Virtual Networking to Grow Your Business

Two years ago, a speaker/author I've never met personally conducted a weekend seminar. I heard about it through his e-newsletter, and offered to donate copies of my book, Get Slightly Famous, to attendees. I sent the books to the hotel and received a thank you letter.

A year later, the father of a Hollywood celebrity contacted me. He had started a non-profit foundation and heard about me through his partner who had attended the seminar. They were interested in forming a partnership with my foundation, Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship. They wanted to provide a celebrity endorsement from his daughter, which you can listen to at

This opportunity happened without ever leaving my office.

In another instance, I landed a large client because I maintained a relationship with the moderator of a popular email discussion list. She recommended me to another group as a teleseminar guest, and later to a member of the audience who is now a client.

Both the client, and the referral source, I've never personally met.

I've always practiced traditional, face-to-face networking. Participating in traditional, face to face networking groups has helped me meet like-minded people, grow my contact sphere and position my business to attract referrals.

But recently, several "fortunate" events ­ all of which took place through virtual channels -- have prompted me to redefine my concept of networking.

When you take full advantage of virtual networking, you'll encounter a world of new opportunities to meet like-minded people, position yourself as an expert, attract prospects and grow your business without leaving your desk.

Degrees of Separation

Your success is inextricably linked to your network. The goal of networking is to create and maintain a network of people within your niche that know you, like you and trust you.

Most businesses do not think beyond in-person networking—i.e. attending networking events, going out to lunch with key contacts, etc—when it comes to growing and maintaining a business network. Yet, in-person networking only goes so far; there's a limit to how much personal networking you can do, especially if you have a national or global marketplace.

With a broader mindset, and by harnessing the power of the Internet to connect you with virtually anyone, anywhere, you don't need to hope you shake the right hand at a business mixer anymore to grow your business and expand your reach.

Today, the Internet provides several ways to expand your concept of networking. Although there's no substitute for human contact, online networking can supplement in-person networking activities and expand your reach into all corners of your niche without the need to be personally present.

Online Networking

Online communities and social networking sites are growing into powerful venues for building relationships online. Online communities have grown at a phenomenal rate, allowing you to connect with like-minded people all over the world without the expense and limitations of attending real-world networking events.

Some of the top social networking sites include:

- LinkedIn (
- Ryze (
- OpenBC (
- ecademy (

Through social networking web sites, you can target and become part of virtual communities of great prospects and associates while developing a virtual “platform” to generate leads and sales and establish yourself as a recognized expert.

Discussion Groups and Web Forums vE-mail discussion groups, also known as listservs, allow participants to join an e-mail network composed of those with a strong interest in the group's topic. Members post messages, which are sent to the group on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the group, and participate in ongoing on-line discussions.

Internet newsgroups are also valuable as virtual networking tools. Google Groups and Yahoo! Groups provide easy gateways. There are e-mail discussion lists devoted to just about every topic imaginable, from knitting to human resources. You can find lists that relate to your target market at Topica (

Also known as 'bulletin boards,' Web forums are hosted at specialized Web sites, and are often moderated by a host or site owner. They allow participants to post messages in common areas that members can read and reply to at any time. Web forums are like ongoing group conversations. One of the largest directories of forums can be found at Delphi Forums (

The Benefits of Virtual Networking

According to Scott Allen, author of “The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online,” some of the ways that you can use social networks and other online community channels to market your company include:

The odds are good that you can identify a virtual community where members of your target market are already gathered. If it doesn't already exist, just create a virtual community for your target market and watch it grow.

Research Your Market
Through online communities, you can take the pulse of your target market. You can learn about consumer interests and reactions with a candor rarely found in focus groups and surveys.

Create Competence and Reinforce Your Brand
Social networks give you an accessible outlet to establish your expertise. You can speak up in a mailing list, discussion forum, or blog, and reach hundreds or thousands of people. Every time someone sees your postings and email signature reinforces your brand.

Ignite word-of-mouth buzz

Word-of-mouth—satisfied customers talking about you—is one of the most effective ways to establish your Competence. Word-of-mouth flows through online social networks, and chances are that you'll reach prospects and referral sources by participating in online forums.

Virtual Networking Etiquette

These forms of expanded virtual networking often take less time than attending a single networking event, yet can deliver a powerful impact and reach a lot more people. You'll build relationships with your target audience by remaining visible, and cement your credibility by offering useful content related to your expertise.

After you've chosen your online networking options, consider what you can provide that will build and reinforce your relationship with your target marketplace. Display your expertise and let your personality shine through. If done creatively and consistently, you will build a powerful network upon which future sales and referrals are possible without needing to rely solely on face-to-face contact.

Most of the rules of successful face-to-face networking also carry over to online networking. Don't approach online networking with the intent of aggressively pitching your products and services. In online, as in other kinds of networks, that approach will do more harm than good. Online networking is about creating visibility and familiarity, and helping others in a way that results in trust and relationships.

Copyright 2006, Steven Van Yoder. All rights reserved.
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San Francisco, CA 94102
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