Guest Post by Shannon Miller
Struggling with online business networking and don’t know where to start?
Its funny how a “simple” thing, such as having a conversation, causes anxiety. Yes, that tightening in your throat, or that sinking feeling in your stomach. Or maybe sweaty palms and a feeling of overwhelm? It’s not new, it’s not novel but it’s there!
Pinpointing the fear is the first step in building better relationships and networking more successfully.
So how do you overcome that feeling? How do you find a place of ease with this idea of diving into online communities? I view the online space the same way I view the in-person space. If you would have a conversation with someone in real life, why wouldn’t you connect with them online?
My approach to networking is simple, I don’t network. Instead, I create genuine connections and build a real relationship. The way I handle relationships in-person or online is very similar. The first contact online is usually in social media. If I’ve found someone who has similar interests, values and ideas, I do a little research. I find out more about where they socialize online, whether it’s Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I go to the places they frequent.
The most important factor in any online connection though, and something many people don’t consider, is… do I like this person? Is this someone I want to do business with, have a relationship with and who I would like to spend more time with long-term?
Building relationships is often compared to dating, where you want to make the best possible first impression with someone. Online it is much more difficult. Trust online is built over time, just as in-person it is important to always be looking for consistency of messaging and whether the things this person says in social media aligns with the things you value most.
Networking for networking’s sake is dull and quite painful.
Building relationships and having conversations, on the other hand, is way more fun!
It’s all a matter of perspective! You can see it as a joy, OR a painful task. I like to think the opportunities that will come out of building genuine relationships will last for years to come.
Let’s break it down to actionable steps that will help you find YOUR group of people online
1. Be intentional: Understand WHY you are looking for people to network with, and WHO you are looking for, and WHAT you want to talk about before you ever meet them.
- Be specific about the kinds of people you are seeking to build relationships with. My guess is they’re very similar to you, like many of the same things, have the same values and lifestyle.
- Where would you go online to meet “your people?”
2. Do a little research: Understand your potential people before you engage with them.
- Look them up on LinkedIn and other social media platforms
- Get to know their interests outside the business setting by exploring their website and social media.
3. Find something in common: Perhaps you both went to the same university, or both live near the same city, or maybe you both love running and dogs?
- Incorporate your common interest/hobby into your message to them as a way to build connection.
- Ask questions about them, be curious, people love nothing more than to talk about themselves!
4. Message them: This is where most people stall out of fear of rejection.
- You’re already armed with knowledge and background on them that you can use as an automatic touch point.
- Perhaps you want to do business with them, you love a service they provide or their mission statement aligns with the things you value.
- When you message them, keep your message conversational, be you. What’s the worst that could happen
5. Offer value: In your message, include something that you can give them or do for them that they will feel is helpful or valuable.
- Connect them with someone in your network.
- Find a great article or resource you can share.
- Make it personal. For example, you know of the best running trail in your area and you want to share it with them because they love running as much as you do and would appreciate your tip.
6. Give them a reason to stay in touch: When building a relationship, just like when building a business, look ahead to the direction you’d like the relationship to go.
- You’ve connected with this person for a reason, you like them, they like you, make sure you have something else you can offer them of value, whether it’s time, common interests, a meet-up group, etc.
- What can you give that would keep them interested in getting to know you? Give them something they’d be silly to refuse.
7. Follow up and say thank you: Common courtesy will never go out of style.
- Follow up on your email, phone call or online exchange within a few days, usually no more than 3-5 days
- Dig a little deeper into this person’s passions and interests, share more about yourself and what drives you. Be interesting and interested. They will tell you something in their message that sparks an idea for you as to how you can connect more deeply.
- Send a handwritten note. Most of the time you can search on their website and find a business address to send a hand-written note that is thoughtful and shows you care.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to connecting with someone. Networking can be as easy or as hard as we choose to make it. If you’re genuine, want to help people and can offer value in your conversations, people will take notice. Sometimes the people you want to meet are outside your network, but that doesn’t matter – simply start with people you have in common! Work laterally until you can connect directly with the people and influencers that you seek. Kindness, genuine caring and respect are always appreciated, and that’s all it may take to spark a new business relationship, that often turns into genuine friendship later.
About the Author: Shannon is the founder of Powerful Purpose Coaching, and can be found at www.powerfulpurposecoaching.com. She helps people engage their “WHY” to change the world!