Networking is one of the most effective ways to find clients for any consulting or professional services business. But if you limit your networking to only what you can do in person, you'll be missing out on a huge number of possibilities.
Networking is more than entering a room full of people and exchanging business cards. It's creating a pool of contacts with whom you can exchange clients, referrals, resources, ideas, and information. Networking can happen by phone, by mail, over coffee, and increasingly, over the Internet.
The growth of the Internet has created many new ways to network without ever leaving your home or office. Pick a topic, any topic, and there will be multiple web sites and online communities devoted to it. Almost any type of Internet presence offers opportunities for networking.
In your favorite search engine, type the name of your profession or specialty, such as "interior design" or "marketing communications." Or, if you have a clearly defined target market, you can use that, such as "baby boomers" or "biotechnology." Skip the sponsored links or banner ads and focus on the detailed results. What you will find is Internet networking opportunities such as the following:
Professional Associations & Schools - Many association or school sites provide member rosters, resource pages, back issues of newsletters, event calendars, and bulletin boards or discussion lists. Not all of these features will be restricted to members or students.
Resource Sites & Online Communities - These include directories of people in the profession, vendors, articles, event calendars, bulletin boards, discussion lists, live chats, and links to even more resource sites.
Publications - Magazines and newsletters maintain sites that offer everything from back issues to complete online communities.
Job Postings - These may appear on any of the above sites, and often include opportunities for independent professionals, not just those looking for full-time employment.
Colleagues & Competitors - Colleagues and competitors may be exactly the same people, depending on your relationship with them. Their sites will tell you more about them and their work, and may offer many of the same features as resource sites.
Potential Clients - Their sites will tell you about the work they do, current and upcoming projects, and even the names of executives and managers.
Also, if you subscribe to an online service offering interactive "channels," like America Online, CompuServe or MSN, there may be an entire area dedicated to your profession or target market. Some of these resources are available to non-members as well.
Now, how can you use all this information for Internet networking? Here are some of the most common ways:
Bulletin Boards - These are web pages where you can view and post questions and comments on a specific subject. Answering a posted question is an excellent way to demonstrate your expertise, become known to the people who frequent the board, and get to know others in your field.
Don't be overly self-promotional when posting, just include a signature line at the end of your post, such as "Ingrid Gustafsson, Nordic Design." If you see someone else on the board who you would like to get to know in a collegial way, e-mail them. But never directly approach for business the people you find there. You might find yourself banned from membership.
C. J. Hadyn offers more suggestions for effective Internet networking on the next page. Click to continue reading.