There are different networking styles to compliment each business. Some companies and people at them have varying amounts of time to commit and that's why a various amount have sprung up over the years. Online networking or offline or a bit of both could be more suitable for your business.No one wakes up knowing how to network, it's a learning curve for every business owner, however a very important one. By networking it reduces the necessary "contacts" or "touching points" that you must have with your potential client before getting their business. It's not something you can force of course but by placing your business/you literally under their nose at an event they are exposed to your brand and message.
Where a small unofficial group of people get together and chat about their business. These can happen anywhere and at any time. You meet in the street, in the queue at Tescos or maybe in the local coffee shop. It can be one on one or a small group. I have found these types of groups tend to be voluntary group meetings and more community focused.
These are a pre organised gathering of business owners.Facebook pages and groups would be a great way to organise these and then of course you meet up offline. Alternatively, if you have an email list you can arrange this that way instead.You would normally arrive with business cards and a specific mission in mind. The layout of the room would be U shaped or maybe conference style.
Formal networks some times have attendance lists and name labels but not always and you usually get 1 minute to stand up and present yourself and your business. A business would be selected each week or month to present their business for 10-15 minutes too.
These differ slightly again because the structure in place is more prescribed and far more measurable. The most common and well known form I have come across (but I know there are others) would be the BNI Network. They measure the amount of one to one meetings that are made and sales made in and out of the network. They also offer training on how to make the most out of your network and arrange speakers from outside the network that would be beneficial to the group. Formal structure networks would also do the presentations as well.I have gone to other Structured Networking that has tables of business owners speaking for 3 minutes each on their own business and has questions straight afterwards. The attendee list would be available to those that attended the next day in the form of email, so you could follow up afterwards too.One of the largest of these that I have attended in the past would be MeetWest. It's a big event and has to be followed up properly to be useful to you.
Online networking could literally include all platforms! The most common ones used however would be the image and word based ones like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Facebook Groups and/or Pages (you have liked) would have Facebook Fan Page day (typically Fridays) to encourage their audience to share their own business pages in a "thread" of conversation. This in turn potentially exposes the entire page of Followers to other pages to look at and Like.
Similarly, on Twitter you can take part in Twitter Parties to boost your profile. The conversation is held on a "hashtag" or thread of conversation that anyone on Twitter can participate in. These parties can last from an hour or two to days at a time on occasion! Once you have a large "conversation" going on in a twitter party it can "trend". This means that so many people are participating in the conversation by using the hashtag that it has a raised profile on the Twitter algorithm. To "Trend" in your county/country is what is desired, as then people have the opportunity to look through the hashtags trending and look at the tweets associated with the hashtag.
I mostly work with business owners in Ireland at this time and the majority of them would be female, so I would recommend two Twitter Parties to my client base. Namely #womensinspire on a Tuesday evening 10-11pm. and the other #irishbizparty on a Wednesday (anytime). These are fixed and on every week and are heavily supported by a team of dedicated volunteers, like lots of other Twitter Hours and Parties. You can safely assume that any county you live in in Ireland will have a dedicated hour long online party set aside for it!
Finally LinkedIn. This particular platform would generate networks in LinkedIn Groups. You can look up areas of interest in the Search of LinkedIn and "apply" to a group. As long as you have some synergy with the chosen group you should have no issue with joining it. The other vital (and I would say expected) part of LinkedIn networking would be to actually meet your connection!LinkedIn has long been held as the more formal platform for business. Its ethos has become more relaxed and changed over the years but you would still find more of the decision makers on there that would be participating any where else.
Beyond groups in LinkedIn there is of course connecting to individuals. Here you can start relationships just by sending a personal email and requesting a connection. What work much better is personalising it and generating a reason for that connection. What is also helpful though is to followup by meeting your new connection and talking the networking once again offline.
I hope you have found this blog beneficial and if you require any further assistance, do not hesitate to contact me!