The Art of Virtual Networking

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As online networking becomes the new normal, SWIG Finance’s Business Manager and serial networker, Rachael Taylor, shares her insight on how to best navigate the virtual networking landscape.

Networking is vital business activity that, when done effectively, will help boost your business’ profile and build long-lasting relationships with key individuals.

Let’s start with looking at the definition of ‘Networking’; the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

Many professionals find networking challenging (and this is completely normal), but have you noticed that there are always a few who seem completely at ease? The key to this is in the preparation.

Take some time prior to the event to do a little planning and research – this will really pay off when it comes to having conversations with new contacts and potential customers.

Here are some hints and tips that I have picked up along the way.

Preparing for the networking event

  • Ensure your surroundings are suitable – clothes drying on the radiator behind you won’t emulate professionalism. Neither will bad lighting, you want your prospective contacts to be able to see you!
  • If it will be a longer meeting make sure you have a drink to hand (best not to be a G & T, water is fine, tea or coffee is better)
  • Dress appropriately, if you wouldn’t wear it to a face to face meeting you shouldn’t wear it to an online meeting (pyjama bottoms are ok as long as you don’t stand up but a scruffy T-shirt can get you noticed for the wrong reasons)
  • Pen & paper to hand to take notes where necessary
  • Turn up on time – or even better, turn up early.
  • Know where the mute button is, there is nothing worse than background noise when other people are speaking
  • Plan what you are going to say as your elevator pitch when introducing yourself.
  • Carry out some due diligence prior to the online event. How does your product or service fulfil the needs of these potential customers? Identify this and not only will you have a lot to talk about, but you may secure yourself a new customer.

Conducting the networking event

  • Stick to your pitch – there is nothing worse than waffling and people still not knowing what you do. Stick to the time given for your introduction, if you are given 30 seconds it is rude to everyone else if you take 5 minutes
  • Use your speaking time wisely – provide your contacts with add-value information; this could be sharing industry insights or providing hints and tips you have learned in your role.
  • Don’t sell coals to Newcastle – don’t attempt sell your product or service, without knowing what the other attendees do.
  • Stand out – in a sea of faces you want to be memorable, this could be a brightly coloured top, whacky tie or simply a great smile.
  • Be interested – when on the meeting don’t be doing other work while waiting for your time to speak, if you aren’t listening to them why should they listen to you.
  • Use the mute button when you are not talking – but remember to unmute yourself when it is your turn to contribute.
  • Use Breakout Rooms – a lot of online networking meetings have breakout rooms where you can be placed at random to learn a bit more in depth about different people. Be interested and don’t make an excuse to leave if you think they are not your target market, they could have just taken on a brand-new customer who is your target market.

 After the event

  • Follow up – get peoples’ contact details, connect on Linkedin. Once connected don’t bombard with marketing material and sales pitches, networking is about building relationships not selling immediately

Remember that people buy from people so attend regularly. This doesn’t mean you have to attend every meeting but enough so that they get to know you and what you do, give them confidence for them to recommend you to their clients/friends/family