In the age of digital nomads, freelance enterprise, and the gig economy, it can be difficult to build a professional network the traditional way. But you don’t have to let that limit you. Today’s technology may seem like it gets in the way of fostering genuine connections, but the opposite is often true. If you know how to leverage social media and digital communication into a broader network, you can build a system of business connections that goes far beyond your local community. Here’s how.
Lesson #1: Go Face-to-Face
Today’s gig economy is full of phone calls, emails, social media interactions, and the like—essentially, anything but the face-to-face method of doing business. But face-to-face interactions haven’t lost their value in the slightest. If anything, they’re at a premium in the digital age, which makes these face-to-face connections more important than ever.
But if you’re an entrepreneur whose business exists almost solely online, this can be a challenge. How do you get out of your bubble and meet people in the real world?
- Attend conferences. If you exist within just about any niche with a large enough digital following, there will be more than enough opportunities to attend conferences that bring you face-to-face with colleagues and subject matter experts.
- Find co-working spaces. A co-working space in your area is a fine excuse to get out of your bubble and interact with new people. Not everyone will be a valuable business connection, but that’s not always the point.
- Find MeetUp groups. MeetUp.com is full of leisure activities—hiking, salsa dancing, and the like—but it’s just as valuable for networking professionals like yourself. Chances are, your local metropolis already has an active MeetUp group just waiting for new members to join in.
Lesson #2: Enhance Your Social Media Presence
Some criticize social media and say it gets in the way of genuine human interaction. Hogwash. The technology is there for you to find new business connections. Here’s what you’ll need to do on each platform:
- LinkedIn. Join and participate in groups of professional interest to you. It only takes a few moments of your time to participate in a LinkedIn group, but you’ll find that these connections can be far more rewarding than you’d ever imagine.
- Twitter. Find the types of people you would want to engage with and…begin engaging with them. Make sure that you reply, engage, and interact online. Don’t forget to add value with every self-directed post you make on Twitter and make yourself worth the return follow.
- Facebook. Launch a Facebook business presence and interact with customers—and don’t forget to join Facebook groups, just the same way you might interact with people on LinkedIn. Stay connected to your industry and you’ll find that many of the connections rise naturally.
Lesson #3: Don’t Limit Yourself to One Location
This may seem to fly in the face of Lesson #1, but it’s important to remember that instant communication should open new networking opportunities, not limit them. If you can’t get face-to-face interactions, be willing to make connections even on a digital basis with other people like yourself.
When a potential client reaches out to you for a video conference when you’d prefer an email, try indulging them. When you receive a potential lead via email that doesn’t seem like much, give your full effort. Explore every avenue you have available to you, because in the 21st century, you have the advantage of not sticking to one single location.
Lesson #4: Don’t Close Doors
In some professions, you’ll be exposed to a large number of potential clients. Many of these potential clients will deem you not a “fit” for their needs. That’s life.
The important thing to remember here: don’t close any doors before their time. Rather than warn these potential clients that they’re “making a huge mistake” or ignoring them entirely, make sure that you keep them in your Customer Relationship Management software. Let them off nicely. Tell them that if they go in a different direction and it doesn’t work out, you’d still be open to hearing from them.
Not every lead will return to you this way. But some will. There’s no reason to end a potentially lucrative business relationship before it begins just because you feel your pride wounded at any point in the interaction.
Lesson #5: Prepare Yourself to Give a Little More Than You Get
One of the best habits when it comes to fostering new business connections is to stop looking for what you can get from these interactions—and start looking for what you can give.
You’ll see this principle plays itself out across a range of strategies for your business.
In content marketing, you should aim to create content that’s more than worth the price of admission—in this case, a free click to your website. Give away some of your best information. Give away the goods. Spend time and energy on creating something of genuine value so that when people visit your blog, they feel that their time wasn’t wasted.
One of the most effective ways to close a sale is to utilize the law of reciprocity, an essential element from Robert Cialdini’s famous book Influence. The strategy here is simple: you give something away. You do your potential lead a favor. The need to reciprocate will help drive them to take further action with your company.
In business networking, be willing to introduce people to each other. If you’re overloaded on client work or can’t handle any more customers, refer a client in need to someone who can help them. You’ll get nothing out of this interaction, of course. But you will meet the needs of other people, which means you’ll be first in mind when they have something to reciprocate.
In social media, think of what kind of profile you would want to follow. Would you follow you? If you don’t have a large following already, the chances are that the answer is: probably not. Create genuine value with insightful links, relevant sources, and original thoughts.
Building a Larger Network, One Connection at a Time
These lessons are a solid primer on building a larger business network. But try to make a habit out of them. Stop closing the door on leads. Start participating with groups online. Go out beyond your bubble with the intent to see what kind of people are out there. Even if results don’t come right away, you’ll build a larger network of people who know you—and think about you—in no time.