Learn why building relationships is important for business success. Plus, access new school (and some old school) tips for building up your network.
Networking is a dreaded word for many. Our socially-distanced world has made networking more difficult in some respects, but easier in a few ways too. What hasn’t changed is the need for business owners to build and maintain a trusted network. With the following strategies at your disposal, you can learn how to sustain existing relationships and expand your network.
The Benefits of Networking for Your Business
Before diving into how to network in a virtual world, let’s discuss why you should want to in the first place. Business networking provides several tangible and intangible benefits, including:
- Future business opportunities can arise when you build relationships with other small business owners. For example, if you own a software business and your new connection needs the services you provide, instead of searching Google, they may reach out to you.
- Trusted advice—they say it takes a village to raise a child. Running a business is no different. Finding people with different skill sets from different niches can provide insights you can only gain through experience.
- Building your brand with word-of-mouth advertising is one of the oldest, yet most effective, ways to increase profitability.
- The satisfaction of helping others—Lastly, networking should not be a one-way street. Offering advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs can provide a genuine sense of fulfillment from helping your business community.
The Best Social Networking Sites for Your Business
Before choosing social networks, it’s important to consider what type of business you run and who your target audience is. For promotional purposes, most social media sites provide useful tools and the ability to advertise. However, for networking, focus on these three:
- LinkedIn: If you run a professional services company with a B2B or highly-educated audience, your best bet is LinkedIn. This is the most popular business networking site for good reason.
- Facebook: If you own a company that produces consumer products and your audience is in the B2C niche, Facebook offers a less formal medium for you and your business to interact with others.
- Shapr: As a modern networking app, Shapr’s swiping function to approve or reject connections allows users to build professional business relationships based on shared interest, profession, and location.
LinkedIn messages have led to new opportunities for 35% of networkers.
—Source: LinkedIn News
5 Steps to Effective Online Networking
- Network with Intent
Having 20,000 LinkedIn connections won’t do you any good if you don’t have a goal in mind. Determine if you’re seeking direct business opportunities, advice from peers, to present at speaking engagements, write guest blog posts, or something else entirely.
- Engage with Others on Social Media
Post articles, share content, like and comment on other people’s posts and send personalized messages to the people you really want to connect with. Social media is much like running a business: you get back what you put in.
- Join “Groups”
Both Facebook and LinkedIn have useful groups features. Start or join groups based on your interests and business knowledge. With regular engagement, you can build a reputation as an expert in your field—attracting new leads in the process.
- Take It to the Next Level
Interacting on social media is great, but to form truly lasting and genuine relationships with other entrepreneurs, go old school with 1-on-1 interactions. Schedule phone calls or Zoom meetings to offer or ask for advice or pitch collaboration ideas.
- Maintain Existing Connections
Continue interacting with your new contacts beyond the first (virtual) face-to-face meeting. Lasting connections require value + consistency.
How to Break the Ice and Get Interest from Prospective Connections
Sending generic messages to complete strangers will fall flat in the vast majority of cases. As a business owner, you’re aware of how time-strapped your fellow entrepreneurs are. In order to grab attention quickly, use this proven template:
- Provide a personal connection
- State your purpose
- Directly ask for a response
Here’s an example:
“Hey John, I saw we travel in similar circles and both have a passion for the Jets. Can you believe they traded Smith? Terrible decision in my opinion. Anyway, I wanted to pick your brain about [business topic] since you seem to be well-versed. Do you have a few minutes to chat this week? –[Your Name]
Never Forget Your Roots
As a final piece of advice, don’t forget to tap into your existing networks. These could include past employers or employees, your high school or college alumni network, acquaintances or friends and family. The most useful connections are often hiding in plain sight.
Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial or tax strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Santander Bank.
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