Several hundred years ago, Ben Franklin contemplated a revolutionary business concept: to gather people together on a regular basis to share ideas and help each other boost business.
Little did he know that his idea would evolve into a field of study embraced by legions of businesspeople centuries later: networking.
Certainly, over the next few hundred years, networking evolved in myriad ways. But, with the advent of and dependence on the Internet, networking has now taken a turn to the on-ramp of the information superhighway. And professionals are starting to realize that attending meetings, schmoozing with potential clients, and creating connections at conventions and trade shows are only the beginning.
Now, the time has come for a new kind of networking: internetworking.
The definition of networking is the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships. Therefore, this new term, internetworking, can be defined as the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships online. This article will explore five suggestions that will help take your internetworking to the next level.
Goals Of Internetworking
Although the motivation for internetworking varies from person to person and business to business, here are the three primary goals:
- To Develop and Maintain Mutually Valuable Relationships
- To Maximize Your Web Presence
- To Give Value First
Notice the absence of such phrases as "get new clients," "book more business," or "make more money." Those were not found on the list of internetworking goals because those phrases aren't goals –- they're results. And they're not the motivation behind internetworking –- they're the fruits of its labor.
Don't worry. Those results will come in their due time. But remember, internetworking isn't a one-time deal, quick-fix, get-rich-in-30-days or a sell-lots-of-stuff-the-day-your-website-goes-live type of concept. It's an ongoing practice. So keep your goals in the back of your mind while you practice.
What Are Your Internetworking Goals?
Ladies and gentleman, start your engines. Before you do anything, I recommend you Google yourself. You'll be amazed at what you find–-or don't find. In addition to being fun, this will also give you a general idea about your existing web presence--or lack thereof.
I'll never forget the first time I Googled myself. The year was 2002. I'd just started my business, written my first book, and created its website. I was so excited to see how many Google hits I got! And can you guess how many pages came up?
One. One measly hit. It was my high school golf score from a tournament I played when I was 17 years old.
Looks like I had a long way to go.
If your Google ranking isn't as high as you'd like it to be, that's ok. It takes time to climb the search engine ladder. But, by investigating your ranking prior to jumping right into internetworking, you'll have a better idea of where you need to go. Also, as you put to use many of these internetworking tips, your ranking will increase. But, the bottom line is this: if you don't exist on the Internet, you don't exist at all.
Research, Research, Research
Speaking of search engines, Google is the perfect portal to discover not only where you stand, but where other business people stand. Part of internetworking is connecting with other people in your industry-–or complimentary industries-–with whom you can develop mutually valuable relationships.
Let's say you sell accounting services. Why not take 30 minutes a week to research who else works in the same field? Here are some suggestions for search terms (make certain to use the quotations):
- "accounting services firms"
- "accounting service providers"
- "professional accounting service"
- "best accounting service"
When you search your industry, job, or profession in this manner, you will discover every website, link, article, and reference to it on the web! What's more, your search results will transcend geographical boundaries and reach valuable contacts you never could have met at your local Chamber meeting.
And these people would be perfect additions to your network. But you do have to take initiative.
So, no matter what industry you're in, here's what to do next:
- Review someone's website or article from your search
- Drop him or her an e-mail
- In the letter, tell him how you came across his information, introduce yourself, and why the two of you should connect with each other. Explain how important networking relationships are to business, and that you'd like to be able to help him by sharing ideas and brainstorming and offering resources and recommendations.
Not every person will respond. But most professionals will be willing to, at the least, check out your site and get to know you a little better so they can expand their network, too. And you never know: the one person that you e-mail could change everything!
Believe me, it happens. Last year, I randomly e-mailed one of my favorite authors to speak highly of his work. He saw my website on my e-mail signature, then decided to post a link to my website on his blog. That link resulted in 70,000 hits per day for a week, several new valuable relationships, and a tremendous increase in web presence.
Write As An Expert
Publishing articles is a brilliant way to maximize the web presence of yourself, your company, and your website. It positions you as an expert, gives value first, educates people in you industry and promotes you and your business…for free!
But the question is: What do you write about?
Let's go back to Google for the answer. If you work as an attorney who specializes in workman's compensation, try this. Go online and type in "article workman's compensation." Thousands of hits will come up, many of which will have articles written by other professionals in your industry.
As you read, your mind will overflow with creative article ideas. You will learn information or concepts you've never heard of before. And you will most definitely run into a few points about which you strongly disagree. These are all perfect prompts for your own articles.
Once you've decided what topic to write on, here are two suggestions for getting your work published online. The first is to e-mail the editor of the publication in which you saw an interesting article. Introduce yourself and tell her your opinion on the same matter. Also mention that you'd love to contribute to her publication as well, and would like to know more about her submission guidelines.
You can also search online for article databases. These websites catalogue thousands of articles written by various contributors, one of whom could be you. When you arrive at those sites, browse around for a page called "Submission Guidelines." This will give you more information about the publishing process.
The best advantage to publishing articles online is the opportunity to include a short bio at the end of your piece. This will briefly tell the reader about you and link to your website. And because you've already given value and established credibility, people will want to learn more!
According to an article from the December 2003 issue of Venture Capital Journal, over 50 million people are involved in online social networking. These virtual communities such as Friendster, LinkedIn and Blogger are helping individuals develop personal and professional relationships more than ever before.
Scott Allen and David Teten (www.thevirtualhandshake.com) are the leading experts on building quality business relationships online. According to their monthly column in Fast Company, they said, “More and more sales and marketing professionals will use online networks to accelerate their sales...because word of mouth will spread more rapidly about the value of your product or service.”
Once you get involved in a virtual community, you will realize that most of the members are incredibly willing to share ideas and connect with you. Especially with bloggers, internetworking is an up and coming business practice that gives you a competitive advantage over your competitors who are too lazy or too skeptical to take part.
Internetworking Is The Future
If you think attending Chamber and association meetings, offering referrals, hosting informational lunches, and keeping a stack of 50 business cards on your desk is networking, you're right. It is. But it's not enough. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Labor recently indicated that 70% of new business comes from some form of networking. So the real question is: how much of your 70% will come from internetworking?