For any business owner, freelancer, or startup entrepreneur, networking is an absolute necessity. Making connections, meeting potential clients, and becoming a part of your local business community will all help your business to grow. But what if you’re not a fan of networking?
The good news is, there are ways to get around the in-person networking events and still have a positive impact on your business. These tips are not supposed to be a replacement, however, for going to business breakfasts or industry seminars! They’ll help you gain confidence with networking, make you hate it less, and perhaps even show you that you, in fact, are a great networker!
Identify Who You Want To Talk To
Sounds obvious, but bear with us on this one. It’s so important to know the person you’re seeking out, so that you don’t get fobbed off in the initial contact stages.
Choose a group of companies that you want to connect with, either for business partnerships or as potential customers. Don’t pitch them yet!
First, find the right person – and this isn’t always the CEO or Founder. Remember that the most powerful connection isn’t always the one with the ultimate buying power: your network should be made up of a mix of purchasers AND referrers. If you can get someone on your side, no matter if they have buying power or not, a word-of-mouth referral from them to the person with the purse strings could do a lot in your favour.
A quick Google and a look around the company’s website will tell you who works in your specific sector and you should be able to find some contact details. If not, never fear: that’s where the next step comes in.
The most obvious way to network without having that awkward having-to-talk-to-people-in-real-life thing is to hop onto social media platforms. We live in a digital age, make the most of it!
LinkedIn is in a league of its own when it comes to online business networking, where you can get stuck in with groups and forums, as well as share articles and connect with people. It’s also fab for getting in touch with those individuals you identified in the first step, but couldn’t get hold of an email address for. Find a way to connect with them, either by sending an Inmail or asking a shared connection to introduce you.
However, it’s worth branching out into at least one additional social platform to reach a wider audience.
Join Facebook groups, curate Twitter lists, find hashtags on Instagram, pin your content on Pinterest. Just, whatever you do, don’t shout AT people.
Social media is exactly that: social. Talk to people! Comment on other people’s posts – and not always with a shameless plug about your business.
You’ll find that the more engaged you become on your chosen social channels, the better response you’ll get when you DO post something about your business. If you’ve been busy sharing your insights and expertise with others in your field, viewers will see you as an authority in your sector. They’ll start to come to you for advice – and this is how your network really begins to work for itself.
Try finding groups online that are a sideline interest to you, too. For example, if you’ve got a startup that sells bespoke kitchens, join groups for entrepreneurs, new businesses, and even tradesmen. You’ll find that the more you put in, the more recommendations you’ll receive.
Say It With A Note
You could always go old-school, too. Have some cool postcards printed up, identify the businesses in the area you’d like to introduce yourself to, and send them a postcard!
Everyone likes receiving post and a hand-addressed postcard will speak volumes about your commitment and personal interest in their company.
Be sure to include your contact details and try to write a line or two about why their company, in particular, is one you’d like to connect with. If you’re still not ready to meet in person, perhaps suggest a Skype call or invite them to email you in response, to get the conversation started.
Have A Follow-Up Plan
Whether you’ve sent a handwritten note or liked someone’s posts, be sure to take it to the next step. Networking is definitely work – people won’t just flood to your door after one article share! You need to create a system for following up.
Keep a notebook on your desk, or a jotter pad app on your smartphone, and write down any contacts of interest. It could be someone who has a great blog, or who always shares their sound advice on a Facebook group, or who emailed back in response to your first letter.
The next step is to continue to stay in touch with them. If they were responsive to your postcard, think about sending an invitation to an event.
Gasp! Yes, that’s right, you will have to meet people eventually.
But, if you do it on home turf, your confidence will rocket. So when you’ve got a list of warm contacts, host a cocktail party. You could even do it at your office if it’s presentable (and not a corner of your kitchen). Hold it under the pretence of an occasion (near Christmas, perhaps, or as a product launch – but mind that the sales pitch doesn’t overpower everything), and you’ll receive a much better response rate than ‘just a party’. Even if it’s to celebrate the launch of your company, that’s a pretty good reason to party!
Use this cocktail party to circulate, and introduce your new contacts to each other. Make yourself seem like a pro networker… fake it ‘til you make it! Use the event to get to know clients, show your warm (and not pushy and salesy) personality, and show off your products.
Invest in some subtle marketing: some product brochures here, a roller banner in the corner there. Make sure you hand a business card to every single person that walks through the door, and take one in return.
So you can send the personalised follow-up thank you note, of course.