Networking can come in many different forms, but in general it boils down to either meeting people face to face or networking online. Face-to-face networking events and meetings are very effective, but can take a lot of time and money in some instances. Online networking is flexible and has lower costs, but may take longer to see any tangible outcomes.
A great place to start is your local council or small business centre. They will often hold networking events or be able to put you in touch with local organisations. Private business may also hold events, which can be really good sources of new contacts although there also might be a hidden agenda to sell their own product or services.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to get yourself on the mailing list for several organisations and then pick and choose which events suit you the best. If you are interested in particular events, call the contact number provided and before you book your place ask the organiser how many people they expect to attend and what industries will be represented at the event.
When you do attend events, remember the golden rule: What can you offer others? Instead of trying to push your business down the throats of everyone you meet, think how you can help them. Maybe they mention the need for a great accountant and you met someone at the last event who had just opened their own practice. Exchange details and follow up within a few days. Both contacts will remember your kindness and hopefully return the favour one day.
If the event serves food and drinks, enjoy yourself; but remember it is a professional event so stick two one or two wines rather than the whole bottle!
You should follow up with new contacts within a few days. Invite them to coffee, ask to add them to your email database or simply send them an email saying it was nice to meet them.
There are dedicated networking sites such as LinkedIn. Keep your profile professional, and don’t post about your personal life too much. Aside from these specific sites, look at other online networks such as local community boards, Facebook business pages and industry specific online networks. You can usually add a company profile and your company website, an image or logo and location maps.
Online networking requires the same general etiquette rules as face to face networking. It is not a place to constantly push your own agenda. This will quickly annoy others and you won’t get much in return. Instead online communities are a place for discussion, legitimate business and sharing of ideas.
With networking, whether face to face or online, you get out what you put in. And like most friendships or business opportunities, things often take time. Relationships need nurturing and effort on both sides. Networking does provide real and true opportunities all over the world so get in and enjoy your journey.