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Effective Networking in the Digital Age
  • 05 September 2018
  • Tiffany C Wright

Effective Networking in the Digital Age

For many small business owners, business development is a primary driver of sales, particularly for those firms that cater to other businesses, regardless of whether those are small, large or in-between. Networking in the digital age has made many aspects of business development easier. Instead of collecting business cards after an in-person meet and greet event and then organizing those cards in a Rolodex for follow-up, you have many other options today. You can now scan and upload business cards, send out invitations to connect on LinkedIn or both. Here are some insights and helpful hints to enable you to leverage various digital options to build meaningful off-line relationships.

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Be Creative

The key is to leverage online and digital resources to connect, enhance and strengthen business relationships. According to Forbes, you need to be creative. Instead of only looking at industry events or business events targeted at organizations like yours and close to home, consider fundraisers, general networking or similar events that you would not normally attend. Investigate these to determine which ones would likely attract people that you would like to connect with. You can scan the events section of local and regional publication websites, search Meetup, or explore the local community organization websites for events that suit you and your business. A quick search online for “business networking events” should bring up a wide variety of different local organizations and events to consider.

Really Leverage Social Media

Depending on whether you focus on B2B or B2C, fully leveraging LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook can really help drive sales. Social media offers you a way to connect and engage with consumers in real time. Keep in mind the main purpose of networking is to drive other means of developing your overall business, to establish relationships with other professionals that can help you expand your reach and influence sales. Partnerships with complementary businesses, new sales channels, potential wholesale or multiple-purchase customers are all opportunities that you could source through social media. You could also find service providers, including accountants, attorneys or other professionals who can help you build your company.

So how do you do this? First, search for relevant groups within Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media channel and join. Second, make sure you actively participate in order to build visibility and rapport. When someone shares something of interest to you, comment on it. The objective is to be able to reach out to people in the group directly without seeming pushy or aggressive.

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Finally, if you read something in the local business press about a person or company that you want to meet, use that press, whether in print or online, to reach out to that person through social media. For example, if someone was recently promoted at a firm you want to engage with, congratulate them via Twitter or LinkedIn. Be sure to tag the person’s handle (e.g., @theupsstore) to ensure that they see the post. This is a relatively easy, but very underutilized, way to get someone's attention.

Follow-Up Is Key

After you meet someone, whether it’s online or off-line, follow-up is crucial. All relationships require nurturing. The beauty of digital media is that it’s so easy to follow up. You can email or text articles that may be of interest to your contact. You can save their birthdays or the names of their children in your contact database – whether that’s a traditional CRM like Salesforce or something like Google or Outlook. You can periodically comment on their updates or ask their opinions on the social media platforms.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

You may come from a sales background and be a whiz at getting out and meeting people, but many small business owners are not. Digital applications make introducing yourself and following up with people so much easier, but you still have to get out and meet with people. The only way to increase your comfort is to do it. Send that message through LinkedIn asking if that VP would like to join you for lunch or coffee. Do you have extra tickets to a baseball game, which you know is your new contact's favorite sport? Send a quick invitation note via email or LinkedIn and follow this up with a call.

Practice Good Etiquette

Finally, practice good business etiquette. Don’t hound someone within a group for a response. Refrain from continually posting only information about your business. These practices could get you removed from the group or even banned from the site. Instead, periodically share useful, insightful information that could help others. These types of shares don’t need to be long. Short, concise comments are often just as useful and appreciated.

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