As a small business owner, you probably feel as if there aren't enough hours in the day to meet your professional and personal commitments. So when it comes to networking, it can be difficult to find the time to attend in-person events.
Fortunately, there are a number of good opportunities to network online, which means you can reach out to people when it's most convenient for you. To make the most of online networking, keep the following tips in mind:
- Use LinkedIn to your advantage. With LinkedIn, you can post updates about your company, as well as publish thought leadership articles to gain more following. In addition, you can join groups where you can connect with other business owners and people who share the same interests.
- Use other relevant networking sites. There are many other online sites dedicated to networking. Social media giant Facebook, for example, provides business pages that allow you to interact with customers and other professionals. There are also smaller sites such as Upspring, StartupNation, and Ryze, which are used by entrepreneurs looking to connect with peers and learn more about how to grow their businesses. Other good places to network online are alumni associations and professional organizations.
- Ensure your profile is professional and consistent across all sites. People will review your profile before connecting be consistent with your profile across all your networking accounts.
- Strive for quality rather than quantity. It's tempting to connect with as many people as possible so your network grows quickly. But while you can build a network consisting literally of hundreds of contacts in a short period of time, in most cases, those people don't know who you are or what you do. If, instead, you focus on establishing and maintaining quality connections, your network might be much smaller—but you'll have a genuine connection with everyone in it. And that's far more conducive to getting referrals, exchanging ideas, and other types of interactions.
- Research the person you're communicating with. Before engaging in a conversation with someone or asking for something, make sure you've reviewed his or her profile. That will allow you to find common ground; plus, it will prevent you from making assumptions about that person's professional experience.
- Always be polite and professional. When you're networking, you're representing your business, so always maintain the standard of excellence you demand from yourself, your employees, and your product or service. Answer messages in a timely manner, make sure your writing is grammatically correct, and avoid unprofessional behavior.
- Reciprocate. Maintaining a strong network is about creating win-win situations. If someone gives you a referral, thank him or her and consider reciprocating if you have the opportunity.
Small business owners can benefit greatly from online networking. Keep the above tips in mind while delivering a quality message to help you see the results and opportunities online networking can offer.