Being part of a professional network means that you are interconnected to a group of people who share ideas and information which is relevant to you and your business. This collective intelligence offers you opportunities to grow your business by learning about new business leads as well as what is important to your customers. It can also provide you with new ideas on how to improve your business.
Being a member of a professional network means that you can ask questions, seek clarification or ask for help. It also means that you can offer solutions to other people’s problems, which helps to establish you as an expert in your field.
There has never been a better time to have an enormous professional network, and without having to attend numerous networking events. This can be done simply by creating an online professional profile over and above the profile you may have on your business website.
Here are a few golden rules on how to effectively grow your business through online professional networks:
Find where your professional network hangs out online
Most people think of LinkedIn as the one and only place to have an online professional network but this is not necessarily true for everyone.
There are many sites where you can grow your business through your online professional network but the decision about which site you should be a part of should be determined by where your online professional network hangs out. That is, where do the people in your industry gravitate to online? For example, if your business offers:
- professional services, then LinkedIn is where you should start
- retail services, then Facebook is where you should start
- multimedia/creative services, then YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest is where you should start
- IT services or technical gadgets, then Google+ is where you should start
- education and training services, then Twitter is where you should start, and
- if your business deals with Chinese businesses or customers, then WeChat is where you should start
Make sure your online professional profile is suitable to your network
Once you have found which is the best site to grow your online professional network, and you have registered with that site, ensure that your profile is set up appropriate to your network. At a minimum ensure you have an appropriate photo of yourself, a short bio which explains how you are an expert in your field and a link to your business website.
Also as part of your profile, start to make some appropriate posts which are interesting and useful to those people who you would like to connect with, for example: share an inspirational quote, photo or video. This content can be your own content or that of someone else as long as you attribute to whom the work belongs.
What other activity you undertake should be determined by what you are aiming to achieve by being a part of this network, for example: trying to build professional credibility, learning from others, and/or finding new leads etc. Set yourself an online professional networking goal. Use this goal to scope or flesh out what you will spend your valuable time doing in this network, as well as use it to help you monitor whether the site meets your needs after one month, three months and six months.
Start to grow your online professional network straight away
Being part of an online professional network is useless unless you are connected to others. Most online networking sites offer quick ways to help you establish some connections by allowing them to use your email address book to match if anyone in your existing network is a member of their site.
Once you have connected to some of your existing colleagues on the site, review their connections and send a request to connect to those people who you feel you would like to network with as well. These potential connections are much more likely to accept your request if they can see that you already connected to someone they know and network with.
Join the site’s online groups to expand your network
Some of the best networking opportunities happen in the online groups which people have established in the site. These online groups offer you the opportunity to ask questions as well as discuss and debate ideas and practices. Search to find these groups by using topics of interest or relevance to your business, for example: “business referrals”.
Join at least three groups and monitor their activity for relevance to your professional networking goal and/or your business goals. Once you have established how the group functions by reading and responding to other people’s posts, post a comment or question which will help lead to a discussion among the members. Use open ended questions or ask ‘why’ if they offer yes/no answers.
This activity in the groups will lead to people sending you requests to connect so they can continue to monitor your posts outside of the group. Also, after being a contributing member of a group, you can start to request to connect with other members of the group so you can monitor their progress and communicate with them via the site’s internal networking systems eg email and text/video chats. These requests are much more likely to be accepted if you have been an active group member.
Stay in touch with your online network
Once you have established your online professional profile and started to grow your online professional network in your preferred site, ensure that you download the ‘app’ for that site to your mobile phone. This app will enable you to add new comments and posts through your mobile phone regardless of where you are, and in real time. This makes for much more interesting information being shared.
The app will also prompt you when other people have been interacting with you through the site. This is a great way to solidify the new and existing relationships with the people you have connected with through your online professional network.
Widening the number of people that you are connected with can lead to new customers and referrals. It can also help you connect with potential business partnerships and investors as well as new staff and suppliers. It can also help you to find out useful information like how to save money or about funding opportunities or other networking opportunities, so make the most of growing your business through online professional networks.
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