networking connections

Making Business Connections in the Digital Age: Tips for Networking Offline

More and more, business owners are finding ways to make money online and monetize their audiences. It is undisputed that having an online presence in today’s digital world is a must, and a part of that presence is social credibility that can be used to convert followers into sales. However, an online presence is only part of the equation.

Making local connections

Women-owned businesses have increased by 58 percent between 2007 and 2018, and it is now estimated that four out of every 10 businesses in the U.S. are women-owned.

This growth began in part due to the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, when necessity entrepreneurship flourished. Lack of employment opportunities and downsizing were part of the cause, and many aspiring entrepreneurs began to supplement their income from home. Sites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy provided an online platform for sellers to connect with buyers without a physical store or huge overhead. By 2007, just two years after its launch, Etsy had around 450,000 registered sellers, all of whom were sellers of handcrafted goods.

The rise of such e-commerce platforms has led some to believe that in-person connections are now obsolete.

However, it still takes more than hanging an online shingle to sell products, due to the increase in availability from other online sellers globally. It is because of this global competition that small business owners in the U.S. need to take advantage of their competitive edge over sellers nationwide.

The biggest advantage local entrepreneurs have over the international competition is the ability to connect directly with consumers and potential referral partners in real life.

Related: Southeast Michigan Master Connector Derek Dickow Talks the Power of Networking

The importance of networking offline

The internet and prevalence of social media apps have allowed us to become more interconnected than ever before. It is estimated that around 72 percent of Americans use some form of social media. While online networking can be productive, your followers may not be all that reliable for sales.

For example, an influencer with 2.5 million followers on Instagram only sold 36 shirts in her product launch. With this in mind, it’s important that entrepreneurs take the time to plan out and attend live events to build connections and become part of a real-life community.

How to turn your network into net-worth

Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to get your message and brand out there, and the people you meet and build relationships with in-person are also very likely to be your biggest supporters online. But this process takes time. Time is our most valuable asset, so make sure you are investing it in the right people and targeted events.

Identify your ideal client

Make sure you have identified your ideal client. A great exercise is to describe your company’s ideal client using demographic, geographic and psychographic information in order to create a persona.

For example, “My ideal client is a millennial mom on the go. She has earned a higher-level degree at university and is currently in a managerial position at her job. She appreciates curated experiences that are also eco-friendly. Being a new mom, she looks for recommendations from bloggers and Instagram influencer mompreneurs. She appreciates our strollers because they are compact, made from sustainable materials, easy to maneuver and take on trips, come equipped with mobile WiFi and charging stations with a fold out desk for her to do work on her tablet, and can be customized to each person height and preference.”

Now, this is a lot more detailed than, “My ideal client is a mother who works.”

With the first example, we’ve broken the target down by age, gender and behavioral patterns into great detail. Even if you are not completely sure this is your actual target, it’s important to think about these attributes in order to begin fully researching your ideal client. You can always change and evolve the persona, but it’s important to have one to start.

Research your ideal clients, competition and local events

Now that you have your ideal customer persona, it’s time to start researching!

If you believe your ideal client spends a lot of time on Instagram, you can start there. Go onto the Instagram profile of the company you believe is your closest direct competitor, or someone else in your field targeting similar clientele.

Do a deep dive into the followers, their comments and their online behaviors. Who are they following? What are their hobbies? Are they posting about specific bloggers or influencers?

More than likely, you’ve found some other information to add to or update your ideal client persona. Plus, you’ve probably found some events, conferences or businesses that are frequented by your target client. You can also start looking for similar events locally on Facebook, Eventbrite or Meetup, and then, armed with this knowledge, you can begin the planning phase.

Plan realistic goals and targets

When you have all the information gathered from the second step, it’s time to start planning.

If you are new to networking, don’t overdo it. I would recommend attending no more than two to four events within the first few months. Choose events you are comfortable with attending. If you do not like large groups, attend more intimate gatherings. Your goal should be to make three new, meaningful connections at each event. Remember that these meaningful connections will be more beneficial in the long run.

Show up to live events

Arrive early! You might get one-on-one time with the organizers or speakers. When you’re making your connections, focus on finding common ground, and build on it. Be present in the conversation, but also think how you can add value to that person’s life and his or her busienss.

Is it through a strategic referral, a book recommendation or upcoming event? You should always have the giver’s mindset and seek to add value to all those you connect with at the events you choose to attend.

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Follow up (and keep following up)

Once you’ve made a connection, get his or her contact information and follow up. If you promised to connect or send over any details, make sure to do so within 48 hours.

Remember, it often takes six months and multiple contacts to make a sale with a potential client, but you lose the chance at a relationship or a potential deal if you fail to follow through.

Connections and collaborations

While the internet has opened a whole new medium for us to establish connections, keep in mind that online connections should always supplement (but never replace) real world networking and relationship building. If you’re focusing on building a relationship out of trust with the other party, your business will continue to thrive.

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