“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” Albert Einstein
As an entrepreneur and Navy veteran, both celebrating—and fighting for—freedom and independence runs deep within me. I also know that while being able to “labor in freedom” is a real, and hard-earned, privilege, independent isn’t the same as alone. None of us achieve as much solo as we do in community.
In fact, having a strong network has been one of the most important factors in my business success—and the one that’s been the most fun to grow!
You may feel I have an advantage, being a social media expert. And yes, social media has helped make expanding my audience easier (and in 2020, it was especially important), but growing my in-person network has brought amazing benefits too: business collaborations, resources and vendors, referrals… and synchronicity. (And that’s saying something for an introvert like me.)
The right mindset for growing a strong network—online and off
10 years in the “connecting” business has proven to me that social media networking and in-person networking actually have a lot in common. And the more you approach them with the same “give-and-take” mindset, the more successful you’ll be at both.
Today I want to save you time and effort by sharing a few of the most-helpful lessons I’ve learned since launching my business. So, in addition to the four overall lessons below, I’ve also summed everything up in a free download: Networking Practices to Expand Your Audience.
Be one-and-the-same, online and off
How you show up during in person networking should be similar to how you show up in your social media interactions: friendly and personable; professional, yet also a genuine individual with multiple interests, and ups and downs. Showing up more like a corporate spokesperson will make it hard for people to want to connect, in either online or offline settings.
Balance is key: listen some, speak some
In networking, everyone is there to grow their circle—not everyone you meet will be a potential client. But, if that person you meet gets to know, understand, like and trust you, he or she may just introduce you to a friend or associate who is a good fit. And that should be your goal too.
- Listen, ask questions, take notes, meet up for coffee; really get to know your networking associates.
- Polish your business introductions: you’ll want to prepare a one-phrase, a 30 second and a 60 second summary that helps your listener understand WHO you work with, HOW you help, and WHAT you do. (TIP: Assume they know nothing about your industry.)
Use your social skills to be a welcome addition to the room
I’m proof: you don’t need to be an extrovert to get the most out of networking. If you’re new to a group, if may feel like everyone knows one another, but just remember that everyone is ALSO there to make new acquaintances. Our businesses thrive on expanding our network. Remember, too, that we’re all works in progress: we (almost), all become better networkers over time.
- Look people in the eye (though not with a scary fixed stare!) to let them know your paying attention.
- Keep a reasonable distance between you; in a packed after-hours that may be different than a breakfast meeting with social distancing.
- After you’ve spoken for a few minutes, invite someone else to share their story or opinion, or ask someone else a question.
- Ask for someone’s business card (or v-card), if you’re interested in staying in touch; it may prompt them to ask for yours.
Treat your social platforms like virtual meeting places
While plenty of people seem to view their business social platforms as a virtual soapbox where they step up to shout out their news, I encourage you to step down, and extend a hand instead. Think of your social platforms as more like virtual meeting places. At any time of day or night you can interact and take baby steps toward learning about one another through conversations:
- Browsing posts? That’s like approaching a group in mid-conversation; feel free to contribute, keeping on track with the topic.
- Sharing a post? Think of it like inviting people to chat about a new topic at a meeting or party.
- Want to dive deeper into a topic? Take it to DM or maybe even suggest a call or meeting.
Interacting through questions, statements, images, video and/or DM all have the potential to help you and people in your network get to know each other better. I’ve made some very good friends through networking—and through it I’ve been introduced to clients that I would almost certainly never have met otherwise. While advertising and sales are great ways to generate sales short term, growing a strong network online and off will help you and your business enjoy a lifetime of positive returns.