I’ll be honest. For years, the idea of networking made me cringe. I always felt as if a ‘network’ was something other people had. You know, the ones who wanted to climb to the top of the corporate tree. I used to go to professional networking events and end up talking to my own colleagues. . I’m fairly sure that wasn’t the idea. The main problem was the fact that ‘open networking’ always meant ‘milling around drinking’. Whilst I’m certain there are people who can march up to a total stranger and introduce themselves, I’m not one of them.
Of course, building a network is incredibly important to me now. It’s a source of support, knowledge and, increasingly, work. Thankfully I learned that there are different ways to network. Networking in person can involve sitting down for a delicious lunch rather than lurking in a corner with a cold cup of coffee. If the idea of meeting face to face is really too daunting, you can head for social media. Some of my first clients were online contacts that I met on LinkedIn or via Facebook groups.
Where will you find your network?
If you’re a local business with physical premises it makes sense to network locally. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go online. There are more and more community groups and local selling sites setting up where you could find plenty of customers.
For me, online networking is a no-brainer. I can write copy and send it anywhere. Equally, there are plenty of business owners in my neighbourhood that I can get to know in person.
The advantage of an online network
How you network online depends on what you use. Each social media platform has its own rules. Different groups on a single platform, like Facebook, will have their own dynamic. There are places where you can go and rant about a terrible day or a bad customer. Equally, there will be others where such behaviour is frowned upon. You can ‘meet’ and do business with people on the other side of the world if your product will travel that far.
Unless one of your real world contact joins the same group as you, the odds are that you will never meet any of these people. You can say things that you would never say to your family and friends knowing that you’re relatively anonymous. If you decide to move on you can generally make a clean break. It’s unlikely that anyone will remark on your absence unless you’re a central figure in the group.
And there’s the flip side. You might be able to share but you won’t have the benefit of advice from anyone who genuinely cares about you. That’s where a real world network comes in.
As much as online networking broadens your horizons, sometimes you need real human contact. I can always be in touch with people sitting at my computer, but eventually I want to go and see my actual friends.
I’ve also found that people don’t always know whether they need a writer. It’s easy to skip past an online article if you don’t think it applies to you. But when you sit next to a writer at lunch and talk about blogging, suddenly the penny drops.
Combine the two
Of course, on and offline networking aren’t mutually exclusive. You can arrange to meet an online contact if you want to. Even better, social media allows you to keep in contact with the people you met in person.
What kind of networking do you prefer? Drop me a comment and let me know!