Online networking has been around for many years but, in recent events, it has become a vital way for business owners to maintain their relationships and keep their communication channels open. With COVID-19 driving more people to work from home and online, the situation has highlighted just how essential it is to focus efforts into creating and maintaining a strong online presence.
So, what is online networking?
It is a free and effective way of building connections and relationships with other business owners, potential clients or even just to make a like-minded friend. It’s just like regular networking, but using a different method and with many added benefits.
Online networking can occur anywhere online, with one of the most popular sites being LinkedIn, although other sites such as Instagram and Facebook are also popular. These sites host many active and communicable businesspeople to talk to, as well as great opportunities for future prospects. The beauty of being online is that it costs nothing to network and can feel much less awkward than trying to appeal to someone directly in person. With such vast accessibility online, paired with how easy it is to connect with others in relevant fields, it’s no wonder online marketing has become so popular and will continue to thrive even after COVID-19. So, how can online networking benefit you and your business?
How can online networking help small businesses?
Networking is essential for any small business and can be the perfect opportunity to reach out to larger audiences, establish and increase connections, as well as promote your business. Here are just a few of the key ways in which online networking is beneficial:
Building an online presence and brand credibility.
Without a bottomless budget for marketing and advertising, smaller businesses often need to work hard to increase their exposure to both potential customers and other professionals. By engaging with other like-minded individuals with connections from similar fields, you will introduce your business and brand to an ever-expanding group of people.
This leads to building meaningful interactions and relationships that will increase the chance that someone will refer to your business, enlist your services, purchase your product or engage with your message. Brand credibility could be the difference between converting potential interest into a solid sale; after all, it’s far more likely a person will recommend a reputable business they trust over a business they don’t know anything about.
Making connections and boosting opportunities.
Online networking is extremely accessible, as it is free for anyone who has an internet connection. Social media profiles make it easy to identify a person’s area of expertise and the business they represent, and networking sites such as LinkedIn are ideal, particularly as they suggest individuals who might be more likely to be open to networking with new people.
By making one connection, you open the door to their connections as well, which becomes an exponentially increasing network of people that can open the door to more opportunities. Another business owner may have a mutually beneficial opportunity, which you could be perfect for, or a referral that could boost your sales and exposure.
When making these connections and engaging with new, like-minded people, you’re more likely to come across individuals ready to share great advice who may even be willing to take on a mentoring-style role. Having someone experienced in your industry who is ready to share their advice can be the perfect opportunity to get real answers for day-to-day issues; how should you deal with a particular client? Which area of your business should you be focusing on more? Naturally, this advice should ideally come from those who have been successfully running their business for a while.
The do’s and don’ts of online networking.
Online networking requires an adaptive approach compared with face-to-face communication, as the mechanics are different. As we can only type at around half the speed that we can speak, we need to convey a more precise message and get the tone right when reaching out. However, with a little thought and strategy, it will be effective and very easy.
Have something to offer.
While you may be searching for connections to help build a network of connected individuals to benefit your business, so is everyone else. You may find that many people are willing to answer your requests and help you out, however, you also need to be ready to offer something back and thank them for their help and contribution. In return, it could be as simple as providing a testimonial or a recommendation for their online profile!
Research research research.
A major advantage of networking online is the benefit of being able to research the person you intend to connect with before you interact. You can take the time to identify businesses within your industry before researching and reaching out to the people behind those organisations. From this, you can tailor a more specific message, which is more likely to pique their interest and better establish the connection.
Don’t overdo it.
With how easy the internet makes networking, it’s like being opened up to endless possibilities. However, as enticing as it might be to connect with as many people as possible, you don’t want to risk overextending yourself, as it can become increasingly harder to disconnect from the online world and focus on other areas of your business.
Don’t give up.
Online networking still takes time, so don’t become discouraged if a few people haven’t responded to your messages or requests. It’s important to remember that some people may just take more time than others to reply and formulate a response. With time, you will begin to notice your connections grow, but you have to stick with it.
As the networking world thrives online, it’s a key step for any small business to continue to grow their connections and increase their brand credibility. With the accessibility and freedom of online networking, there’s no reason not to!