On 31st August, I participated in a radio discussion on WhosTheBossFM on what’s the most effective way to network when you are trying to market yourself to other businesses. Surely by actively talking to new contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn groups you can save yourself the tedious effort and time spent attending face-to-face networking meetings?
In fact, to be a successful networker, you need to combine both. And if you’re starting out with a new business, you really need to start with face-to-face first.
Most of the networking events I have visited over the last 10 years have had 20-30 people in the room, representing a wide variety of businesses and industries. Doesn’t sound like a very big network. But in fact that room contains a network of thousands, as each person in the room will know at least several hundred people, some of whom could be your clients. So you have the potential to meet a lot of new people quickly. The trick is to work out who in the room is likely to be connected to them. E.g. If you’re a solicitor specialising in property law, an architect or surveyor might be a good person to talk to. But you also need to like and trust the people you’re networking with. IWhilst social media profiles and activity can give you insights into someone’s personality, you need to meet meet someone face-to-face in order to assess their body language, mannerisms and social skills.
Combining offline and online
Once you’ve connected with someone at a networking event, don’t just leave it there. Why not add them to your LinkedIn network? By sharing your LinkedIn profile and status updates, you can continue to inform and educate them about what you do and how you add value. You can also research which LinkedIn groups your contacts are members of and continue the conversations you initially had with them when you first met.
Relationships can start online too
Hopefully as a result of your networking, you will get introduced to new contacts, but what’s the best way to connect with them? If you’re both very busy, to arrange a meeting with someone you’ve been introduced to can take weeks or months and you may be inclined to give up. Here’s a solution. Network online!
Let me give you a good example. About eight months ago, a mutual friend who felt we could both work together introduced me to a sales executive. Because we both live at opposite ends of London it was very difficult to find a date that we could both meet so we initially arranged a virtual meeting on Skype where we could see each other and get acquainted. After that we connected on LinkedIn and then Twitter. We were able to keep tabs of each other’s activity and even respond to each others tweets. When we finally got round to meeting, we no longer felt like strangers. As I entered the room, my colleague said “I feel like I already know you” and that’s because he did. And once we met, we were able to cement our relationship further by following up on the discussions we had during the previous months.
So stop thinking about face-to-face vs online networking. They both depend on each other!