Online networking is brilliant; in fact, it’s one of the easiest ways to find new business connections.

Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can be used to find new business opportunities, strike up business communications and get your name out in front of CEO’s, Owners and MD’s you usually wouldn’t have a chance of getting face time in front of.

In fact, 50% of B2B buyers use LinkedIn when making purchasing decisions (source https://blog.hootsuite.com/linkedin-statistics-business/ ) This is a phenomenal number and shows why at the very least LinkedIn needs to be part of your content and messaging marketing strategies.

But how can you combine traditional face to face and the more modern digital networking strategies.?

1. Build up a buzz about the event, to get more people aware of the event and more attendees (even if you’re not hosting more guests = more business opportunity)

This is possibly the most critical step because you never know who people know, so your messages attract someone outside your target market, e.g. Bob, the plumber, but bob is good friends with Robert the MD of UBER Business Coaching and decides that Robert would like this event. Now it turns out. Business coaches are in your market, so through creating a little buzz you’ve brought in a new member of the group and increased your out of network contacts! Even if you don’t manage to bring in Bob’s friend, the more people who turn up to each event the more significant the chance of your target audience turning up!

Advertising you’re going to an event also has the added benefit of letting other attendees know you’re attending, so they can plan to speak to YOU and get a conversation going, which nicely goes into our next point.

2. Before going to a networking event make sure to look up attendees on LinkedIn and connect with them

Sometimes you don’t know who’s going to be at an event before it happens. This is another reason why #1 is the most crucial step as it gives attendees a chance to make themselves known to you. I if you can’t find any attendees, you can skip directly to point 6 (though I wouldn’t recommend it)

If you have an attendee list than make sure you check them out on LinkedIn. This is an essential step as it sets the way for conversations, and gives you an edge as you can identify who your target audience is and how you should approach them on the day/night of the event.

3. Even before they connect, make sure to read their profile and learn something about them

Before they connect it’s vital to ACTUALLY read their profile, yes if they just have name and job description you may not learn much about them, but this could give you valuable insight into their business, many people put up awards and goals for their business.

If they have personal information such as previous jobs you find interesting, or perhaps interests you share, to make a note of it.

All this information should be written down on paper, so you can refresh yourself when meeting them in person and when sending messages on LinkedIn/Email (see next step)

4. Once connected send them a message introducing yourself

It is important to note that this is NOT a sales message, but an introduction to yourself (not your business at this stage) but a message such as

hi XXX

I see we’re both going to YYY event, and I wanted to introduce myself before the event,

I’m looking forward to it as the last one I attended had a great speaker, [insert topic spoken about] we’re you at that one?

I’d love to schedule a 1-to-1 with you so we can talk in person and learn much more about what we each do and if we could add value to each other.

See you on [DATE]

Have a great week

[NAME]

Now note you don’t try to sell your product and service, but you do ask them if you can schedule some time for a chat between just the two of you. 

As this is the goal of most networking events, they are much more likely to speak to you (and as some events insist you have at least one 1-on-1 takes a massive hassle of finding someone on the night)

However, if you’re going down this route, try not to overbook yourself

5. Once at the event, make a point of speaking with everyone you connected with

Even if they haven’t connected back make sure to mention that you connected on LinkedIn (and noticed something from their profile, e.g. Loves dogs, mountain climbing, music whatever) this is doubly true that if they did connect with you, to thank them and start the conversation about them.

This is a good general networking tip, that once you get someone speaking about them, it’s much easier to find out how you could add value to them and while their busy talking to you, it gives you access to more information that should be added onto your quick sheet when you have time.

Even if they don’t have time for a full 1-on-1 this event, now they know you’re on LinkedIn ask them if you can message them to arrange a better time to speak. If you don’t ask you will never know.

6. Not connected, Do it now

While at the event, if you’re not connected with them, pull out your phone and connect in front of them and send them a request then and there, this SHOULD prompt them to accept then and there, giving you the chance to follow up with messages the next day (step seven)

7. Make sure you follow up on any connections with a message the next day (even if there’s no possibility for work)

Even if you cannot work together make sure you message them saying how nice it was to meet them. Networking both online and offline is about building relationships and referrals, and if say, Bob, the plumber likes the feel of you, he is much more likely to recommend you.

Building this relationship needs to happen both online and offline and can be done with regular messages (such as sharing articles from their field (e.g. top marketing tips for tradespeople) and catching up with them.

This should be done sparingly as if you message them every week; you won’t seem as genuine (unless you’ve struck up a real friendship, by which point you will probably have moved away from LinkedIn as your sole means of communication