Online or Offline, Make Sure You’re Plugged In

Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook. Trade Shows, Seminars, Business Chambers. Where’s a businessperson to network? In a challenging economy, it is more important than ever to build relationships both online and offline; but whether it’s on the Web or in person, the same basic networking principles apply.

It’s All About Relationships

Dominick Crea started a LinkedIn group for Westchester County business owners to create a forum for these peers to network on their own time (www.wcbo.biz). The group members build relationships by brainstorming, discussing local events and situations, conducting business with one another, and opening the door to communication with fellow Westchester County business owners.

As the president of The PSP Group, which provides human resource, payroll, risk management, employment and insurance services to client companies, he understands the scheduling challenges of owning a business. “Running my own business can be very unpredictable at times and the sporadic demands would interfere with my ability to network at the traditional networking groups,” he said. “Having a group online gives members the ability to interact whenever they have the time.” It seems Crea struck a nerve with this concept having 99 members sign up in only two months.

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Be Selective

We all wish there were more hours in a day, but unfortunately 24 are all we have to work with (well, those of us who never sleep, anyway). Therefore, choose your network carefully. Networking is based on building and maintaining relationships so do your homework, find the best fit for you and your business and stay focused. Ask yourself these questions to guide you to the right network:

How Do I Communicate?

If you are an extroverted people magnet, your skills may translate better in person. If you present your thoughts more effectively in writing, online networks may be just the ticket.

Who Are My Clients?

If your clients are all local, face time is key. National? Remove the geographic boundaries and build an online network that reaches from Westchester to Whales, if that’s your goal.

What Other Companies Provide Services to My Clients?

Maybe there are opportunities for partnerships with other businesses selling to the same audience. For instance, a PR professional and an advertising executive don’t have to compete for business. In fact, they may actually be able to work together when their client needs the other’s service.

What Are My Goals?

To meet like-minded businesspeople? To create a buzz? To sell a product? To look for a new hire? Thinking about where you want to be is an essential part to coming up with the right strategy.

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Two Ears, One Mouth

OK, I know what you’re thinking. If you are networking online, you are typing with…two hands. That aside, the point is to make sure you are listening for opportunity instead of verbally trampling on it. Certainly, having your elevator pitch perfected is still important, but we have all been in the situation where we feel like the cow on the receiving end of a sales pitch for milk.

When it does come time for you to promote your company, be prepared. For instance, if you plan to attend or exhibit at a trade show such as the upcoming Business Council of Westchester’s Mega Mixer, you can maximize that opportunity in various ways:

» Have something new to talk about at the show;
» Set up meetings with prospects (before the show) to meet you at the event;
» Train your booth staff on key messages
» Prepare all your marketing materials and promotional items in advance;
» Pursue speaking opportunities, where your expertise would be of interest to the audience at the show.

Dana Hawryluk, membership director, THE GYM of Armonk, said she and her colleagues are big believers in the power of event marketing. “We use events at our facility to draw in potential members to see what we have to offer,” she said. “We also attend networking functions and exhibit at business events that meet our audience profile. We make sure that we have an organized follow-up effort so we can measure our success.”

Joe Guilderson, president, Corporate Audio Visual Services of Elmsford, participates in events from two perspectives. “First, we provide services to business, and at cultural and social events, so we see the value they provide for our clients,” he said. “Second, we participate in trade and business shows that reach our target audience. Effective face-to-face networking is an important element of any marketing plan.”

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Open To Give, Open To Receive

If you come from a position of how you can help the person you are speaking with, they will appreciate you so much more for that than for a 30-second pitch.

There are many ways in which you can effectively network through helping others:

Recommend a great book—I’ll do that right now. For anyone interested in practical application of social networking check out “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” by David Meerman Scott. Those who prefer to network face-to-face will benefit from reading Jill Lublin and Rick Frishman’s “Networking Magic.”

Be a matchmaker—Give a referral. That helps the person you are speaking with and brings business to someone else within your network. If you’ve received great service, offer to give a testimonial. Everyone loves them and no one wants to have to ask for them and, therefore, they are always very much appreciated.

Give free advice—Yep. I said it. And…I’ll repeat it. Give free advice.

So, whether you are outgoing or shy, an attorney or a boutique owner, just starting out or well-established, networking is essential for success. Find the right network, commit and create lasting relationships. Whether you’re attending events and shaking hands or “tweeting” and “friending,” remember that you get what you give.

Jessica Lyon is vice president of Co-Communications and can be reached at Jessica@cocomunications.com.  Co-Communications is a full-service PR/Marketing firm with its headquarters in Mount Kisco and a satellite office in Simsbury, CT. She also welcomes LinkedIn connections.

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