“If your business comes from relationships, relationships should be your business.” – Doug Ales
Smart business networking is all about connecting with people productively and profitably. But for startups and small businesses who want to get their great business ideas off the ground, networking can be a challenge. But it shouldn’t be.
There are many ways to network but before becoming proficient in any of these ways, let’s look at the wikipedia definition of networking.
“Networking is a socio-economic business activity by which business-people and entrepreneurs Meet to form business relationships and to Recognize, Create, or Act upon business opportunities, Share information and Seek potential partners for ventures.” -Wikipedia
Focus on the verbs of this quote if you will: Meet (business-people), Recognize (opportunities), Create (opportunities), Act (upon opportunities), Share (information), Seek (partners). Smart business networking depends on using these verbs, these actions, whenever we meet people. Let’s start with the first action term: Meeting people.
Where does a startup go to meet people and network for find and create opportunities?
Many places are convenient for networking, but the very first place business-people should network should be via their very own business website. Why? Because those who find your website online are looking for the kinds of services your business offers. Startups would benefit from installing a live chat application on their business web pages so they can share the information they need. Some website chat applications (like the one SiberName uses) will allow many people to have an instant chat conference in text mode.
A simpler way people can network with you on your website is by adding a Skype conferencing link to your page. You can post a schedule of Skype conferences on your site. Skype will allow you to add several people in live-video conferencing mode and a greater number of people in live chat mode. Furthermore, attendees don’t have to be Skype users to join. This simple way is very effective only if you have very interesting topics to discuss about. SiberName shares it’s Skype link on all its pages and accepts individual chats and has now set up a Skype chat-room to schedule conference chats on frequently asked questions, especially for new customers. An alternative to Skype would be to provide phone numbers for regularly-scheduled phone conferences. I personally use Skype for my weekly chatwalks. I invite friends to walk with me around a popular lake here in Gatineau called Lac Leamy. As we walk we talk about many topics, mostly business related, and I often invite my Skype-friends to join our conversation using my smartphone. You must try this one day!
Another innovative way to network straight from your homepage is by embedding live-streaming video conferences. Live-streamed discussions are fun and attract the greatest number of participants and are ideal for good public speakers. I once facilitated a live stream discussion using Youtube live that was so popular at the time that I was on the air for more than 2 days straight! Since Youtube live also gives you viewer stats, I was amazed to see that I had reached thousands of people. I must admit that I did invite a number of guests to join the Youtube conference live and do much of the talking on air live. I highly recommend this networking method if you have something interesting to discuss (somehow related to your business) and a fast Internet connection.
Websites that have blog pages also provide another opportunity to network. Companies like Sibername not only offer websites where users can add their own blog pages, Sibername itself has a blog site that many of its clients (and prospects) read. Blog articles could be of general interest (Like this one) or be more client-centric. You can also invite your clients as guest bloggers on your blog page. Some of them may be very influential and increase your networking. You can also syndicate your blog by accepting others to repost your blog in their own networks.
If you post blog articles each day at the same time of day many people will subscribe or follow your articles and start a discussion by post comments. I discovered this by accident. When I had just discovered WordPress for the first time I started posting articles each day. I used it more like a journal of things that interested me than a publication for the public. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to say. Then, as I got busier with other things, I stopped posting articles. Then some of my blog followers emailed me and asked me why I hadn’t posted articles for a few days. People I didn’t know, from Europe and the US, were expecting me to post each day. I guess some people liked what I wrote. I created a network of blog friends.
With email.lists and regular email newsletters you can create a huge email network. Email is still the #1 business application on the Internet so it should not be left untried. If you create a form on your website, or a note in your email signature, inviting people to join your mailing list then be glad, you have an email network. This is generally a silent network since the participants usually just read the email and don’t respond to you. But if you design a successful email then your audience will respond and will forward your email and make your network grow. SiberName’s mailing list is now in the thousands.
Going back to the definition of networking, the first action word was Meeting and we’ve discussed a few ways people can meet. There are many more traditional ways people meet (like joining professional associations, business networking clubs, offering Lunch and Learn sessions at companies, van pooling and doing community service) but they may not be as effective for your business as online networking. Traditional business networking events may not have the people you need to connect with, or there are simply too many people to connect with.
I myself have organized live networking events in hotel halls and I can say, from experience, that it’s simply impossible to find ideal people to network with in a hall with 450 people. But my meetings were getting that large and if my members had no transactions or opportunities, my audience would dwindle. I wanted my business networking club to survive so I invented ways for people to Recognize and Create opportunities. The first thing that succeeded was my “Transaction Wall” idea, some called it the “Opportunity Wall”. I laid out “post it” notes and markers on the table. I then instructed the people to write and post the opportunities they wanted (or offered) on the transaction wall. Most people included their cell numbers and email addresses on these notes. You can image that within minutes cell phones were ringing from every direction. The transaction wall helped to Create and Locate local opportunities that my guests Acted upon immediately. From the Transaction Wall idea I then invented the “genie networking system” which made people voluntarily share opportunities with strangers.
Until you business name becomes a brand that people recognize immediately you have to network your way to success.
SiberName: Where Startups Start Up