No matter what industry you find yourself in, the fact remains that knowing how to network is an essential skill. These days, online networking is quickly taking over more “traditional” forms of business networking, such as trade shows and other industry events. If you’re new to networking (especially online networking), you may be wondering what steps you can take to work your way towards becoming a polished networking professional.
1. Determine Your Goals
The first thing you’ll need to do is carefully assess and determine your goals, both in the short- and long-term. What is your purpose for networking and what do you hope to get out of it? For example, are you looking to connect with potential business partners or investors? Perhaps you’re looking for new clients and customers. Maybe a combination of both. By narrowing down your immediate and long-term goals, you have the basis you need for developing an actionable networking strategy.
2. Choose Appropriate Platforms
There are so many networking platforms available these days that it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which ones are right for meeting your networking goals. If you’re more interested in face-to-face networking, then you’ll want to consider joining local industry meet-up groups and larger trade shows/exhibits. On the other hand, you should also take advantage of the dozens of online networking platforms available to you.
Not only are online networking platforms typically free (or very inexpensive) to sign up for and use, but they don’t require you to travel or deal with any of the logistical challenges that many face-to-face networking opportunities present. This makes it easier to potentially reach out to more people.
3. Fill Out Profiles Completely
Should you choose to sign up for any of the various networking platforms available to you (and you should!), it will also be important to completely and carefully fill out your profile. Often times, users with incomplete profiles are seen as less reputable. Potential clients or business partners may feel that you’re doing the bare minimum to fulfill your networking needs when you try interacting without a complete profile. The people you’ll be networking with want to know as much about you as possible, so take the time to upload a profile image and fill out all other fields prompted of you.
4. Create Your Own Content
One of the best ways to network and build your reputation in an online setting is to create and publish your own content on your various networking platforms. This could be anything from an article or blog post to a fun infographic or instructional video that’s relevant to your industry. When you create your own content, people will naturally begin to see you as an authority within your field (assuming your content is high quality and unique), which may then open up the opportunity for people to reach out to you and network with you further.
5. Post Updates Regularly
When you’re utilizing online networking platforms, it’s important to keep your profile updated with any changes and to post, comment, or otherwise engage on a regular basis. This may mean setting some time aside each day to focus specifically on your networking efforts. Otherwise, users will see that you haven’t updated or used the platform in a while and will be less likely to reach out to you. By remaining active and posting regularly, you open up the doors for meaningful conversation and are able to better network with others within your industry at the same time.
6. Be Responsive to Messages/Comments
When you’re networking online, it’s important that you take the time to respond to all comments and messages that you receive. After all, you wouldn’t brush off or ignore a potential new client or investor who attempted to strike up a conversation at a trade show, would you? By being responsive to messages and comments, you’ll maintain a positive reputation within your network and industry as a whole. This, again, means that you will need to take the time out of your day to focus solely on networking, responding to messages, sending messages to new connections, and the like. It may seem like a lot of work, but the rewards can pay off many times over.
7. Take Advantage of New Opportunities
Finally, understand that while online networking certainly has its benefits over traditional face-to-face networking, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. For example, using online networking tips like these can help you get to know potential connections before you attend an important industry trade show or conference with them. You can even utilize online networking platforms to set up face-to-face meetings if things seem promising enough. The whole point of networking is to connect with people who can help your business (and vice versa), so ultimately you can use it in whatever way works best for your business. Just be sure to always keep your mind open to new ideas and opportunities, and you may be surprised at what a solid networking strategy can do for you.
While nobody is going to become a full-fledged networking professional overnight, the fact remains that these seven steps can help you develop a stronger professional network regardless of your industry or area of expertise. With enough planning and effort, who knows just how far your networking strategy could take you and your business down the road?