The focus of networking in the digital age might have shifted somewhat from offline to online methods, but networking is as valuable a business tool as ever. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of your business, but if networking is something you have been neglecting, you’re missing out on a great way to grow your brand, build a reputation and even generate leads.
The aim of networking
Networking should not be thought of as an afterthought or an add-on, but as a very vital aspect of business development.Networking is about building relationships with business associates, colleagues, members of professional associations, and various other contacts in the business world. It involves the sharing of information, ideas, goods, services and anything else relevant that you have to offer.
Networking is not about marketing, or the hard sell of how great your product or service is. Networking also has to be a two-way street, with a mutual-benefit focus. This means that you need to give out as much – or more than – you receive. All relationships require maintenance to flourish. It’s important not only to make contact, but also to build on it. You never know when a network associate will be able to help you out!
There are many benefits to networking. It:
- Enables the exchange / sharing of new information and ideas.
- Helps you to establish yourself as someone with expertise in your field, and who can be trusted to do business with.
- Gets the message out there about your brand – a form of ‘indirect marketing’.
- Provides leads, which could help you score new clients.
- Puts you in touch with leaders in your industry.
- Broadens your scope of opportunity in your field of endeavour.
- Enables mutual favours between yourself and others once relationships are established.
- Puts you in contact with people from across your industry and beyond.
- Keeps you informed of news and events within your industry and in the business world generally.
Offline, or online networking?
In today’s digital world, you might be tempted to think that offline networking is no longer relevant. In reality, offline and online networking complement each other. Meeting people face-to-face allows you to get a sense of what they’re about, and whether you will be able to build an effective relationship with them. Online methods give you a broader reach to people you might not get the chance to otherwise meet in person, and allow you keep in touch with far-flung contacts much more easily.
Offline or ‘real life’ networking could involve attending trade shows, meetings, conferences, seminars, or other events. It might also involve joining a professional association, the local Chamber of Commerce, or meeting an associate for a coffee or a game of golf, or simply picking up the phone on a regular basis to make contact.
Online networking might mean joining professional groups and networks on LinkedIn for information sharing and conversation. LinkedIn’s professional focus means you are not so distracted by games or discussions about everything else from cooking to politics to philosophy as you would be on Facebook.
With LinkedIn, you can join groups where you can share ideas, information, experiences, knowledge and interests. Recently LinkedIn has been streamlining its design to enable group members to customise their conversation spaces. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others can all be useful in networking, enabling sharing of information and connecting with other people within and outside of your industry. Email, text messaging and e-newsletters can also play their part in maintaining professional relationships.
Some tips for effective networking:
- Make yourself visible – don’t hide your light under a bushel. You have a lot to offer, so be open and approachable.
- If you attend an event, arrive early and get to know other people and their business. Introduce yourself and start up a friendly conversation, and take a genuine interest in the other person. Share business cards.
- Avoid being pushy – your aim is not to make a sale, but to join or form a network of like-minded people. If people sense an agenda, they will likely back away from you.
- Maintain the relationships you make. This will probably involve the use of technology – whether it means the phone, email, or social media.
- Remember the Golden Rule – give what you would like to receive.
As with any sort of relationship building, there is no one right way to go about it, and a combination of online and offline is probably best. Either way the opportunities for networking are enormous, so it’s important to make the most of networking as often as you can.