Virtual Networking with the FSB
Nicola: Let’s start off this a simple question? What do you see is the real difference between networking online and networking offline?
Laura: To be honest Nicola, there are some key differences but they are to do with how we present ourselves on screen. Otherwise, networking is networking and we have been doing it since we started school if not before. We found ourselves in a class of say 30 strange kids we have never met before. We got placed next to one of them and over time we built a relationship with several of the others in the room. At the break, we gravitated to those we liked the most, and then had sleepovers with those we trusted – our now best buddies.
Virtual networking is not so dissimilar. At the moment most of us are in key stage 1. We are quickly trying to find our feet. Moreover, it’s not any different to when we join a new business network that meets in real life is it?
What’s very different is the environment. I mean we are all seated in separate rooms, there is no or very little rapport and it’s difficult to engage in small talk. Small talk generates what I call token sharing. It’s how you find those key mutual interests with other people. One of the things I have seen work well is posting a relevant Icebreaker Question for those arriving early to discuss in the online chat.
What’s more we kind of look a bit different, some people have busy backgrounds, others use the virtual screens, some people are looking at the camera, others look like they are talking to someone else in the room.
There is a fine line between seeing facial expressions and seeing body language. We need both to help us understand what the speakers are trying to communicate. Online that is a challenge. The other thing is that hearing becomes difficult online. According to Julian Treasures who wrote How to be Heard, we can assimilate what 1.6 people say at any one time. Online we can’t. Zoom cuts out. It means that it’s really difficult to stop a runaway speaker without disengaging the audience.
Other than that, networking is networking and you need to be strategic to make it work for you.
Nicola: Would you care to expand on what you mean by Strategic Networking?
Laura: Sure, I have a model that I use to describe strategic networking. It is built around the premise that Word of Mouth marketing is the most effective way of getting new business for most (not all) but most businesses.
I have identified 6 key players in most strategic networking plans. Some will have more importance to you than others, depending on your business model. Pretty much all of these strategies can be implemented online …
- New clients – Follow them so you can get to know them AKA stalk them
- Champions – These are people who already love and trust you so stroke them
- Supply Chain – these have a vested interest in your success from a knock-on effect. Encourage them to support you.
- Influencers – are those who are well connected and respected by your targeted new clients. You need to find a way to engage with them
- Competitors – may be a strange subset but think about it? What are they up to and who do you trust to pass on leads when you … are too busy to deliver? Watch them!
- Collaborators – these are those who work with your target client but deliver something else. For example, I am a non-exec but I can introduce my insurance broker to my HR specialist and my HR specialist to my e-Commerce agency. So connect with them
Nicola: Do you think that strategic networking can really work online?
Laura: Of course. Although, it’s important to recognise what you want. For example, I have been posting blogs on my website since dare I say, 2007. At the beginning of this year, I added adverts to my site on the vague notion of adding to my multiple income streams. In April I joined in on a discover prompts challenge. I had to post every day. Other bloggers liked and I liked back, then they commented and I commented back – now I am getting to know these Bloggers and they me. In the meantime, my following has more than trebled and my advertising income whilst small has also trebled.
Nicola: What sort of tools could people have up their sleeve when they go online networking?
Laura: Preparation is essential around realistic goals. Let’s be honest, it’s unlikely you’ll find your ideal connection, at any networking event. However, you might find a spark with someone who is in the room. They could ignite a long-lasting relationship that might then open the door to someone who is important to you.
I did a search some time back on LinkedIn to see if any of my contacts knew anyone in a specific company that wanted support I knew I could offer. One of my contacts from years back whom I’d met on maybe 3 occasions had a significant relationship with the Sales Director. I first emailed to suggest a chat and why – he said yes then he gave me almost an hour’s worth of supportive information behind the company and what they needed. He also introduced me to a key player on the team, for more information. A contact worth its weight in gold don’t you think?
Nicola: To summarise then, Laura, what are your three ‘Virtual’ takeaways?
Laura: Know who you want to connect with and why? Create yourself a referral pitch – how and why your network might introduce you to your ideal client. Find ‘active’ online groups and participate.
PS – You can access my online learning videos for free at any time from the Laura McHarrie YouTube Chanel. The Playlist is called Get Networking.