How to optimise your online networking activities

Author
Luke Marshall
Customer Engagement Executive
19th May 2021

Networking is part of many business development strategies. Done correctly, it can be an effective way of building strong relationships with clients and other individuals, with the end-goal of generating leads/referrals while expanding your client base.

The recent (enforced) switch to online events has brought with it new considerations for networking. There’s clearly a benefit in that they are relatively easy to access, as you can do so from the comfort of your own home or office - therefore potentially drawing in attendees from a larger geographical area. Despite the gradual re-opening of physical events, it’s clear that virtual networking still has a part to play going forward and may even be here to stay!

This blog will provide you with a few ideas on how to make the most of networking in the online-world, including how to approach and add structure to your activities, while saving you time, effort and ensuring that you are maximising any opportunities. 

Establishing your goals

In order to measure your success and prepare for the event, you need to have clear objectives about what you want to get out of it and have a strong idea about the types of businesses you want to connect with in terms of industry, size and stage (start-up/established etc). You’ll want to look at the attendee list pre-event (if available) and do a small amount of research via Google search, LinkedIn, on some of the other businesses attending. As well as making you more focused on who you are looking to speak with, you may also develop an initial talking point based on this information, which is great to have. It’s entirely reasonable that you might not have specific criteria for businesses you want to meet, so your objective might just be to send an introductory message to everyone at the event - also a legitimate strategy. 

Perfecting your pitch

Once you’ve worked out your objective and target audience, the next step is articulating what your business offers into a short 1-2 minute pitch. At online events you have even less time to get your message across, so it’ll need to be concise and stand out from the crowd. Many people fall into the trap of simply listing the products/services they offer. A much more effective and relatable way of pitching is to focus on HOW your service can help a person or their business to overcome a particular challenge. A two sentence-long “case study” example can work well within this. You don’t have to be too sales-focused at this point (you can cover details later), this part is about introducing yourself in an approachable way and briefly describing how and who you can help. It’s good to vary or alter your speech depending on the type of event and who is listening, so think about developing interchangeable points that can be swapped in and out depending on your audience. Avoid technical jargon or being overly critical of competitors.

During the event

Networking in a virtual break-out room rather than in-person has been something for everyone involved to get used to. For starters, discussions are very much group-orientated and it is difficult for more than one person to be heard at any one time, due to the nature of video calls. It’s best to come armed with a few questions that will engage the room as a whole, perhaps asking about people’s experiences, what’s going on in their respective industries, or if they have developed any new ways of working. It can be difficult to have a 1-2-1 conversation within these virtual break-out rooms, so if you don’t have an opportunity to speak within the time-slot, utilise the direct message function within the event (Zoom has this) so that you can message the person pitching and express your interest in a follow-up conversation later.

Follow-up strategies

Possibly the most essential part of maximising your networking activities and where opportunities tend to present themselves. What’s the use in making a great connection only to lose contact? A connection request on Linkedin with a message is fine, but even better is a quick phone call/email to re-inforce that you have met and remind them what it is that you offer. Context is key to show that you remembered the conversation and remain interested.  You don’t need to do this for every attendee, but definitely for the people you spoke with directly. The aim is to increase visibility and provide a channel for continuing the conversation. Connecting on social media is beneficial to follow each other’s activities, which serve as a talking-point next time you meet. Develop this into a structured process to follow post-event which could look something like: collate attendee contact details, follow-up messaging, store peoples data in a CRM system and then organise contacts into categories for example networking group met at, industry etc. A shortcut to this is saving the in-event chat transcript at the end of each event, as people normally use this to share their contact details during the event.

It’s important to be patient when it comes to building rapport and developing opportunities through online networking. Often it’ll take a number of conversations and in most cases a follow-up 1-2-1 meeting in order to identify opportunities for collaboration and discover your similarities in terms of objectives and ways of working. 

It’s best to try out different events, join new groups and then prioritise according to the best-fit for you and your offer. Some people value larger, more general events where they can maximise the number of connections, and others find more opportunities in smaller, more niche groups with more time to converse.

Business West offers a free virtual networking event on the last Thursday of every month via Zoom. Why not join us at the next event? You can also register for free on our website to be notified via our e-newsletters as to when our popular networking breakfasts will be returning.

 

 

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