How To Network Online Effectively  - A Business Owner’s Guide

Online networking for business owners is all about creating opportunities. Entrepreneurs must constantly be expanding their contacts and honing their communication skills. Eventually, pitching yourself and developing new clients becomes second nature. The old saying holds true - it's not what you know, but who you know. Sadly, the old ways of networking simply don't work right now. The Covid-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on after-work drinks with colleagues, weekend conferences and wine and cheese launch parties. Like everything else, the pandemic has forced business leaders to move networking to move online. Luckily, it is still possible to network virtually effectively. We're going to give you the lowdown on the best practices on how to do it:

1. Online networking tips

The first step in online networking online is to actually get online! Sharpen up your Linkedin profile and make sure your photo looks clean and professional. Then treat your Linkedin like you're at a conference handing out your business card - add all your coworkers and people you've met through business functions. You can do the same on Twitter if you're in a field that's active in that space. Facebook groups that are in your specific industry are also a good bet. Now you've begun building relationships.

2. Stay active on social media

Want to use social media in a meaningful way (and not just post cute photos of your pet)? We mean post interesting articles on your Linkedin, Twitter and private Facebook groups that you think your colleagues would appreciate. Your business land an amazing new deal? Has a new product out? Post that too. And don't forget to engage with others' posts. Take 10 minutes every day, perhaps during your 3 pm coffee break to head to your social networks and scroll and like, comment and retweet posts from your network. That will make people more likely to share and like your stuff and it will build a connection over time. Then when you do eventually see them in person, they won't feel like a stranger. When you do this consistently for three or four months, you'll start to the fruits of your labour from online networking — feeling more confident, starting to get more interaction and racking up new connections. After a few friendly exchanges, you may even feel comfortable enough messaging new or older contacts for a video chat.

3. Swap coffee dates for video dates

It's common practice to message a would-be client that you want to connect with to schedule a coffee, right? So why not do the same thing, but this time, virtually. To build up your professional network and develop lasting connections, you still need to get that face-to-face time in - even if it is across a computer screen. Use the same techniques you would have in 2019, just switch up the locale. Just make sure to build up a connection first before asking for something. That means don't just ask for a video chat straight away if you're looking to give an elevator pitch. Instead, start asking people in your industry for coffee once a month or so to develop new skills, learn the latest happenings and have someone to chat to about the particularities of your sector. Then, when you do want to pitch a new client that connection will already be there, ready to lean upon.

4. Attend virtual networking events

Canadians have become so resourceful in this pandemic and so many organizations have switched their in-person networking events online. It's not the same thing as an in-person meet up, but it is something. There's still plenty of panel discussions, lectures and talks happening right now, it's just happening online. Why not consider joining one of these events, showing up in your little online box and then adding some of the participants to your social media platforms? If you attend a few of them in your industry, you'll start to notice a few of the same people over and over, just like in real life, and you'll start to build an authentic connection. Plus, it's a great way to stay on top of the latest news in your industry and get some intellectual stimulation. You just never know where you latest client will come from!

5. Follow-up and be genuine

Creating a network as a business leader ultimately depends on two things: following-up and being genuine. Don't ever take one no-response as a "not": always follow-up. You just never know if that email went into their junk inbox. And don't only network when you're looking to pitch — make it a part of your daily life and build meaningful connections constantly. And when you're on the other side of the table and someone comes to you to connect and build their network? Do it! It's a great way to learn more about your industry and make meaningful professional connections.

In the end, building a network virtually is similar to building a network face to face.