Building a Business Network in the Digital Age

Networking grows and evolves, and so should your small business. Learn how to keep up with new trends and stay relevant in your industry.
Businessman on Skype
In the digital age, you don’t have to wait for a networking event to connect with people. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Networking today is more than passing out business cards and expecting people to do business with you. It’s imperative to connect both online and offline with potential clients, partners and advisors for your small business.

To help broaden your business network in today’s digital age, Marsha Shandur, networking mentor at Yes Yes Marsha, and Katrina McKay, business coach and CEO of Uplevel Solutions, suggested some simple tips.

Change your thinking

Stop thinking of it as “networking” and, instead, reframe it as “making industry friends,” Shandur said.

“Find contacts that you would want to hang out with irrespective of their position, and build relationships with them. Those are the ones that will endure and reap the most rewards.”

“Relationships are forged between humans, not just business entities, so allow others to get to know you on a personal level,” McKay added. “Yes, you need to have an elevator pitch, but you don’t want that to be the only thing you have to talk about.”

Have an objective

When networking, it’s crucial to have an intended goal – like building contacts or clients – rather than thinking, “I should network” and reaching out to anyone for the sake of networking.

“If your objective is to build contacts who can help with advice and camaraderie, find your local business association or chamber of commerce,” Shandur said. “If it’s to grow your client base, think about who already has an audience of people who might be your potential customers and ‘make industry friends’ with them. This goes for both online and offline.”

So feel free to send out a friendly tweet, Facebook message or email to someone who you believe would be beneficial to your business goals.

“If you do this, you’re showing that you’re interested in them before you need anything. This is going to make them much more likely to want to help you further down the line,” Shandur said.

Expand your idea of what a network looks like

Don’t wait for a “networking event” to connect with people. It’s a good idea to mix things up and test out different groups and situations to expand your network to its fullest potential.

“Look for events with entrepreneurs and business owners with experiences similar to your own and beyond,” McKay said. She also recommended taking advantage of the networking possibilities currently around you.

“If you’re traveling for business and you notice someone is reading a book on marketing you’ve recently read, ask them how they’re enjoying it. Airport lounges are excellent places to meet fellow entrepreneurs, and even investors. Be courteous, conscious of others’ body language, and unafraid. The worst thing that can happen is that someone gives you the cold shoulder. If this happens, move on.”

Create value for others

Your goal should be to make a memorable impression on anyone you’d like connect with again, either online or offline, which means respecting your relationship with them.

“Adding value can mean anything that makes this person’s life better,” Shandur said. “From telling them you liked something they did or said, to sending them a link to an article – work or fun-­related – that they might enjoy. As humans, we’re wired to want to reciprocate. So by adding value long before you need anything, it’s going to make it easier to cash in favors when you do.”

Connect socially

Networking online is all about communicating on social platforms, especially LinkedIn. As a small business owner, you should be doing a lot of it.

“Pick a couple of platforms that your customers respond to, and really kill it,” McKay said. “Publish regularly. And remember to stay on brand.”

Another crucial component to networking online? Staying current. “You must keep your accounts up to date,” Shandur said. “Make sure all of the information is current, and make sure your relevant contact details (website/address/phone number) are easy to find.”

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