mentees for LondonX are in the Retail and Health and Wellness Space.

I was merely interested in you and your business for conversational reasons – after
all we were at a networking event for start-up businesses– nothing more.  You may have known who your competitors were at the event; however, since I have not worked with you or know what your business is about (apart from the brief conversation we had) I was not to know that your “competitors” were within earshot as we were chatting.  Apologies if you interpreted my interest as anything more than just interest.   Networking events can sometimes be daunting for people therefore when people are hovering or attempting to join the discussion it’s my natural tendency to introduce them so they do not feel awkward.  I was merely being inclusive – that’s just plain manners.

In a networking circle such this, you are going to encounter competitors as LondonX helps many, many businesses.  This is something you have to accept and as mentors, we have the strictest confidentiality between our mentees.   Competition is good, as it focuses you more to be better and also in an entrepreneurial environment if you didn’t have competitors investors would see your business as a challenge to educate the market.  Sometimes competitors can also bring opportunities – I have done a number of M&A’s bringing two together.

On a final note, such an email is poor business practice.  It’s unprofessional and unacceptable especially when we are in the same network and our paths will cross.  As a word of advice in future, you should reconsider your approach to responding to such emails and your aggressive tone as you could have easily either ignored the email or politely said you are not interested in staying in touch – especially since our interaction at both events suggested otherwise.  This email already shows “the not so nice side” of you.

I respect your wishes not to be contacted again.  Best of luck with your business

Thanks and Regards

Laura

So let’s explore the issues here:

Networking is a two way street

Whenever you meet someone, you need to ask them as much as possible regarding themselves and their business as you talk about yourself and your work. I thought the conversation was pretty balanced on this, but unfortunately, my questions were seen as intrusive or an attempt to gain competitive advantage.

A good networker is a connector

Part of being a good networker is about connecting people, both in the business and social sense. Someone standing alone? Introduce yourself. Someone on the outside of the circle of conversation? Draw them in. Introducing people to each other is an expected business practice.

Competitors demonstrate value

You will at some point be in a room with your competitors – or people who may know your competitors. Use it to your advantage, competition is good, as it focuses you to be better.  In an entrepreneurial environment, without competitors, investors wonder if your business addresses a demonstrated need. Further, sometimes competitors can also bring opportunities – I have done a number of mergers and acquisitions bringing two companies together.

Networks are everything

Never underestimate the power of the network whenever you meet someone.  You never know when your paths may cross again and you may need help or them or someone in their network. Communities are small and you are bound to know someone that knows someone else.  In the example I detailed earlier, I actually have someone in my network that could have helped the email writer, however, I wouldn’t be willing to make the introduction given their behaviour.

Communication is key

Be mindful of how you communicate especially in writing.  The response I received from the person via email made me realise it’s the type of person I would never work with and anyway, I’m not sure how successful they will be if they are just mean to every potential client they come across. It’s ironic given their business was all about communication.

I’d be interested to hear how other people handle business networking. Have you found yourself in a situation like this before? How did you resolve the issue? Feel free to comment below or join us on  facebook or twitter.