You could be forgiven for thinking there was a battle being fought between offline & online networks with some of the messages from organisations in both camps. The reality is that the online networks give us a really effective tool for supporting our offline business networking activities. They only do that, however, if we go about both activities strategically.
"I have been an active member of online networks since I discovered them in 2003. Here are my top 10 tips for building business with the effective use of offline & online networks" writes Dave Clarke
1. Get comfortable with how networking works
"All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to those people they know, like and trust." (Bob Burg).
Business Networking is about finding other business people who operate in similar markets to you. Then helping them and building relationships to earn that trust so don’t expect instant results. Like anything worthwhile, networking takes time and application. Take the time to develop relationships and create a network. Don’t expect to walk into a room of strangers or simply post a profile online and come away with business – it just doesn’t work like that!
2. Develop a plan
"It pays to plan ahead it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark"
If you don’t know where you are going with your networking how can others help you?
Answer the following:
- what is your target market?
- what are the problems you solve for them?
- how much business are you looking to generate via word of mouth?
- how much time can you devote to your networking activities?
Identify others likely to have access to your target market
- how do you get to know them?
- how can you help them achieve their goals?
When you can answer these questions you are have the basis of a networking plan which you can begin acting on right away.
3. Identify the people you already know, like & trust
The cornerstone of your networking activities should be the people you have already done business with. Colleagues, Customers and Suppliers. Invest time in these important relationships. Meet up with them and find out if there is anything you can do to support them.
4. Identify the offline networks to join
If your existing network is not big enough to generate enough word of mouth to achieve your plan then find a couple of networks to join. Ask yourself who else is likely to have access to and influence with your target market. Then find where they network and join those groups. Take the time to get to know the members and the ways you can help - support, information & introductions. When asked present your proposition confidently & consistently - your target market, the problems you solve and your stories.
5. Show a genuine interest in other people
"You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you." So said Dale Carnegie – and it’s true.
Become an active listener and see how you can help the people you meet. By being aware of their needs you can connect them to people in your network. This will involve asking open questions. People usually find the most interesting subject is themselves! Make it easy for them to expand their answers rather than just replying with a “Yes” or “No”. For example “That’s interesting, how do you do that?” They will remember you for listening attentively to them! Be prepared to talk to strangers and have an interesting story.
6. Always follow up contacts
When you meet someone at an event follow up with a simple e-mail or telephone call confirming where you met and what action, if any, was agreed. Connect them to others & any helpful information. Prompt follow ups are essential! Find out which online networks they use and connect with them if you are also a member.
7. Identify the online networks to join and start a blog.
Your blog is the cornerstone of your online presence & is the place you build your reputation. It can be on your website or a free service like blogger, wordpress or similar. Use your blog to share your stories, hints, tips, & insights and use twitter to share these too. Find out which online networks your influencers and target market use and join a couple. Use the network tools to find the people you already know and connect with them online. Post a profile that is consistent with your personal brand and contribute.
8. Make online contacts and build relationships first
Contribute to online conversations and share your knowledge and connections. Make contact with like minded professionals. Networking is not about selling – it’s about building relationships. The best business is developed when both parties know, like and trust each other. So take the time to get to know them and establish rapport.
9. Arrange contact meetings
You’ve established rapport with someone you’ve met at a networking meeting or had good online interactions. It looks as though they might know your target market. How do you take things forward? Simple, meet with them for a coffee and start getting to know them. What makes them tick, what are their successes, their aspirations, their skills and experiences. what they are looking for? See if you can connect them to one of your contacts?
10. Develop Networking Advocates
A networking advocate goes out of their way to recommend your goods and services without being asked or expecting anything in return. Take time to develop the relationships with key members of your network. Go out of your way to connect them to key members of your network and introduce them to people who might benefit from their services. Become an advocate for them. And, guess what? What goes round comes round. People will eventually become advocates for you – and this is where the networking dividend really pays out!
Finally, in the immortal words of Woody Allen: “80% of success is showing up!”