As a business owner, you probably feel like there’s always more you could be doing to expand your business. One of the best ways to open up new opportunities to do just that is by business networking. Of course, the time it takes to identify networking opportunities in your area, and then attend them, is just one more time conflict on your path to “doing more.”
Online business networking allows you to open up a new world of opportunities in a much shorter span of time. “The Internet has changed the game in terms of networking,” says Kent Lewis, President and Founder of Anvil Media. You can now connect globally with people that share your interest, background goals and experience at the click of a button.
To get you started with online business networking, we asked six entrepreneurs for their top tips. Here’s what they said:
- Maintenance is key.
Yes, making connections online is faster and easier, but it lacks the depth of forming face-to-face relationships. “I have 7,000 LinkedIn connections,” says Lewis, “but know very few at an intimate level. Maintaining those relationships becomes a primary challenge.” The Alternative Board UK’s Operations Director Jo Clarkson recommends overcoming this hurdle by staying in touch. “Making new contacts helps – but it can be a waste of time if you’re not maximizing the old ones,” says Clarkson. “If you only contact your network when you want something, your calls will become less and less welcome.”Clarkson believes staying in touch is the most effective way to keep your online network close. “Consistency is key – share a great article with your list of contacts or just send over an email to say hello every now and again. That way, when you need your network, they’ll recognize your name and be happy to help.”
- Optimize Your Online Presence
When networking in person, you simply have to be friendly, professional and natural–all skills you’ve been working on since grade school. Networking online requires a little more technical savvy.“When networking online, people are looking at your profile, and if it doesn’t reflect an expert status, it’s easy to pass you by,” says Bill Corbett, Jr., President of Corbett Public Relations, Inc. “If you don’t have certain keywords in your profile, or if a peer ranks higher than you in search results, you may be left with lost opportunities.” Brock Shinen, Esq., of the Law Office of Brock Shinen “By improving my LinkedIn profile and contributing content on a regular basis, I developed a steady stream of new relationships which were explored for opportunities.”Do some research and understand how to maximize your profile for each social network. What works for Twitter may be different for Facebook or LinkedIn, so be sure to understand the nuances of each network.
- Get to Know Your Network
“Networking online is easier, because you can find almost anything about anyone,” says Scott Eisenberg, CEO & Founder of SwapTheBiz.com. With this wealth of information at your fingertips, “It is even more important that you learn about their interests, accomplishments and personal life, as that is where the real connections are formed.” Eisenberg adds that unlike with traditional business networking, “Many people skip over the personal and social aspect online and go straight to the business instead.”Get to know the network you’re targeting. Build a real relationship before jumping into how the other person can help you get ahead.
- Use Slack
Slack is a cloud-based company collaboration tool. “Recently I discovered how powerful Slack communities can be in regard to building successful relationships,” says Vincent Vitale, Co-founder of Fount. According to Vitale, Slack makes it easier to network under a shared interest, such as entrepreneurship. “I posted about my app in the TechLondon Slack Community, which started up a conversation with another startup owner. We learned we shared a passion for being connectors and entrepreneurship. Now we are working together from across an ocean.”
- Use Twitter
Shelly Watts, Founder of Thoughtful Missions establishes relationships with clients by connecting via Twitter. She even works with a board member she met through Twitter. “It's a great, creative way to reach out to people,” says Watts. “Using Twitter is better than a cold call or email because it's less threatening. It isn't perceived as intrusive because they can look at your Twitter account to see who you are and how your interests intersect with theirs before deciding to respond.”
- Demonstrate Value
“My top tip for online business networking is to add value before you request anything,” Vitale adds. “People will be more responsive to you if you can help them. Especially if you can help them with something they really need help with.”“Never start with the objective of making a sale,” adds Shinen. “This objective can be spotted a mile away and comes across as exploitative. Instead, start with the goal of forming a relationship and exploring opportunities. This will serve the long-term purpose of opening much more potential for business, because the foundation is relationship building, not sales or exploitations.”
Of course, building a strong business network requires a consistent combination of face-to-face and online business networking. Use these six tips to get started on your online business networking journey, and share your experiences. If you’d like to increase your business networking opportunities, get in touch with a local TAB board. Being a member of the TAB community puts you in direct and online contact with thousands of business owners around the world.