The word “networking” is right up there with team building, work retreats, and staff seminars in my world. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I start to twitch uncontrollably, and I want to curl up in the fetal position under my desk. Every job has good points and bad points to it, and schmoozing a crowd is definitely not one of my stronger attributes (maybe it stems from those awful insecure teen years, but that’s a whole other can of worms). But I have to wonder, with social media networking, does real life networking still have the same clout it once did?
Here’s what I’ve come to realize: yep, you still need to have people skills. Wait? What? You may be thinking “that doesn’t answer the question,” but as someone who has her own startup business, about 90% of my professional interaction is via the computer through messaging and e-mails. However, with techno communication comes an added layer of difficulty. You don’t have the physical cues of speaking to someone in person like in the deal-makings of the past. In addition, it’s harder to build relationships and connect with someone in a conversation that is typed back and forth. You tend to forego small talk and stick to the nuts and bolts of the matter at hand.
Nevertheless, with each e-mail and each time you press “Send,” you are in fact networking. The tone in which you write your messages, the frequency of communication, the emoticons that you incorporate, and the business product that you deliver all speak volumes to your clients and associates. Moreover, many times you connect with these cyber co-workers on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You may not have met someone in person, but you have undoubtedly fabricated some sort of opinion about them (so forego posting that video of your kid potty training or your dance moves from a wedding last week).
Regardless if your networking is at a local meet and greet or via smart phone, both are vital aspects of your business. According to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.” On or offline, both are the lifeblood of your success.
“The real definition of networking to me is building relationships before you need them,” says Diane Darling, an expert on the topic and the founder and CEO of Effective Networking, Inc. “It’s difficult because we tend to only do things in life when we need to. But if you’re running a marathon, you don’t wait until the morning of the race and then just go out to run. On that day of the race, you remember all of the time and hard work you put in ahead of time while training to get to that point. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there.”
Fortunately, with the World Wide Web the sphere of influence is even greater than joining a Chamber of Commerce mixer or trading business cards. There are an inestimable amount of websites that can connect you with others in your industry or that can help you find suppliers or distributors. You can even search for other professionals to help you further your business like the various types of lawyers that are available at UpCounsel.
Networking is more important than ever because the competition is fiercer than ever. So polish up those manners, work on your editing skills, and create amazing profiles that are worthy of online dating sites (okay, maybe not that last one).