As a blogger residing in a third world country, networking opportunities are limited for me. Logistical problems mean that it is bloody hard to hop over to the US for conferences – and in many cases, us non-US bloggers are at a disadvantage in terms of real networking opportunities.
However, if you’re a non-US blogger (or a non-US/UK blogger), there are several other networking opportunities available for you. Let’s start with the easiest, managing online networking.
It goes without saying that for maximum success, you need to set goals, figure out the best way to achieve them and then get busy moving from point A to point B. It’s the same with networking.
A. Online Networking
Harness the power of email, instant messaging, forums, blogging, Skype, LinkedIn and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Embrace the online medium and learn how everything works and how you can use it to your benefit.
1. Write Effective Emails
While you should practice the Tim Ferriss formula for dealing with email, it also helps that when you actually do read and reply to your email you do it in a manner that gleans maximum results AND doesn’t require you to go back and forth like you would in an informal IM session.
2. Treat IM conversations as ‘Deadline’ Meetings
Set an agenda before you start, deal with all issues and come out with a plan of action by the end of the conversation. In fact, you should adopt this mindset for every business-related discussion you have, not just IMs.
Like I’ve said earlier, there are times when IM becomes a necessity. However in 99% of the cases, IM is a means to an end. When you’re networking, you have limited time and more importantly you want to deliver value, not just waste the other person’s time.
There is one exception – beyond initial contact, there is always a time when you need to build a good rapport with your contacts, and sometimes the least time-consuming method to do so is IM (I can hold 6 conversations on IM at the same time, I can’t do that on the phone).
3. Master Online Social Networks
The rewards are amazing (and I’m not talking about being a Digg power user). The contacts and relationships you build by participating in forums and social networks are invaluable plus the sheer speed of the social web makes it possible for you to find out about breaking news in real time (if your work depends on being first with the news or acting quickly on new information, this is again critical).
4. Online is NOT Everything
Despite our reliance on the Internet, nothing beats a face-to-face meet or a talk on the phone in terms of building trust. I remember how I had introduced myself to Liz at the beginning and she refused to help me until we’d talked and she could confirm that I was a real person (I think the charming voice helped as well ).
The point is, contact and relationship building is incomplete without the human element. In the absence of a physical meeting, use Skype or Google Talk to talk to your contacts and build strong relationships.
B. Develop A Local Network
Living online is a major obstacle if you want to build a network of business contacts in the real world where you live. Most people will still prefer doing business face-to-face if they can make it happen, and that leaves you with no excuse to not pursue building a local network of contacts in your city / country.
5. Use Online Networks To Find Local Contacts
I’ve used my blogging, forums and LinkedIn to attract local business and contacts, and I wasn’t even trying to do that at the time.
Use LinkedIn, Facebook, the blogging interweb and forums (as well as any / all contacts you have) to discover local contacts. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
6. Meet Recruiters
Recently I had the opportunity to meet a local recruiter. Usually I’d shun such contacts at first thought, because the last thing on my mind is to work for a ‘boss’. However, recruiting companies also offer you the chance to build your assets – that is, acquire access to a resource pool that you can later use as leverage for your own projects or any outsourcing project that you happen to snag as a consultant.
Yesterday I was talking to an entrepreneur who wants to take over the world (not literally) and he asked me if I knew any good programmers – I told him I had access to a recruiting company and his eyes lit up (I’m assuming, of course, since he was sitting in the US).
Don’t pass up opportunities to build your assets. Not only will they help you in your projects in the future but they will also make you more valuable as a contact, which will eventually mean that people will come to you instead of the other way around.
7. Meet Local Reps
Have you met folks working for Google in your country? I suggest you seek them out and do so at the first opportunity. While the setup is different depending on which country you’re living in, chances are that you’ll be able to network with people from Google / Yahoo / Microsoft / etc etc at local conferences, seminars and trade shows.
From my (very limited) experience, local reps are almost always evangelists and as a result have a vast array of contacts and opportunities themselves. Get in, make yourself useful and nurture the relationship.
C. The Art of Successful Networking
For all the tips and advice, the important bits are foundational and have little to do with networking itself – I’m not here to preach how you should conduct yourself, on the other hand these traits will amplify your networking efforts.
8. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Have you ever met a person who talks a big game but at the end of the day they rarely have anything to show for it? Would you recommend such a person as a business contact to your network?
Talking a good game is important, but it’s even more important to have the track record to back you up.
9. Be Open and Available
The Internet is a blessing and a curse – it gives us instant access to everything but it also makes us anonymous (some might say that’s a blessing in disguise). It also hits your social life quite hard, so you’ll have to make an extra effort to get your butt out of your chair and move out of your house to meet people.
When it comes to networking, especially when you’re starting out, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to contact you and be ready to meet / talk to new people whenever the opportunity arises. It’s more of a mindset than a habit.
Of course, there’s the obvious exception – if you’re as busy as Matt Cutts or Brad Callen and you’re getting more than 5 emails a minute, you probably need several filters (read: assistants) in between you and people wanting to talk to you (with the odd IM / separate email account for ‘urgent / private’ stuff).
10. Understand How People Tick
You’re in the peoples’ business, so you need to know how people think, act and react and modify your approach accordingly. This is one of those cases where reading that self-help stuff works (make friends, influence people and all that). Learn it, practice it and use this knowledge to your advantage.
So there you have it – solid, actionable advice to improve your networking even if you can’t attend those cool conferences that all the big boys seem to be going to. If you’re looking for a shortcut, here’s the best bet (even better than attending local meets, which was so obvious that I refuse to mention it in the 10 points above): hitch a ride as a consultant with a local firm who will send you to such a conference. Alternatively, sign up as a consultant / contractor to a US-based firm who would (cross your fingers) eventually call you to a meet / training seminar / etc.
What is your #1 networking tip?