You won’t be surprised to hear me say that social media is a fantastic tool for business networking. But you might be surprised to hear me say that it’s no substitute for the real thing. Let me explain. Lots of business owners use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al to create and build powerful relationships with clients and prospects. That’s great. But, at the end of the day, most social media platforms are just that: social. Except for LinkedIn, their primary function is to help people keep in touch with friends and family – not clients.
To cut to the chase, this is why many small and medium sized businesses practise face to face as well as online networking. Going to networking meetings, and other events such as conferences and workshops, is a great way to meet new contacts and build relationships – and it’s the only way you’ll meet those business owners who choose not to network online (and there are still plenty of them!)
So, if you find yourself overthinking your social media networking and making it the be all and end all of your marketing activities, why not get yourself out of the office a couple of times a week and visit a few networking groups in your area?
Of course, just like with social media, you’ll need to plan ahead for face to face networking. Think about the right location for events you’d like to attend, the people you’d like to speak to and the messages you want to put across about your business and what you have to offer. It pays to do a bit of research in advance and find out about the types of businesses that attend different groups, so you can work out which ones might bear the most fruit.
Having said that, don’t expect to make sales from physical networking straightaway. And don’t ever try to sell yourself directly to the people you meet at events. Yes, it’s OK to talk about what you do and the benefits of working with you during an elevator pitch or 60 seconds if the event features one, but going in with a hard sell is a big ‘No no’. After all, you wouldn’t do it on social media (or shouldn’t – I’m seeing a lot of it around at the moment!) so don’t do it face to face, either.
To give you an example of how to prepare, I recently attended a networking group that I’d never been to before. It was a ‘ladies only’ group, so I took the time to consider my audience and came up with a new 60 seconds that I thought would appeal to the business owners in the room. I’d already decided who I’d like to speak to and made sure I introduced myself during the open networking part of the meeting. Afterwards, I followed up with my new contacts by connecting with them on social media and sending them personalised, non-salesy messages.
As noted above, you can’t expect to get results from physical networking straightaway. You’ll need to persevere and put time and effort into building relationships both online and offline, if you’re to create that all-important Know, Like and Trust. It can be a very slow burn indeed sometimes, as I found out myself when a contact I’ve known for 8 years recently hired me for the very first time! The lady in question knew exactly what I have to offer as we’ve got to know each other quite well over the years and so, when a need arose for my services, I was naturally her first port of call.
To give another example, I was briefly a member of another networking group for a while but eventually left because the cost of membership wasn’t justified by the amount of business I was getting. Despite leaving the group, I made an effort to maintain some of the relationships I forged there. And hey presto! Two of these contacts are now clients.
The moral of the story here is quite simple. Just like social media networking, face to face networking really does work. But it’s not just about what you do, it’s how you do it that counts. Forget about trying to make sales and focus on building relationships and you’ll be on the springboard to success in no time.