How many times have you heard these expressions? “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” “People do business with people they like.” While I’d argue that a combination of what you know and who you know is more accurate, these statements often ring true.
Over the last 2 years as we’ve struggled with economic downtown, networking has become essential. Marketing yourself or promoting your business by making personal connections is more popular than ever. I feel the emergence of social media outlets is in part a response to the sluggish economy. Professionals are seeking any opportunity to promote themselves; being able to do so for free is very enticing.
While some may argue that social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are the downfall of making in-person professional connections, I disagree. It has been my experience (and that of many other entrepreneurs I know) that the internet has been the first step towards developing lasting business relationships.
When I started my company in 2009, I turned to the internet to connect with other professionals. Until that point I was accustomed to reporting to an employer, arriving at the same law office every day and only interacting with other staff. I knew many people in the Fraser Valley, but didn’t purposely engage in networking with the intent of furthering my career.
Initially, I used Facebook and email to connect online with people I already knew and tell them about my business. I then joined Twitter and several Meetup.com groups and began making intentional connections with local entrepreneurs.
As a result of developing relationships with people online I have gained business partners and been offered work, positions on boards of directors and opportunities to collaborate on projects. I have also developed a core group of fellow Fraser Valley professionals whom I regularly meet in person with the intention of supporting and encouraging one another in our ventures.
I also network through organizations who don’t originate online. Despite the plethora of internet networking opportunities, I still can’t emphasize enough the importance of participating in a variety of activities. Traditional organizations such as Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs and smaller networking groups continually offer valuable ways to meet potential clients and business partners. Furthermore, they often attract people who may not yet fully engage in internet-based socialization. In the Fraser Valley we are fortunate to have a large number of these groups, from the small and informal to the well-established.
Regardless of whether you’re sending tweets or chatting over breakfast, be sincere with your words and actions. People don’t want constant sales pitches; they want to get to know you as a well-rounded and thoughtful professional. In particular, if you use social media to push out nothing but blatant advertising, expect people to tune out. We are surrounded by advertising every day; networking and use of social media is different in that it’s centered on human connections.
To be an effective networker, seek connections from a variety of sources. Be memorable and professional, but be yourself. Don’t dive in with a sales pitch; instead, think of ways you can encourage or learn from other entrepreneurs and develop relationships of value.Your enthusiasm and expertise will be apparent, and that will attract people to you. Be curious, be authentic, and have fun!