If you’re thinking that social media means the death of traditional networking (or any offline marketing for that matter!), you would be wrong. According to the research mentioned in this article on Marketing Tech News, over 40% of UK small businesses aren’t even using social media for business purposes:
Company formation experts Turnerlittle have analysed figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on social media usage among businesses in the UK. They found that 60% of businesses are using social media, a figure which drops slightly to 57% for small businesses.
Although the above article is written from the angle that more businesses need to use the online tools available to them (such as blogging, website and social media), it highlights something else. There seems to be a clear divide between how large and small companies market and promote themselves. And for a lot of small UK businesses, the more traditional offline business methods aren’t dead!
The reason why we network
Unlike larger businesses, it’s understandable that methods such as traditional networking are still valuable to the small business owner. Networking is designed to help you build long-term relationships and connections and raise your visibility with other businesses in your local area and/or niche. If you want to build on those know, like and trust elements of business, traditional networking is a perfect solution.
You can use networking events as a way to trade information with others and spot potential business opportunities. And on a more personal level, they can help you feel more supported and less alone – not to mention the boost in confidence you can get from going to an in-person event.
If you want to know how essential networking can be for your business, check out this article by Forbes – it lists 10 Reasons why networking is essential for your career.
Why you need to network offline
Networking is primarily about getting your face out there and being seen. When you put yourself out there, you’re increasing the likelihood of those ‘know, like and trust’ elements instantly coming into play. How many times have you met someone and immediately resonated with them? This is why you need to be using traditional networking methods to help engage in a face-to-face environment.
Social media can often be very one-sided and text-based interaction can often be open to interpretation. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do social media networking – but as with anything (and as per the earlier article on Marketing Tech News), as a small business owner you need to use the online tools available to you – but you also need to balance your online world activities with those of the offline world, too.
Five types of networking organisation you need to be aware of
In-person networking events can vary immensely. It pays to know what type of event you’re going to, if you want to be prepared. Here’s a brief summary of those different organisation types, gleaned from this original article on Entrepreneur Europe:
- Casual contact networks – general groups such as Chamber of Commerce
- Strong contact groups (BNI) – limited to one member per profession
- Community service groups – set up to help your community, to deepen local friendships
- Professional associations – industry related
- Online social media networks – build credibility and visibility
Now you know the different types of networking organisation, you need to ensure you’ve got a plan to get you out of the door and to your next event.
Have a plan in place
As you’ll no doubt hear me say about a lot of things – you need a plan! If you want to become an awesome VA, you need to have a plan in place for everything you do, including networking.
Start by understanding what you want to get from traditional networking events. Are you looking to form connections in your local community or raise your profile in your industry? Maybe you’re looking to glean some of the benefits of networking with other VAs, so you can get support and advice when needed? Are you looking to actively help promote other businesses to your contacts, in return for them promoting you? Your answers will help you narrow down which type of networking organisation you need to focus on.
Next, take a look at the above 5 different types of networking and see which ones fit your goals. See how you can implement at least 2-3 different types of them into your business activities. And remember, try out several. Many events enable you to visit as a guest, before you invest, so take the opportunity to try them out.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options and committed to a few, you want to then ensure you’re attending them regularly. You need to be able to maintain consistency, if you want to evaluate whether they’re worth the investment for you. But not only that, it enables you to implement natural touch points with your contacts and potential new clients.
A change in mindset is often needed, when it comes to traditional networking
If you’re thinking that’s a lot of time away from the office – change how you’re viewing networking. It’s an essential part of your VA business. Not only does it help put you in front of your ideal customer, it also helps you build valuable business connections and relationships – both of which you need, if you want to create a profitable business. I often think networking it a little bit like dating too!
Social media has opened the door for many small business owners. It enables you to get visible and in touch with your ideal clients, but it is only one tool in a huge arsenal of tools available to you. To become an awesome VA you need to be using all of the tools in your toolkit – and traditional networking is one of those tools.
By taking the time to understand why you’re networking and then creating a plan to include in-person traditional networking events in your calendar, you’re maximising the opportunities and tools available to you. Not only that, you’re fostering business friendships that could potentially help you for years to come.
If you’re looking to raise your visibility within the VA industry and benefit from networking with other VAs, why not join our very own VA Membership? It has an active online community and it’s an awesome way of finding other VAs in your area – and if there’s several of you in one area, you could even create your own traditional networking group, with the VAs you meet! So head on over and check out this affordable VA membership solution! It even has a networking course available to you in there to really nail that networking piece.