The 59 Commandments of Business Networking

Business networking  is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your business. Of course, done incorrectly it can actually be harmful to your business.

Somewhere down the road salespeople were given the idea that business networking meant pitching and selling. Eek! Nothing could be further from the truth.


Of course, if you don’t plan on being in business for very long, then by all means pitch and sell. If you plan to switch companies often, have at it! If, on the other hand, you plan on building a great business that will stand the test of time, don’t pitch and sell when you are networking.

Business networking is really about building relationships. It’s about finding those people with whom you have things in common. It’s like dating. Have you ever met a man or woman who was so aggressive and pushy that you ran the other way? You wouldn’t dream of dating them.

Then there are the people who are so unsure and timid that you never get the chance to meet them. And then there are the people who are genuinely interested in meeting people and getting to know them so they can find the person they want to spend the rest of their life with.

Am I describing dating or business networking? Exactly! Both. They are very similar in nature.

Just as in dating, in business networking you have to meet and get to know people to determine whether they are good referral partners or clients. When you go into the process with the narrow focus of gaining a piece of business, you miss all of the steps designed to keep you safe, happy and successful. Your focus is in the wrong place.

When, however, you focus on really getting to know people, you will be open to and aware of all of the signals. You will build quality, productive relationships that will work for you and your business over and over again.

I define business networking as building relationships with people who may or may not need what you have to sell. So you see, it’s not about selling to them. It’s about making the connections and building your contact base.

People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. How can you make sure you are presenting yourself as someone who is trustworthy? By following the 59 commandments here.

Now, commandments might be a strong word–but this is a serious topic.

There was a time when we would network through organizations, events and referral groups. These are still relevant and have been joined by social networking. Social networking is relatively new and therefore requires a conversation about guiding principles – or commandments.

Let’s start with networking at events. There are various aspects of this type of business networking, from preparation to follow up, and everything in between.

Preparation – up to and including as you walk in the door

1. Identify where you should go. All venues are not right for all people. You owe it to yourself to do your research and find the venues that make sense for your business.

2. Make a decision about which organizations you should join and which you don’t have to join in order to gain value from their events. For example, does it make sense to join a local chamber of commerce, or just go to the events that sound interesting and will most likely include people you should meet?

3. Register for the event and schedule it like a business meeting. Many people either don’t sign up for events or sign up for them and then forget to go.

4. Determine how often you should be networking in a given week, month or quarter. This will help you narrow down where you should be going.

5. Develop open-ended questions you can use to ignite a conversation. Try to find unique questions; don’t ask the same old “So, what do you do?” if you can help it.

6. Attend events with a plan to learn something new. This will keep you from talking too much about yourself and your business.

7.Prepare yourself physically and mentally for the event.

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Bring business cards.
  • Turn your phone off or set it to vibrate (I’m not kidding!).

Behavior – from the time you enter the room


8. If you go to an event with someone you know, split up once you get there.

9. When you walk into the room, step to the side, take a deep breath and scan the room. This will give you a chance to regroup and focus before you approach anyone.

10. Don’t sit down until the program begins. If there is no program, you can sit once you’ve connected with someone.

11. Sit with strangers, not with people you know.

12. When you see someone sitting alone, go to them and introduce yourself. You’ll be saving their life! They are alone and nervous. You can even take them with you to mix and mingle with others.

13. Don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Rather, give it to anyone who asks you for it.

14. Do get the business card of everyone you meet.

15. Have a firm but not killer handshake. Your handshake is a key indicator of your level of confidence. If it’s too weak you are telegraphing. If it is too strong you are sending a signal that you are probably more aggressive than assertive or cooperative. Either way, it doesn’t lend itself to building relationships.

16. Be present. When you are talking with someone, look them in the eye and really pay attention to what they are saying.

17. Don’t look around the room or over someone’s shoulder when you are talking with them. It’s rude. You are letting them know that you aren’t really interested in them.

18. Don’t take a phone call. If you are expecting a call or have a situation that may need your attention, let the person you are talking with know there is the possibility you’ll have to excuse yourself.

19. If you have to take a call, leave the room and go to a quiet place. It doesn’t make you seem important if you take a call in the room. It makes you seem impolite, silly, rude, arrogant . . . take your pick!

20. Disengage politely. How do you get away from someone politely? There are a couple of tactics.

  • You can tell them you don’t want to monopolize their time.
  • You can tell them you see someone you need to speak with.
  • You can excuse yourself to the restroom.
  • You can tell them you’d like to continue meeting people.

Follow up (this is critical)!

If you are going to take the time to network, then please take the time to follow up with the people you meet. You can send them a handwritten note or reach out to them to schedule coffee or a meeting. This depends on how well you connected.

21. Don’t follow up via e-mail unless the person asks you to.

22. Do at least send a note.

23. Don’t pitch too early. Quite frankly, don’t “pitch” at all. When you build relationships it will become apparent to you and the other person when it makes sense to do business with each other. Remember, business networking is about relationships, not selling.

24. Don’t sign people up for your newsletter without their permission.

25. Don’t assume that just because you met someone you now have license to gain a referral from them, use them as a resource, or give them your promotional and sales materials.

26. Do err on the side of good manners and the golden rule.

Referral groups

Now let’s talk about referral groups. When you join a referral group it is not to sell to the people in the room. It is to build relationships with those people so they will trust you and think of you when they are out and about. And you will think of them. Referral groups work best for growing your business when you approach them with the idea of what you can provide to the group and its members. Follow these commandments of business networking in referral/leads groups to set your business up for success.

27. Focus on giving.

28. Show up regularly and on time. When you show up late and/or infrequently, you send a message to your fellow group members:

  • You tell them that you only care about yourself because you don’t take the time to learn about their needs.
  • You show them how you deal with business meetings and associates. Why would they trust you with their clients? How can they be sure you’ll treat them well?

29. Come prepared. Have a specific list of referral needs. The more specific you can be, the more referrals you’ll receive.

30. Always ask for what you need. We are never so busy that we don’t need more prospects in our pipeline. If you don’t ask all the time, you’ll run the risk of getting into a place where you never ask.

31. Be present. Once again, be sure you are really listening to the needs of the group members. Don’t play with your phone or answer e-mails while others are talking. Really listen and think about how you can help them.

32. Meet with the members individually between meetings so you can get to know them better.

33. Do not try to sell your fellow group members when you have your one-on-one meetings.

34. Do not expect to get until you give.

35. Do not expect to get right away. It takes time to build the relationships with group members so you trust them and they trust you.

36. Consider the other group members as resources to you and your contacts. When you know how they do business and trust them, you can use them as resources when people mention needs those group members can solve. This can elevate you in the eyes of your contacts, prospects and clients.

37. Do give quality referrals and leads. I knew a man who would write up a referral and put “Do not use my name” on the sheet. That is not helpful. I’ve also seen a situation where someone gave a referral but called the referee later and said, “Don’t call that person.” That’s not helpful! Don’t give garbage. It’s better to not give at all.

38. Make sure your clients, contacts and associates are open to you giving their names and contact information to your group members. One of the worst things that can happen is for you to refer a group member to a client, only to have the client get mad.

Your job is to know your clients and contacts well enough that you know who would be open to taking a call and who would rather not. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t connect these people. It just means that, instead of passing on the person’s name and contact information, you may have to make the introduction. Reach out to your contact and set the stage for your group member.

39. Follow up! If someone gives you a referral, treat it like gold. You want to be sure that you follow up on it right away. Imagine how you’ll make the other person feel if they refer you to someone and you don’t follow up in a timely manner. It won’t make them want to refer you again. It takes time to build relationships with the people in your referral group. Don’t destroy that trust by failing to take a referral seriously.

Social networking

Now what about social networking? What is it really all about and how can you navigate it successfully? Social media has given us a great platform for accelerating the relationship building process. It does not replace face-to-face meetings; rather, it enhances the process. Consider this: You connect with someone at an event. Then you ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn, Facebook or both. Now you can interact with them online. You can learn even more about them by taking a look at their profile. What groups are they in? What discussions do they participate in? Who are they connected to?

Just like event networking and referral/leads group networking, there are guidelines you should follow when participating in online social networking. These social networking commandments will help you continue to grow your network and your business.

40. Decide who you want to be. Of course, you should be you! What I mean is that before you say something in your news feed or in a discussion, make sure it maps with how you want others to know you.

I participate on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and some blogs. I always think before I write anything. First, I want to be sure I am being consistent with my message. Second, I know that my clients and prospects come from varying backgrounds and belief systems. I want to be sure that nothing I say will change the way they think of me. This is especially true for social networks like Facebook. The intersection of social and business is very blurry. Interacting with people in these arenas helps you get to know them on a personal level. That can work for or against you. So, think about what kinds of conversations you want to engage in before you write something.

41. Don’t spam. No one likes spam and that includes pitch messages on social networking. Use the platforms as a way to continue to build relationships and expand your network. Irritating people won’t help you accomplish that.

42. Limit the self-promotion. You can let people know what you are up to as long as that’s not your only topic of conversation.

43. Share information. People love to learn things. Use social networking as a way to share relevant information with other people.

44. Tell people why you want to connect with them. Don’t use the standard connection script if you can help it.

45. Participate. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

46. Don’t assume that being connected to someone gives you permission to pitch. It doesn’t.

47. If you want an introduction through one of your contacts, make sure you explain why you want it.

48. Your online connections are just as valuable as your offline connections. Treat them that way.

49. Take the time to get to know people you meet via social networking. When you engage in a conversation with someone, belong to a group with them, or read something they wrote, ask them to connect directly. Then build the relationship.

50. Pay attention. Social networking is just like in-person networking. You want to approach it as a way to learn things. When you pay attention to the chatter, the events, groups and conversations you’ll learn an awful lot about the people in your network. You’ll also learn about people you should be connected to.

51. Don’t sell. This goes along with spamming and self-promotion. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Of course it does. That’s because social networking has nothing to do with selling. It has everything to do with building relationships so you can grow your business.

52. You don’t have to connect with everyone. You can make decisions about who you connect with on different platforms. Just be consistent. If you decide that you don’t want to be connected to business associates on Facebook, then don’t. If someone you don’t knows requests a connection to you, you are under no obligation to connect with them.

53. Be a giver. Whenever you can connect people or help someone with a question, do it.

54. Be yourself. Don’t hide behind a persona. Remember that people do business with people they trust. You have to be you in order for people to get to know you.

55. Use your picture as a profile photo.

56. Don’t carry on private conversations in public. Use common sense and good judgment and contact people privately when you want to have a one-on-one conversation.

57. Go to events. When an online group you are in has an in-person function, go to it. Meet the people you’ve been interacting with. It helps to build the relationship.

58. Suggest a meeting. When you connect with someone via social networking, follow up and suggest a meeting. The meeting can be via phone, Skype or in person, depending on geography. Don’t let physical distance get in your way. In this day and age it doesn’t have to be a deterrent to growing a business relationship.

59. Be approachable. I’m not going to get the chance to know you and like you if you are aloof. No one is so special that they are untouchable. Besides, who would want to build a relationship with someone distant?

At the end of the day, we network so we can grow our businesses. We meet people and build relationships so we will receive referrals from them over time. What we’re talking about here is how to do it well so those referrals actually happen. Whatever business networking venue(s) you choose, make the most of them.

Although increased sales is the end goal, we don’t participate in business networking to sell. We do it to find and develop relationships with people who we can help and who can help us. When we detach ourselves from the emphasis we tend to put on selling, we actually improve our ability to build relationships. The sales will come naturally from there. Remember these guidelines when you venture out of your office into the world of events, groups, and social networks. Make the most of the time you spend on business networking.


Diane Helbig

Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day Coaching. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

39 Reactions

  1. Wow Diane! That is an amazing resource. How long have you been acquiring these “commandments”?

  2. Thank you Diane for an excellent article and well done research. I am involved in a personal and business Branding and run face-to-face forums. One of our consumer-centric tagline is “You + Me = We” – to remind us that we are part of a community: Brands built society and society builds Brand. Brand is all about connecting with an audience by building relationships and establishing rapport with them.
    Your article is a great resource for all of us.

  3. Hi Robert. Probably over the past 10 years. In the last 5 years I feel like I’ve really been exposed to some great, and not so great, behavior.

    I think we all have that networking horror story we could tell!

  4. Hi Diane,
    I also caught your BTR show yesterday. These are fantastic! They should be required reading in Biz School. This has always been my philosophy, however it can be hard at times when so many people beat the drum of “Promote, Promote, Promote”. Thanks.

  5. Diane- Great article. This is a “primer” for everyone in business, whether you own one, or work in one.

    Looks like we have another topic for an Entrepreneurs Insight Radio show.

  6. Thanks. It’s a topic I am really passionate about. SO many people shoot themselves in the foot and never know why they aren’t successful. If we can get the word out about effective networking tactics, the whole world will benefit!

  7. Hi Dian,

    This is an excellent post!

  8. Diane – thanks much for the thoughtful, practical, well-organized advice! I especially appreciate how you differentiate between the various “meet & greet” arenas. I’ll try to follow your commandments in the future!

  9. Great article and a very good read for those wanting to improve their networking effectiveness.

  10. Diane,

    Your post is music for my ears as a BNI (Business Network International) member. I will share it with my team members and to the attendees at the “Certified Networker” (R) course arranged by the Referral Institute branch in Gothenburg, Sweden.

  11. Thank you, Diane, for this great article and encouraging us to keep focused on being professional at all times, yes, even in networking events. Networking should encompass being authentic and doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons for everyone’s benefit. I am posting this list in my office so that Ican readily refer to it to keep me (and others) on target for success.

  12. For #15 there is another caveat – some people have tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc – be Very Sure your handshake is not more than “firm” – it might cause needless, severe pain. This can apply to otherwise healthy-looking young men, not just women & the elderly. It’s not supposed to be “pro” wrestlers giving each other the famous “Test of Strength”!

  13. Thank you all for your great comments. And businessavante you raise a very important point. Part of behaving effectively is to remember that we don’t know who the other person is and what is going on in their lives. Firm, gentle, profeesional giving can do wonders.

  14. What an excellent article!

    I thoroughly enjoyed all the points raised.

    I run business networking events and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that networkers don’t understand the concept of not selling.

    As you say in the article it would help tremendously if they just concentrated on creating the relationships and nurturing those, and the leads and sales will naturally follow.

    At our monthly NYC Pitch Party, we only allow people 30 seconds to pitch themselves so they don’t have enough time to do any selling during that time.

    It’s a challenging thing to train people not to sell when they are so driven to do just that.

    Relationships matter the most, everything else is secondary.

    Cheers, Ilana

  15. It’s good that you limit the time – sort of like conditioning them to do it well. If people would move their minds to the long term they’d be better off.

  16. These 59 Commandments are a keeper, the golden rules of business networking. Thank you!

  17. Great and timely article Diane… You rock!

  18. Great article Diane. The first three paragraphs. I attend alot of Networking events to build my business and am constantly being bombarded with pitches from new members, heck even some of the older members as well. And if you don’t sound like you are interested (which I typically am not after I feel like I’m being sold to) they just move to the person standing next to me and recite their spiel all over again. No wanting to get to know me and find out what I’m all about, no effort to build a relationship at all. Believe me, if you want to start increasing your paycheck right away using the power of networking groups, simply act like you care, even if you don’t do anything else, you will see results.

  19. Your article is magnificent. I think everyone that is in Networking should read this and I am passing it along to all of my group!!! I was going to write an article today about this very subject but you did it so well that I cannot really say anymore!

    Thanks so much and we can all learn from your list no matter how seasoned we may be!

  20. Fantastic article Diane! You’re a networker after my own heart. You certainly “get it” and put your thoughts together clearly. If business owners follow the step by step process outlined in this article, their revenue will increase greatly. They’ll also find that their businesses are more enjoyable and rewarding.

  21. Thanks! I’m so glad you all see value in the article. Every time I go to a networking event I encounter at least one person who doesn’t
    ‘get it’. Yet they think they are doing a great job of networking. Such a shame.

  22. Hey Diane,
    Yeah it never ceases to amaze me as to how people who just “show up” to a networking event expect to get business. Here is a great guide as to what to do… thanks for sharing

    My apologies for posting a reply almost 2 years later from when you originally posted it…. but i felt compelled to giving you kudos!


  23. Fantastic article – something that every networker and non-networker needs to read – thank you

  24. Thanks Sean. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  25. Hello Diane – can I reproduce this article on my Blog? – it would be great to share!

    Many thanks


    • Hi Sean,
      Thank you for your interest in sharing the article. I am honored.

      You can as long as you indicate that it was first published on That’s the arrangement I have with them.


  26. Lots of useful tips, thanks for sharing.
    Networking is a great way to meet new people and to get more business

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