Management consultant, blog writer, dreamer
Not so long ago, business networking predominantly involved interacting with peers, customers or industry leaders at congresses, meetings or events. These face to face meetings were essential to get the latest information and industry gossip.
Also, here business networking was a routine practice to get business leads and to promote yourself or your brand as an important participant in your industry. However, in today’s digital society there’s no need to attend networking sessions in person. In fact, the advent of the internet, web 2.0, broad band and mobile devices have given us alternative ways to do business networking.
What is business networking?
Let’s first explain what networks are. ‘Networks’ is defined as a set of nodes and the relationships which connect them (1). Indeed, networking is about creating and developing opportunities through meeting people and “connecting the dots” among them (2). Furthermore, business networking involves forming and maintaining the relationships with other businesses.
But business networking doesn’t only happen between businesses. It also happens with a variety of business stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, government organisations, community leaders and even with your own employees (which is mostly neglected).
So why is business networking important for your business?
The benefits of business networking
Let’s assume that you want to do business networking to tell others about your business and hopefully turn them into customers. If so, then Susan Ward writing for The Balance suggests the following benefits that you may enjoy practicing business networking:
1. New contacts and referrals. The most obvious benefit of networking is to meet potential clients and/or generate referrals which you can then follow up on to hopefully add to your client base.
2. Visibility. Attending business luncheons and other networking events raises your personal profile and can help keep you front and center in the minds of the right people.
3. Staying current. In an ever-changing business climate it is important to keep up with the target market conditions as well as overall trends in your industry. Attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help you stay current.
4. Problem solving. In addition to the potential of increasing your business you can often find solutions to your own business problems or needs by networking.
5. Sharing knowledge and experience. Networking is ideal for expanding your knowledge by taking advantage of the viewpoints and prior experience of others.
6. Confidence and morale. Most business people are optimistic and positive. Regularly associating with such people can be a great morale boost, particularly in the difficult early phases of a new business.
Farinda et al, 2009 (1) reported that businesses that invested in business networks gained competitive advantages through the flow of information. Even more, vital information such as market situations, strategic locations, social ‘ties’, competitors position can provide useful information about business opportunities and alert firms about choices available that they could embark on…
But what about business networking in a digital society?
It goes without saying that the internet is by definition a massive network. By the way, The Cambridge Dictionary describes the internet as “the large system of connected computers around the world that allows people to share information and communicate with each other.”
So now you have the internet, with 3.6 billion people connected to it (Statista, 2017). That’s about half of the world’s population! What an amazing channel to do business networking with. Perhaps no more travelling to attend seminars or rushing to be on time with customer appointments is needed? Or maybe the frightening experience to stand on a podium and address a large crowd of knowledgeable (and sometimes critical) peers is now something of the past? Even better – more time at home with my family…
Yes, the internet has revolutionized the way that businesses can do networking. But how?
How to do business networking via the internet
The chances to find most of your prospects and customers online are very good. For example, the traditional way of business networking requires you (the business owner) to meet your audience (your target network group) face to face. However, this approach is largely restrictive because of the limited number of people you can do networking with and also geographical constraints.
With the internet, there’s little that gets in the way of business networking. Indeed, the main requirement is to that your target audience find you online…
Linda Emma writing for Cron has this to say about using the internet for your business:
• Get Found Online. If you want to reach today’s customers, you should use the internet. Most people in need of a product or service they’ve never used turn to Google for the answers.
• Grow Your Business. There are hundreds of examples of small businesses that got big in a hurry because mindful entrepreneurs behind them leveraged the power of the internet. The internet allows you to vastly expand where you sell and the people you reach.
• Grow Your Social Network Community. When you have an authentic, active and engaged social media community on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you increase brand loyalty and sales.
• Advertise Online. Unlike the “cast a wide net approach” of traditional advertising in the newspaper, radio and television industries, the internet enables you to finely focus your ads to the exact user you hope to attract. On platforms such as Google and Facebook, you can choose from a range of demographic information to consider those people who are most likely to buy whatever it is you sell.
The message here is that you (or your brand) need to be part of the internet by establishing and maintaining an online presence. And that your brand should be found online by people who want to buy you products or service.
The advent of the internet was for me mostly a pleasant digital disruption. Looking back, it offered much more business opportunities than threats. One opportunity that the internet offers is business networking. And to enjoy the opportunity, your business needs to be online.
However, the traditional way of networking is in its own way (usually) a valuable, unforgettable experience. Think about the ‘get together’, the formal functions, prize giving ceremonies, gala events and a night out with old friends…
Maybe we’ll be the last generation to have experience that comradery. But wait – I hear my wife shouting that my dinner is getting cold. Dammit! So much for a better family life doing business networking online!
Lastly, do you still have business cards to dish out?
A Marketing Plan helps you to communicate the right content to the right audience.
(1) Farinda, A.G., Kamarulzaman, Y., Abdullah, A. and Ahmad, S.Z. 2009. Building business networking: A proposed framework for Malaysian SMEs, International Review of Business Research Papers, 5(2):151-160.
(2 ) Nierenberg, A.R. 2014. Essential Business Networking: Tips, Tactics, and Tools You Can Use, Pearson Education.