ORLANDO — Ask yourself this: is networking something you actually enjoy, or a part of the business world you feel obligated to take part in?
Truth is, networking remains a critical tool for marketing your business — and it’s gotten easier in the age of social media.
Without a doubt, social media now provides businesses with remarkable tools for reaching new and vast audiences. But don’t let anyone tell you networking is too old-fashioned to work anymore. It remains a potent tool when it comes to marketing.
Best of all, it shares the same benefit as posting something about your company on a social media account: it’s free! There are also a lot of opportunities to network in most major cities, including Orlando, and you can check out sites like Meet Up to learn more.
So it comes down to this: how much you hope to gain from networking really depends on how much time and shoe leather you want to put into it.
Connecting with people
More than anything else, networking is about making connections with people who can help advance your career or your business. It’s also about building relationships that are beneficial to both sides, and prove to be enduring.
To take full advantage of networking, don’t think simply about who you know. The better question is who knows about you, and what you do?
When it comes to the world of marketing today, there are plenty of tools to utilize, including emails, discounts, social media posts, and print and digital advertisements.
But one of the oldest and strongest remains personal relationships. We all like to do business with people we enjoy being around — and trust.
What can networking help you achieve? By attending these kinds of social events, you can:
· Learn from others about changes going in within your industry.
· Establish a referral network.
· Serve as a resource to others, and help them succeed.
· Learn how others succeeded in areas where you might be struggling.
· Get leads for new business.
· Find and hire good employees.
· Improve your business practices.
Establishing business contacts is a highly productive tactic, and every time you connect with new people, you have an opportunity to expand your network and leverage your business success in new ways.
Some people attend three networking event per week to meet as many like-minded individuals as possible. Networking events have changed over the years. Don’t expect to sit there and listen to someone trying to sell you something. More often today, networking events provide a more casual, relaxed atmosphere where people can chat without any pressure on their shoulders.
So how does that lead to actual sales? For starters, you’re introducing yourself to newcomers – people who might be the innovators and leaders in your industry. Face-to-face networking can help create lasting impressions among those folks, leading to future opportunities. These are people you want to stay connected with long after the event is over. The next day, you’ll want to:
· Check their business card (always ask for one).
· Email them, and mention the conversation you had at the event.
· Thank them for talking with you.
· Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them in the future.
All of this is going to prove useful to you in the months, and years, ahead.
If networking isn’t new and has been around for centuries, what has changed is the opportunities the internet provides for networking. Social media sites are now a great way to reconnect with people you’ve lost track of, which is why so many businesses today have accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The business connection site LinkedIn plays a similar role. These sites make it easy to connect with influential people, regardless of where they are.
On the other hand, don’t overly rely on social networking sites. Keep in mind that face-to-face interactions will always be critical as well.
In February, the world celebrated International Networking Week, an initiative of BNI. It was designed to bring together representatives of government, businesses and the general public to network with one other. It was also designed to promote an understanding of the concept of good networking, and to raise the profile of networking as an essential tool for success in today’s competitive business climate.
It still works.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..