The power of your business networkWe’re so used to having the virtual world come to us via our computers that it’s easy to assume you can do everything from your desk, even networking.

It’s true that professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are fantastically powerful, and you can develop a huge online network of contacts and get yourself known and respected if you utilise all the available tools within these sites fully. And some businesses can undoubtedly work very well in this way – some people never meet face-to-face because their type of business simply doesn’t demand it. But it really does depend on where you’re most likely to find the right target audience to mix with.

For myself I enjoy nothing better than face-to-face networking. It gives me a legitimate reason to escape my desk and an excuse to do some good old-fashioned getting to know people, and meeting people and talking can produce so many opportunities that I might otherwise miss. I now go to networking events with an open mind and a desire to meet fellow business owners, share experiences and help them (not purely to sell my services). It’s enabled me to successfully strengthen my own offer through new associates (including all of my Marketing Partners team who I met through networking). And it’s a mutual thing, pooling resources, sharing leads and supporting each other.

I’ll let you into a secret… When I first left the big bad Corporate world after 16+ years, I was terrified of the plethora of networking I discovered as a now small business owner – it felt so false and salesy! I’m a marketer, not a sales person and felt like a fish truly out of water. I felt awkward, unsure if I was an ‘I’ or a ‘we’ and if I said I was a Marketing Consultant, people would look a bit blank. After some 12+ months (I know, it took a while!), a few ‘Eureka’ moments, and some good advice during a ‘how to brand yourself’ workshop which helped me describe what I did in a more end-user friendly way (I think we would all benefit from looking at this), I began to feel more comfortable with the notion of networking as Sarah Orchard, not as a corporate employee any more. Now I actually enjoy it.

Online networking may mean that your name gets seen a lot, but that smiley, confident and approachable photograph on your profile page and some well written, compelling blurb about what you can offer will only get you so far.

Personality still counts. As far as I’m concerned, it really is as simple as that – I want to work with people that I can get along with and who I feel have the same work ethics and standards as my own. Meeting people that you like means just as much as what they can offer you in terms of your business. And the more you network face-to-face, the more you will be remembered and the more likely your name and reputation will start to mean something amongst your target audience. You could spend half an hour chatting to someone and know quite quickly that there is no particular immediate business benefit. But when that person passes on your name to someone that they know is looking for your particular product or service, then those thirty minutes have been very well spent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do also use online networking heavily – but not as a sole activity. I follow up face-to-face meetings by connecting online on LinkedIn if that’s possible – it strengthens our original meeting and acts as a reminder months down the line when that person is struggling to remember the name of that marketing consultant they met on a rainy day last November, who shared an umbrella on the way into the networking event… get the picture?

Do you find online networking more effective than face-to-face networking or vice versa? I’d love to hear about how different types of networking works for you.