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The way we interact with each other has changed drastically. We’ve all felt this to some degree in our personal lives, but what’s most interesting to me is how the pandemic has affected entrepreneurs — specifically how they network.
Networking is one of the most important entrepreneurial skills to develop, and it can have a huge effect on your ability to grow your business. Let’s take a quick look at how entrepreneurs can improve their networking skills post-Covid.
Rethink your networking goals
What comes to mind when you think of networking?
You’re likely imagining some business conference or local meetup that you would attend to prospect for new clients. While these are “networking events,” most people aren’t there to network — they’re there to sell. They have ulterior motives, and the interactions tend to feel disingenuous.
Unfortunately, this sales-first mentality is what many people associate with networking. Even when traditional networking events were being canceled or moved digitally, people have still been finding ways to give networking a bad name.
If you have an active LinkedIn profile, you know this all too well. Your inbox is probably inundated with people looking to connect — only to pitch you their business as soon as you accept. To network better, it starts with rethinking your networking goals. Your intentions should not be sales, but rather relationship building.
Networking is a way for like-minded, interesting and curious people to connect and engage with each other. This should also be your goal, even as an entrepreneur. When you stop focusing on selling and start building genuine relationships, you’ll likely find more business success.
Know where to network online
When I was young, I played poker professionally. I used to go online to learn techniques and strategies to improve my game. I also looked for mentors to help me become a better player.
One of the best places I found was an online poker forum. I was able to post questions, interact with discussion threads, and connect with other players, growing my knowledge and network. I was successful at networking mostly because of the platform. Had I been putting my energy into other channels with a less targeted community, I may not have seen the same results. This example holds true to this day, except now there are even more options.
Should you put your energy into Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Forums, LinkedIn or another networking site? The answer will vary depending on your business and interest.
If you sell a physical product and want to network with potential influencers, consider working on visual apps like Instagram or TikTok. If you’re an entrepreneur looking for business connections, maybe you want to spend time on LinkedIn, join a Facebook group or connect with business experts directly.
The idea is to find which online platform makes the most sense to you and your interests. Don’t be afraid to try something different for a few days or weeks. The internet is filled with diverse and valuable sub-communities, so you could end up stumbling into a great resource if you look hard enough.
Build your digital footprint
Amid the lockdown, people took to the internet and particularly social media to connect with the world. In fact, the average time spent on social media in 2020 increased by seven minutes compared to 2019.
People are yearning for conversations and digital networking opportunities. If you’ve narrowed your focus to specific online communities, the next step is to start developing an identity and voice on those platforms.
These three steps are critical for effectively networking online:
- Build your profile and activity: Your profile is like currency at in-person networking events, but online. Depending on the platform, you’ll have multiple ways to enhance your profile to convey your expertise, personality and interest.
- Find interesting topics and people: It’s now time to venture outside your profile and start exploring the platform looking for topics, posts and people aligned with your networking interests. If you’re an aspiring graphic designer, you may want to connect with digital marketers. You can look for trending hashtags related to marketing or find marketers who are actively posting.
- Join the conversation: A lot of people will follow posts or topics to collect information, but few will actually participate in the discussion. However, joining the conversation is a great way to grow your identity in that space, and it’s one of the best tips to help you when networking online. The more frequently you share within an industry or discussion thread, the more likely people are to associate your name with that topic.
The art of the outreach
Eventually, you may want to take networking to the next level. In most cases, the next step will involve you sending a personal message to the person with whom you’d like to network. This could involve an email, a direct message or some other communication channel. The key here is to approach outreach with finesse and care because you can quickly erase all the hard work you’ve put in previously if you have a poor outreach strategy.
Below are a few outreach tips to help you increase your odds of a favorable response:
- Have a purpose for outreaching: Your purpose for outreaching could be as simple as opening a one-on-one dialogue or more intricate like trying to have that person mentor you. Regardless of what your outreach goal is, you should have one.
- Choose the right method: Keep your intent in mind as well as past correspondence, if any. If you’ve been interacting with their posts on Twitter for months, they’re more likely to recognize your profile picture and Twitter handle than they would an unknown email address.
- Be clear and concise: Regardless of the intent or method, the outreach message itself should remain simple.
- Don’t be afraid to play the long game: You’re not going to marry someone on the first date, and you’re probably not going to reach your outreach goal in the first message. Consider starting your outreach by asking questions to learn more about the person instead of focusing on yourself or your reason for messaging. Not only can questions help you generate a response, but it can also be an excellent strategy for building relationships.
Networking online has become increasingly popular. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to recognize the value of these networking channels and learn how to use these digital tools to grow.
Related: Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Sleazy