Why Online and Offline Business Networking Should Work Together
How to use the digital age to enhance your business networking and build mutually beneficial connections.
Networking is all about relationships. It’s not just about followers, friends or business cards, it’s about connecting with one individual at a time and creating mutual benefit.
Reassessing the networking landscape
For centuries, face-to-face networking has played a big part in serious business strategies. Being visible and building supportive, credible relationships with key connections in the marketplace made a lot of sense, especially when the marketplace was in the local community. However, as markets grew and opportunities expanded, it became increasingly difficult to do business profitably through the local business group alone. Networks merged with networks via key individuals and “global networks” were created (think Business Networks International and Chambers of Commerce).
In parallel with this, the proliferation of communication tools has provided new opportunities to the forward thinking networker. Tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are just that, tools for the job – facilitating connections, accelerating relationship development and shortening business development cycles.
How business relationships have developed in the digital age
Let’s consider the case of John and Julie; even before they met at a local networking event, John spotted Julie’s name in a list of event delegates online and did some background research to see if there were ways he could add value to her business. A quick Google search, a scan of her LinkedIn profile and a cursory glance at her latest Tweets, gave him a mixture of business and fun things that he could draw on when they met at the business breakfast.
Julie was pleasantly surprised when she met John that he was able to share a number of ideas and contacts with her that she knew would be beneficial. She wasn’t quite sure what he did, but was determined to find out more before they met again. When Julie got home, she emailed the two people that John had introduced and immediately set up a time for a Google Hangout with John later that week.
By the time of their second meeting Julie knew a bit more about John from his LinkedIn profile and spotted that his favourite football team just happened to be one of her company’s clients – naturally, guest tickets were already in the post. Several hangouts, face-to-face meetings and countless interactions on Twitter later and John and Julie decided to take their relationship to the next level – they became friends on Facebook!
Keep it simple Simon: Building relationships
I hated the game Simple Simon when I was a child but now I remind myself all the time of the value of simple, consistent, action when it comes to building relationships. Calling someone to just say “Hi” once in a while has a digital equivalent – popping your head around the door of the groups you are in on LinkedIn or tapping the Like button on Facebook let’s people know that they are in your thoughts and you have seen what they are doing. Of course, following up with more substantial communication is still important.
Three tips for offline and online networking
These three activities will enrich all of your relationships, both online and offline:
1. Foresight – before you meet up with a business connection, is there anything in their social media that indicates they are seeking help right now?
2. Insight – when you are with someone (whatever the environment) listen actively and keep thinking about how you may be able to help them.
3. Hindsight – follow up – the most overlooked activity in networking and the most powerful.
Networking is essential to business success, and its digital evolution means that it has never been easier for small businesses to make and develop important connections. The key, however, is to combine online networking with offline – so don’t always choose a Google hangout over a coffee catch-up.
Simon Phillips is author of The Complete Guide to Professional Networking: The Secrets of online and offline success