How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Association Networking Mistakes

8:44 am Business-building, Networking as a marketing strategy, Networking for sales success, networking in your association

Contacts and clients often ask me what professional networks they should be part of. The answer is a little different for everyone, but the key is you want to fish where the fish are — joining an association frequented by your target market accomplishes that.

Having stated that, many, if not most, professionals make a number of mistakes that get in the way of maximizing this invaluable resource. Here are the five biggest mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Having a sense of entitlement. Too often, a business professional will join an association under the misguided assumption that membership equals money. Becoming a member is the price of admission, not a free pass to earning revenues or receiving referrals. There is no quicker route to being ostracized than to presume others will do business with you based on membership alone.

Instead, consider your membership a VIP ticket that serves as an introduction. A primary purpose of an association is to act as a peer-to-peer connection point, facilitating contact between professionals. Relationships take time, need to be nurtured and require investment. Think long-term, not instant gratification.

2. Not building new contacts. One of the primary benefits of an association is its ability to exponentially grow a network. Members attend events with the expectation that they will meet quality professionals. Yet too many members fall prey to the comfort of conversations with existing contacts or colleagues. Then they complain they don’t achieve the results they want or need.

Instead, make it a point of seeking out and initiating conversations with association members you don’t know at every event. Fight the urge to spend all your time with your existing network. Set a new-contact goal for every event. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can make new contacts and how many opportunities arise as a result of your efforts.

3. Focusing on revenues, not relationships. Association events represent incredible opportunities, regardless of whether your interest is professional or personal. Too often, members see these conversations as an opportunity to qualify and close a new client. When is the last time you bought anything of significant value after a 30-second to three-minute conversation?

Instead, counterintuitive as it seems, put your business agenda on hold. Reality is that we buy people first, ideas next and things last, in that order. Focus your interactions on connecting with your conversation partners on a personal level. You’ll be perceived as more personable and professional, and she/he will be happy to meet with you again. Isn’t that what it’s about?

4. Failing to follow up. One of the biggest misconceptions about association membership is that simply attending events generates results. Networking at events holds incredible potential, but requires additional effort and energy to build relationships that lead to results. Yet research consistently confirms that 90% of professionals fail to follow up.

Instead, accept that association networking is about creating and developing relationships. Presume you will want to follow up with every person you meet. That way, you will usually find a reason for the other person to want to re-connect with you, when the real selling can start. End every networking conversation with the question “Can I follow up?”

5. Seeing association networking as a one-dimensional activity. Associations, by their very nature, bring together like-minded individuals. Too often, members attend events with a pre-conceived notion of the value others can supply. They have a narrow view that is strictly client-centered. When they meet someone they don’t perceive as a direct link to business, they quickly move on. Is this you?

Instead, realize that you and your association counterparts are all connected by common interest (whether personal or professional). Expand your thinking about how you can help one another and invest in building collaborative relationships so that you become the person they will think of first when it comes to your product or service.


Michael Hughes is known as North America’s Networking Guru. Find out more about him at and download a complimentary copy of his 12-page ebook Managing the Networking Experience

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