Online vs. In-Person Networking
What is the last networking event you attended? If you need to check your calendar, maybe it’s been too long. In this day and age, many of us exchange Facebook and LinkedIn friend requests as often as business cards were exchanged 15 years ago, but can online networks really replace in-person networking?
LinkedIn is the largest social networking site for business, with more than 400 million members in over 200 countries and territories, according to Wikipedia. Yet take a look at your list of LinkedIn connections. Chances are, you’ve amassed a huge list of people you “know” but rarely communicate with. What good is your network really if it consists mostly people with whom you never interact?
Don’t get me wrong; online networking has its advantages. You can make more connections in a week than you would in a year of traditional networking, and online networks can expand across the globe. But there is something to be said for quality over quantity and the value of making a face to face connection.
There are some generational differences between the networking organizations professionals choose. Some young professionals may think of Rotary, Junior League, Toastmasters and the Chamber of Commerce as the networks of their parents’ generation. However, the demographic of these organizations varies by location, and they offer an opportunity to build relationships in your community. In addition, your local CPA society is an excellent place to meet professionals of all ages. Some CPAs have declined to get involved in their local society, seeing it as “networking with the competition,” but as Alan Long of Baldwin CPAs pointed out in his recent client spotlight, some of the best referrals come from being known and trusted by your peers.
Tips for face-to-face networking
If the idea of “working the room” at an event full of strangers makes you nervous, follow these tips to make forging new connections painless.
Get a list of attendees. You may be able to see who has RSVPd online or request a list from the organizers. Take a look at the names and select a few people you want to meet. Look at their LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to see what they’re talking about and whether you have any mutual connections.
Reach out ahead of time. Reach out to a few people you want to meet on social media to start the conversation. You’ll feel more comfortable introducing yourself when you meet in person.
Get there early. It may be tempting to arrive “fashionably late,” but it’s easier to mingle with just two or three people than it is to walk into a room full of people you don’t know.
Be bold and confident. For some people, this comes naturally. Others may need to “fake it until you make it.” For some tips on using body language and posture to feel and project more confidence, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk.
Make contacts now, sell later. Networking isn’t about selling. It’s about building relationships. People tend to do business with people they like, so focus on meeting new people and making a genuine connection. Doing business together comes later.
Follow up. Exchange business cards with the people you meet, then follow up with them, either by phone, email or social media. Include value in your follow up by sending them an article on a topic you discussed or a link to a free downloadable resource.
In this age of social networking, making offline, personal connections has become even more critical. Knowing how to network in person effectively can be one of the greatest tools you have in for developing your career and forging new business relationships. Be prepared, act professional and be proactive with your follow-up and you will be able to make the most of your network while having fun!
As a consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.