Navigating online networking can sometimes feel overwhelming, like a deluge of opportunities and interactions. It varies in its approach for small business owners, serving as a natural extension of their in-person connections, a temporary substitute for face-to-face networking during social distancing, or even an intimidating experience akin to a dreaded dentist’s appointment we begrudgingly endure.  In this article, we outline 10 online networking tips for small business owners to help them navigate the intricacies of this and get it right. 

Psychologically, each small business approaches online networking differently. Nevertheless, its undeniable benefits are well-documented. According to Zety, in 2023, a staggering 85% of hires were attributed to networking efforts. LinkedIn messages alone paved the way for new career avenues for 35% of networkers, and those dedicating approximately 6 hours per week to networking credited it as a critical factor in their success. These statistics only scratch the surface of the potential benefits.

While we eagerly anticipate a return to normalcy in our business and social lives, the present moment offers a unique opportunity to establish or revamp our online connections. When else will you find such a receptive audience of individuals and businesses urgently seeking assistance, and potentially looking for someone just like you to fulfil their needs?

To help you through this crucial period of online networking, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to online networking, covering everything from getting started to common-sense advice and new platforms worth exploring!

1. Beginning on the Right Foot

In the first of our online networking tips, we recognise that the biggest challenge one faces when networking online is receiving a response to the initial message sent to each person. It is recommended to keep the message brief and well-structured to avoid overwhelming the recipient at first glance. Additionally, starting with a small request can be beneficial.

For instance, if an individual is seeking a new job, they could initiate the conversation with a query such as, “Have you enjoyed the work environment since joining? I was considering applying to…” This approach is more likely to yield responses and initiate a deeper conversation, facilitating the establishment of relationships, which is the true essence of networking.

2. Finding Experts in Your Field

Choose platforms for online communication among professionals in your field, for example, LinkedIn and Clarity. You can browse through the expert community to find industry luminaries who are willing to help, and then arrange a call with them. This approach is a great way to identify fellow entrepreneurs who are successfully navigating the industry and can offer invaluable advice and insights gleaned from their personal experiences.

It is also advisable to use such platforms as a sales tool without hesitation. Instead of solely seeking advice from experts, you should also consider people who could potentially become clients. According to user reviews, they met numerous well-connected entrepreneurs who were often willing to facilitate introductions or participate in their affiliate program.

3. Ensure Smooth Tech Operations

Embracing technology for communication has become more common, with many opting for calls or scheduled video chats due to their convenience. However, this choice comes with its own set of challenges. Picture a scenario where a potential client struggles to connect to a platform like Zoom, leading to severe miscommunication and a missed meeting.

To navigate such situations, always prepare for potential tech hiccups and be swift in addressing them. Regardless of how robust your Wi-Fi connection is, audio, video, or connectivity issues can arise unexpectedly. With a meeting window as short as 20 minutes, you can’t afford to spend 5-10 minutes troubleshooting equipment problems. Aim to enter the virtual space at least 15 minutes ahead of time to address any unforeseen technical glitches.

Another critical consideration could be toll calls from your customers, as, for example, receiving a large mobile phone bill after solving a problem with your vacuum cleaner that suddenly stopped working could add to their frustration and force them to look for a competitor. The solution here is to sign up for a Canadian toll-free number service, which allows callers in Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean to contact your company without incurring any charges, especially if they have already purchased the product and need to resolve any customer service issues.

Your task is to make every effort to ensure comfortable, and most importantly, effective communication.

4. Cultivate Success through Nurtured Networks

Achieving personal and professional growth hinges on having a robust support network, a truth that applies universally, regardless of your age, experience level, or field of expertise. Think of your network as you would a garden: constant care and attention are prerequisites for growth and a bountiful harvest.

Regularly tending to your network involves staying in touch through different means. For your second-tier connections, maintain the connection with periodic phone calls. For your top-tier contacts, opt for web or video conferences. Never assume that people do not wish to hear from you. Take the initiative to reach out, pose questions, share valuable insights, and watch your response rate soar.

5. Elevate Your Brand Presence

Effective networking entails consistently ensuring your company’s name remains visible to your target audience. One of the most impactful ways to achieve this is by providing tangible, customized items that carry your business logo. Consider sending these items to your valued clients and loyal customers. Even modest items such as magnetic chip clips or bottle openers can leave a lasting impression.

Additionally, when engaging in remote networking, consider wearing branded apparel or displaying personalized items on your desk during video conferences with clients. This practice not only enhances your business’s image but also conveys professionalism across the board.

6. Meet Your Audience Where They Are

Balancing assertiveness and aggression is key when pitching your services during online networking. Before reaching out, take a moment to perform some swift research on their profile, encompassing their bio, images, and captions. Identify a compelling post or topic and reference it in your introductory message.

Networking, particularly in the online realm, often involves a numbers game. Persevere until you’ve cultivated a thriving community of individuals you can turn to for guidance and potential business opportunities. Instagram stands out as an optimal platform for networking, given its popularity among entrepreneurs who may be specifically interested in the services you offer.

7. Become a Valuable Asset to the Community

If Twitter is your preferred platform for engaging in conversations, you can seamlessly merge business and pleasure by actively participating in Twitter chats aligned with your industry. Through these chats, you can connect with a diverse range of like-minded users, sharing your expertise by responding to questions and discussing various business-related subjects.

To kickstart your involvement, locate a Twitter chat that resonates with both you and your industry. Make it a habit to visit regularly and become an active participant in the ongoing discussions. While you need not respond to every question, aim to provide valuable insights on multiple queries and engage with the responses of other users. This way, you’ll establish yourself as a valuable resource within the community.

8. Consistency is Key

Embarking on your networking journey can be daunting, but the first step is the most important. Begin by forging initial connections, sharing content, and gradually establishing your presence, one post at a time.

Cold outreach may pose a challenge, but it’s often a necessary step to connect with potential opportunities. Don’t hesitate to send messages or connection requests to new contacts.

For LinkedIn newcomers, a valuable tip is to dedicate at least 15 minutes daily to your presence on the platform. Even if you don’t create new posts, you can engage with others by liking and commenting on their content. Your interactions will be visible in your connections’ news feeds, resulting in increased profile views and connection requests. Consistency is your key to success.

9. Forge Direct Relationships with Brands

As a freelance writer, leveraging networks that facilitate content projects is essential. For instance, suppose you’re marketing your writing skills on Pinterest. In this scenario, consider showcasing your work by pinning content on relevant boards, such as those within parent groups. An editor might come across your pins and reach out to discuss potential writing projects.

For many small businesses, Twitter serves as an excellent platform for online communication due to its ease of content sharing, lead tagging, and participation in Twitter chats. To kickstart your online engagement, begin by following brands with whom you aspire to collaborate. Showcase them in your blog or client content and actively interact with them on Twitter. Building these direct relationships can open up new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

10. Capture Interest and Be Straightforward

It’s crucial to recognize that a significant portion of the messages people receive are spam or scams, making it challenging to stand out and elicit serious responses. Whether you’re sending an email or a message on LinkedIn, the key is to grab their attention within the first few lines, all while avoiding spammy subject lines and gimmicks.

Confidence, persuasion, and conciseness are your allies in this endeavour. Approach your communication with assurance, make your case persuasively, and get to the point quickly. Never apologize for reaching out, and avoid using tentative language when making requests. Instead of asking, “Would it be okay if we had a Zoom call to discuss this opportunity?” state, “I would like to schedule a Zoom call to discuss this opportunity.” Directness and clarity will work in your favour.

Key Networking Tips: The Next Steps

Now that you’ve absorbed valuable insights on effective networking strategies tailored for small business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s time to put these insights into action. Begin by implementing the networking tips that successful entrepreneurs have shared, including participating in virtual events, harnessing the power of social media, and initiating contact with potential partners and collaborators.

Adhering to essential networking principles for entrepreneurs, such as authenticity, thorough research of potential contacts, and diligent follow-ups after networking engagements, will pave the way for building enduring relationships with fellow professionals in your industry.

As a small business owner or entrepreneur, networking remains a pivotal element of your path to success. By taking proactive steps, you can expand your business network, acquire new clients or customers, and maintain a competitive edge in your field.