Yep, the age of effective online networking has truly dawned. LinkedIn, Tribemine , Skype, Zoom, WordPress and Youtube have changed the networking landscape to the point that even a shy introvert like me has learned how to network like a pro.
Sure, some people still love their in-person meetups and relish attending conferences, but for many of us, these events can not only be expensive, they can be downright scary. So, thank heavens that online networking has become more and more of a “thing” over the past few years, allowing me – and my fellow socially awkward “event periphery lurkers”– to avoid the jarring noise and sweat-inducing pressure of having to engage with strangers and risk being shamed, embarrassed or ignored.
However, not having to actually meet anyone is not the only advantage of networking online.
Other advantages include being able to potentially connect with people anywhere in the world, people you would never otherwise be able to meet, not to mentioned the sheer, and quite obvious, convenience of being able to engage with your network using the slivers of time that you otherwise be using to scroll through Facebook or watch funny cat videos. The long and short of it is that online networking is convenient.
That’s all very well, I hear you ask, but how are you supposed to build network connections online? How do you get the most out of the time you invest in building online relationships?
This is where we take pages out of the books of the pros, those folks whose networks are the foundations upon which their successful businesses are built. I have researched many of their techniques for building stellar networks and have found a few common things that they all seem to do.
Without further ado, here are those things.
Know Your Stuff
When you meet someone in person, you have the luxury of telling them all about who you are and what you do. However, you can’t so this when reaching out to someone online for the first time. Well, you could do this, but it’s a surefire way to have the other person not reply to your outreach.
Instead, you have to prepare the ground for the person you are reaching out to so that they can find out as much as they would like to know about you. You need to pique their interest so that they will be willing to find out more about you.
You make it easy for them to do this by creating inter-linked repositories of information in prime locations on the Internet. The text and images you include here will speak for you, so it is essential that it is honed to be concise and effective.
For best results, make sure that you have done the following;
- Your Linkedin profile should be complete and up to date (including a photo of you). This will most probably be the first place people will look. Also make sure that you include all of your contact information and links to your websites and blog, if you have one.
- Your Tribemine personal and business profiles should also be complete in case they are also Tribemine members.
- Your website should look professional and all be up to date. This is one of the most important marketing tools you can have and is well worth investing in as you can tell anyone who visits it all about you and what you do or sell. You can include more information about yourself on the “About” page.
- If you have a blog, make sure that you post articles fairly regularly. This will not only show that you are knowledgeable about whatever it is you do, but it will offer visitors valuable insights that will help establish you as an expert in your field.
- If you have any sales funnels or landing pages that you have linked to from anywhere, make sure that they work and are current.
It’s always a good idea to hone your elevator pitch as well so you have it on hand if someone invariably asks what you do. Even if no-one does, it’s still a great exercise for understanding exactly what it is that you do from the perspective of potential clients.
Choose Your Platform(s)
You want to focus on one or perhaps two platforms through which you will reach out to and engage with your connections.
One platform that all the pros use is Linkedin, for obvious reasons. It is the best viable “source” website where you can find virtually everyone who is serious about business. What is more, most people have a profile on LinkedIn, allowing you to determine if they would be a good fit for your network or not.
Use LinkedIn to reach out to prospects by requesting to connect. Once connected, you can engage with them through LinkedIn as well as elsewhere – depending on which platforms they favor. I favor e-mail as it is most direct and you are not limited but if you cannot find their email address, you can use LinkedIn to communicate.
I would also suggest using Tribemine to manage your connections as it is the only dedicated networking CRM out there.
Quality, Not Quantity
Okay, here’s a big takeaway from the pros. Focus on building quality relationships not racking up as many connections as possible. The depth of your relationships with your connections will determine their value to your network.
A network with 10 first-rate connections that have been nurtured over years will be far more valuable and rewarding than a flimsy network of 1000 connections who you have communicated with only once – when you invited them to connect with you.
Plan Your Network
As with anything in life, preparation (in this case, planning) makes perfect. Your network is no different.
The networking pros are very careful about who they include in their networks. They don’t just connect with anyone. This doesn’t mean that they turn everyone away who isn’t a highly successful potential connection, but they will adopt a “wait and see” attitude towards anyone who engages with them to determine whether or not that person can offer their network any value.
It’s important to research everyone you intend to reach out to as potential network connections to make sure they are positive, proactive and professional. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t turn away anyone who engages with you, but you should actively be in control of who is in your network.
Beyond planning who you want in your network, many networking pros plan out what they want from each connection in the medium to long term. This may be a joint venture, a collaboration or a sale. However, this target should be seen as a bonus and should not be the reason for connecting in the first place.
It is also a good idea to periodically review your network to strip away the “dead wood” (those connections who offer your network no value).
I first learned about the concept of “circles” in “How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits” by Judy Robinett. Circles are basically groups to which connections can be assigned according to their value to your network.
Using the Tribemine circle system as an example, imagine your circles as three concentric circles with you in the middle. Your “Core” circle is the one closest to you and contains your closest connections, those with whom you connect every one to two weeks and who you can count on to support you, whatever you are doing. You should have about ten Core connections.
Outside of that is your “Inner” circle, those connections you reconnect with every month or so. These are people who are valuable to your network and are proactive as well as reciprocate your interest in their lives and businesses as well as the help you offer them. You should have around 40 to 50 Inner Circle connections.
Beyond that is your “Outer” circle of connections with whom you stay in touch with every two to three months. They are willing to engage with you but are not as reciprocating as your Core and Inner Circle connections. You should have around one hundred Outer Circle connections. These are not merely subscribers to your newsletter, however. These are people who you are tracking (using a tool like Tribemine to create and maintain a profile of each of them, for example).
As time passes and relationships develop, you will find some Outer Circle connections graduating to your Inner circle while others fade into obscurity, being replaced by new Outer Circle connections.
According to Jim Rohn, you are the average of five people you spend most of your time with. While you aren’t actually “spending time” with your online connections, you will be interacting with them fairly often.
Wouldn’t it make sense, therefore, to surround yourself (virtually) with people who are slightly above your level of success? Over time, as you interact with them and start to learn how they have become as successful as they have, some of their success will hopefully rub off on you.
If you involve yourself in their lives and businesses in a positive and proactive way (without becoming a nuisance), you will find that they will give you advice, assistance, and introductions to successful people in their own networks.
As you become more and more successful, you will have the opportunity to add new, even more successful connections to your network, effectively elevating yourself (and your existing connections).
Find a Way to Help
The best networkers love to help others. They are quite willing to spend time, effort and even a little money supporting those in their networks with advice, feedback and even the purchase of products.
This willingness to help without the expectation of a reward, is what sets the real networkers apart from the “wannabes”. I have been blown away by the generosity and pure selflessness of such iconic networkers as Bill Doerr and Patrick Galvin, who “walk the talk” by going that extra mile for those they meet without expecting anything in return.
But you may be saying to yourself, “How do I find out HOW I can help my network connections?” That’s fairly simple. Everyone in business needs positive feedback; reviews or their products or services, comments on their blogs, sharing of their content on social media and so on. It’s not difficult and it’s not difficult or time-intensive if you set up a system to make it part of your routine.
Every now and then, you’ll be presented with a golden opportunity to really help one of your connections by doing something special. That could be writing a hand-written thank you card or sending them a wedding gift of get-well card. These little gestures can really supercharge your relationships with the connections you do this for.
Give, Give, Give and Give Some More
The networking pros give without asking for anything in return.
If you want to really elevate your networking game, then you should do the same. Sure, we are all in business and we can’t just give, give, give all the time without getting anything in return. However, when we give to our connections, many will ask how they can help us in return when we have proven that our intentions are honorable and that we are honest and trustworthy.
If they don’t ask how they can help us, we can introduce the idea of whatever our goal is to see if they are open to it. However, be careful of cutting them loose just because they don’t want to buy from you. If they are positive, proactive and professional members of your network, then they have value beyond merely buying from you and should be retained as part of your network because they are good connections.
Know When to Ask
As mentioned above, there can come a time when you want to introduce your connections to what you have to offer – if they haven’t inquired already. This should be done carefully and only when you have been helpful to them on several occasions and your relationship has developed to the point of familiarity.
You should also be sure that your connection might get something out of what you have to offer. Don’t try to sell to everyone. It must be something they would most probably look at buying anyway.
The way you ask is of the utmost importance. Be sure never to be “salesy” and never “pitch” them. Instead, mention what you offer in conversation and invite them to take a look at your offer on your website. A good idea is to offer them a promotional discount as the justification for bringing it up.
Position your offer so that it comes across as part of your genuine desire to help. After all, whatever it is you are offering will help them in some way and because they know and trust you, they can rest assured that you have their best interests at heart. Your connection will be appreciative, even if they don’t take you up on your offer.
Network Your Network
This is huge. Pro networkers make sure to introduce members of their network to other members of their network. They won’t only ask those in their network for help, advice and support on behalf of one of their connections but will ask their connections to ask the members of their own networks in turn.
This is where the magic of networking really kicks in. Let’s say, for example, you have a Core Circle of just 10 really close connections, and each of those people have the same, and each of their connections in turn also have just 10 high quality Core connections, then you have effective access to 1000 highly motivated, highly proactive people who are eager to help. That’s a level of access to advice, assistance and resources that is off the charts.
Okay, this one is even “more huge” than the last one! Following up is the key to building your network relationships online. If you don’t follow up regularly, you might as well not even start.
Following up requires more than just sending a “Hi. How are you?” type of e-mail. It requires providing some value – especially at the beginning of the relationship. Yes, you should be courteous and inquire into the other person’s well-being and ask what they are up to BUT there must be an ostensible reason for you to send the message.
Perhaps you send a link to an article, video or podcast related to your connection’s business or interest, or one they might find interesting. You could comment on an article they wrote or a podcast or video they posted. You could send them congratulations on a recent achievement. You could even ask them a question about their developments in their business, which you might be able to pick up from their website or blog (don’t ask for advice, just a question that shows you have invested some time in getting to know their business and industry).
You can also be sure to post comments if they share anything on LinkedIn and share any articles they post or share – especially in the first few months of your relationship with them. They will get notified that you have done this and they will start to recognize your name after a while.
So, how can you make sure you are able to reconnect with your connections regularly? You need a reminder system. I use Tribemine as it will not only remind you when it’s time to reach out to your connections, but you get to store everything you know about each connection in a detailed profile. That means you can simply pick up with each connection where you left off the previous time you contacted them, even if it has been several months since last touching base with them.
Meet in Person
I know I said that I usually recoil from in-person meetings due to shyness, but I do realise the importance of meeting people face-to-face.
The fact is that I don’t like meeting strangers face-to-face. However, where my online network connections are concerned, I have built up an online relationship with them over several months or years and so meeting them in person is much less daunting. They are friends. I know a lot about them and they know a lot about me. That’s why I advise that when an opportunity comes up to meet “in the flesh”, so to speak, then you must jump at it. I do.
And, if you plan to attend a conference or other event, find out if any of your connections are also attending and organize a meetup so that everyone from your network who will be there can meet one another.
So, there you have it. Follow the steps above and you’ll pretty much be able to build a business network like the pros do. One thing I did not mention, and it’s most probably the most important requirement for building your network; perseverance. You have to put in the time to get the results. Building an uber-awesome network takes a long time. Don’t let that get you down, though. It’s fun and rewarding – even if you are shy or introverted.
And as every networking pro will attest, it’s well worth the time, money and effort.