Both nationally and internationally, the events of the last two years have had a significant impact on how your business interacts with other businesses. Around the world, people are embracing the art of online networking and international connections are increasing significantly due to online platforms making it easier to communicate.
Online Networking is a great way to advance both your business and personal goals, and it’s important to make the most of any opportunity, especially if you are ‘meeting’ a new contact for the first time. As with face-to-face networking, there are several things you can do to get the most from your online networking.
Canadian academic Gaby Fisch asked 116 executives what most impressed them about the people they gave their networking time to. These were the top answers:1
- Has thoughtful and interesting questions
- Respects time restraints
- Career and aspirations are clearly and succinctly communicated
- Has spent some time researching me and my company
- Comes to the meeting with clarity around the outcome
On the flipside, there were consistent replies about things networkers found annoying. Some pitfalls to be avoided at all costs are:
- Not having specific questions or driving conversation
- Being unclear on the outcome
- Not turning up or being late
- Interrupting and not actively listening
Because we only get one chance to make a good first impression, here are some pointers to help you make the most of your next one-to-one online networking opportunity.
As in most aspects of business, preparation is the cornerstone of success, so invest some time and energy into working out what it is you want from the meeting. It could be a referral to another contact, career advice or a request for information, but it is the crux of why you asked to meet. Time is precious, so knowing what you want to achieve will give your conversation direction. Also, take the time to find out about the person you are meeting. Learn as much as you can about them, their company, their products and current hot topics in their area of interest. This will help you to ask insightful questions that break the ice, make them feel comfortable and get them talking.
Test your tech and be on time
On the day of the meeting, make sure you have tested your platform, you have a good Internet connection and your video and audio are working. A couple of years ago, we would get away with ‘rookie’ mistakes with our online communications, but these days, online networking happens so often we can no longer use technology as an excuse. Particularly if you have asked for the meeting, be there first and be ready to greet them in a quiet space with no distractions. Be well presented and ensure you won’t be interrupted. These simple gestures show that you value both the occasion and the other person’s time and effort to be there.
Be an active listener
Keep the conversation flowing but let them do most of the talking. Actually listen to what they are saying and ask follow-up questions as well as confirm that you understand what they have said. Affirmative gestures like nodding and smiling at the appropriate time or taking notes demonstrate a genuine engagement that will encourage them to continue.
Hopefully, you’ll have already identified some common interests in your preparation. Business interests are great but predictable. Something personal will resonate more, such as a mutual hobby, a shared experience or a friend. This shows you are interested in them as a person and not just a business resource. Once you have found common ground, you can then start to build on it to establish a genuine relationship.
Stick to the agenda
In business time is at a premium, so respect their generosity in allocating time to you. If they’ve allocated 20 minutes for the meeting, stick to it unless they offer to extend. When a meeting is flowing, time flies by, so keep a track of it and make sure it doesn’t end before you’ve had the chance to ask what you wanted from the meeting.
When the time is right, don’t be afraid to ask for something directly. Your clarity will be appreciated, but remember that goodwill flows both ways, so find out how you can reciprocate and offer something in return.
At the end of the meeting, you can leave a lasting impression by doing more than just thanking the other person for their time. Be specific about what you’ve gained from the conversation and why you have valued the opportunity to meet with them.
Always follow up
Finally, always follow up with a brief email of thanks within the next 24 hours following your online networking meeting. Confirm what was discussed and what you got out of the meeting. If you offered to provide something, be true to your word and make sure this happens as soon as possible, paving the way for the next meeting and establishing a trustworthy relationship.
Online networking really can create significant opportunities for your business locally and internationally. At District32 we provide more opportunities for revenue, growth, and connection online and face to face.