Business Networking Just Got Tech Smart

To keep physical interactions to a minimum in the pandemic, business networking will not be the same it used to be. The use of AI, VR, online groups, and social media will pave the novel way of business networking.


Technology Has Made Business Networking Smarter

Michele Jennae, the award-winning author of the book ‘The Connect worker’ made a witty quote that said, ‘Networking is not just connecting people. It is about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.’ For new ventures to set their foot in the territory of entrepreneurship, good business networking is critical for personal growth, business development, getting more clients and projects, etc. Networking is the exchange of useful information and contacts. It is about building lasting, supportive relationships with people who share a common interest or goal.

Going by the famous proverb ‘Rome was not built in a day’, new businesses need time to set their foot firmly in the entrepreneurial realm and will face a multitude of challenges. Networking here plays a pivotal role in forging relationships with the industry experts, or with start-up owners just like you, who help in guiding you for any problems. Fostering strong relations brings numerous advantages to the table. 

Benefits of networking 

Increase knowledge

Knowledge is power. Networking is an excellent method to share ideas and increase the knowledge base. When we share an opinion, insight, or feedback with others we tend to expand our knowledge base as well as others. When we meet people belonging to different ethnic and educational backgrounds, we receive different perspectives to approach problems and gain more knowledge from them. Also, through networking, you will come in contact with individuals who have faced similar hurdles that you are facing currently . It will provide an opportunity to learn and avoid certain pitfalls. 

Attract investors and opportunities

Through business networking, we can attract investors as well as improve the reputation of the venture. When we gradually start building connections and share what we know, we will eventually attain a reputation as being someone who likes to interact and share knowledge with people, which in turn helps to build credibility. Hence, paving the path for being noticed and opening new avenues for better opportunities like- business partnerships, client leads, proposal for joint ventures and business sales, etc. Networking helps in spreading the word to the potential investors by which we can easily set up presentation meetings for funding that otherwise would have been a herculean task. 

Get mentored

People who begin new in entrepreneurship have limited knowledge and are unaware of probable business risks that might occur. In such cases, we need a mentor who can handhold us for what can be the best for that scenario. It is essential to network with the industry experts who will act as a mentor to give clarity on how to grow from thinking of ‘how to make things happen’ to ‘why it will happen’, which is a far better context to work from and will yield better results.  

Get confident

Networking helps in improving your interpersonal skills that will elevate your confidence. The more you do it, the better you will become at convincing people, which is a required quality for a business owner. The way we talk, convey our message, and make connections, strongly impacts the business.

Business Networking before

Imagine this, we appear at a business summit and get into a conversation with industry experts at the high tea followed by the exchange of business cards. The bunch of business cards collected at the event will either end up in a drawer or the dustbin. The networking of recent times has gone beyond the collection of business cards and a few handshakes. People tend to forget with whom they interacted what and the memory of the interaction is erased from the mind. Networking needs to be more personalized that should leave an impression at the back of peoples’ minds. A business card is a piece of paper with ink and images on it. Here no such relationship has been formed. Hence, this networking strategy is not effective. 

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Use of advanced technologies like AI and VR will shape the novel ways of networking in the post-pandemic period.

Business networking now in Covid-19

The pandemic year of 2020 has thrown hiccups to the businesses in which they operated. The deadly contagion has pushed the workforce indoors and has demanded minimum physical interaction. It begs the question of how to build networks in such unprecedented times. The pandemic is catalyzing the businesses to quickly adapt to digital ways of networking as well as incorporate advanced technologies AI and VR. Hence, business networking has just got tech smart. 

For building new networks and connections

Use of social media

We have been using social media for entertainment and leisure purposes. But now, this medium can act as an effective way of connecting with people. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, LinkedIn is the most dominant platform for online networking. Here are some ways that will help small entrepreneurs in networking. 

Update and curate your profile

When we send a connection request on LinkedIn or Facebook, the recipient is intrigued enough to check the profile or bio of the sender. After all, the profile of the individual is the first selling point. Make sure that your profile has all the necessary information such as – the previous company you have worked for, the current business you are into, skills that you possess, certifications and courses completed, academic records, etc. For example- a new sustainable fashion boutique owner wants to send a connection request to an investor. The profile should be updated and highlighted with the latest fashion brands she/he has worked with, the concept of the sustainable fashion brand, various blogs written on sustainable fashion, posts, etc. It gives a glimpse of our work as well as you as a person. If we are networking through Instagram, we need to prevent the recipient from going through the entire page since they do not have adequate time. The information should be readily available and should contain three major things at the top of the profile: providing context to the nature of the work, establish authority in your work, and show social proof. 

Comment opinions and insights

Merely sending friend or connection requests and liking their posts is not going to help us in networking. We need to present ourselves as an individual who is well aware of the industry to the newly made connections. It can be done by liking the posts of the connects and commenting on something useful and relevant to the post. When we give a piece of valuable information as a comment, people tend to like it which eventually is followed by their responses as well. In this way, it creates a mini discussion within a discussion. Through this, we start becoming noticeable to the people.

Craft the right message

Be it LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram for messaging someone on social media, it is necessary to make the message have a personal touch and conciseness. Exchange pleasantries and appreciate their work. For example – Hi (recipient), I am also a (your occupation) who does (service/business). I will be interested to give my two cents/would like to give advice/to be mentored etc. Keep the message for an open invitation for a conversation. 

Online communities for business networking

 The entrepreneurial journey is not a bed of roses. Right from managing the staff to developing the business and to increase sales, the budding entrepreneurs face plenty of challenges that needs to be tackled. Even if the business is doing well, one needs to be aware of various government policies and rules that might impact your business in the future so that beforehand we can be cautious of it. With the everchanging government regulations and trade policies, the small business owners need support and advice to keep taking the business to the next level by joining online communities. These online communities are a group of like-minded entrepreneurs where they share experiences, advice, and tools to succeed in business. Here are a few advantages to be a part of these online communities:

Great resource

On joining the community, the members will get all the vital information right from business planning to growth strategies to website building in one place. Online communities act as a free resource centre for new business owners with loads of information to help them in any area of the business. One learns best practices, share and receive advice from other small business owners who have faced similar challenges in the past as you. By participating in the discussion forum, one can get their doubts cleared by posting questions. By doing this, the small business owners feel supported and motivated. 

Market your business

Online communities are a great marketing platform for a new business or start-up. When the start-up owners join the community, they should invest time to build a strong profile where information is clear and captivating to anyone reading it. The profile must contain the website address, the solutions your company provides, with whom you work, etc. It will help in finding potential clients as well. 

Networking and relations

The online communities are the hub for building relationships and networking for free. We can network with other small business owners and talk about your business and what your company does differently. Networking in online communities allows you to generate leads and increase your business and can also help us find joint venture partners.

Some examples of free online communities for entrepreneurs are – Start-up Nation and The Small Business Bonfire.

For nurturing the networks

Networking within the organization

It is crucial to network among colleagues as well. Networking internally with the colleagues and creating a relation of camaraderie benefits the company as there is an exchange of great ideas, collecting more industry information, and learning more about functional roles, etc. The emergence of the pandemic has led companies to work with employees remotely, which has reduced communication and has left them with a feeling of isolation. Hence, business owners must catch up with their remote employees for a virtual coffee or video call session. 

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Online communities are a group of like-minded entrepreneurs where they share experiences, advice, and tools to succeed in business.

Using technology for networking 

Artificial intelligence

In usual video conference meetings, we hardly come to know if the person speaking or present is an angel investor or a potential client. Sitting on the other side of the screen, we fail to establish connections. Meetings like these can prove to be unproductive. Artificial intelligence (AI) in business networking can make meetings efficient, fruitful, and pleasant. Below are a few advantages that AI helps in business networking. 

Manage contacts

Maintaining contacts through business cards can be a daunting task since business cards can get lost. Michael Guta from SmallBiz trends says that artificial intelligence relationship tools use machine learning algorithms and Natural language Processing (NLP) that helps to build a database of connections that classifies the external contacts as advisors, partners, investors, or mentors. Based on the number of conversations made through emails and the number of meetings held with the contacts, AI tools can automatically display a list of prospects with whom we are having the most conversations. It helps us in making informed decisions to identify opportunities for referrals and introductions. 

How AI helps in virtual conferences? 

During the meeting, AI can give detailed information about the participant’s work history, blog posts, current company, and links to social media accounts, directly in the meeting. So that one does not have to search to learn about the background of participants in the meeting. Through facial recognition, it allows us to put a face to the name for easy identification when there are multiple participants in the virtual conference. 

Sometimes in meetings, we mistakenly skip writing vital points. In AI-enabled virtual meeting platforms, transcripts of the meetings are available so that we know what parts we have missed. 

Virtual Reality

The present pandemic situation demands minimal physical interactions. With heightened concerns of maintaining social distance organizing business summits and trade exhibitions have taken a backseat for now. Such events used to be beneficial for business networking to attract business leads and investors since a business could showcase the working of its product. In a remote setup, with the use of VR technology a company can demonstrate a product functioning in the environment and helps viewers imagine what it might be like to own the item. The photorealistic visual element of VR technology persuades the brain to believe that what is being real and that leads to increase conversion and sales. Recently, IIT Bombay using VR technology has hosted their 58th convocation ceremony. They created a personalized avatar of each student receiving the degree certificate from the institute director. 

How will the Tech Induced Business Networking be beneficial? 

Here are some benefits to the technology or digital infused business networking: 

Develop personalized relationships

Networking through video and web conferencing results in agile decision making and meaningful conversations. Instead of depending on long email chains, video or web conferencing lets individuals connect in real-time as if they are present in the same room. It allows you to attach a name with a face that brings up the contributor’s personality. 

Structured meetings

Time is precious. Physical meets might lead to exceeding the time limit discussing irrelevant things. Whereas on video or web conferencing platforms, people irrespective of belonging to different time zones and geography can connect with a clear agenda in mind and the meeting can get over on time. 

Focus on content

In a virtual set up the focus is more on the meeting agenda or business content at hand, as the entire focus is on the discussion and what is being shown. In a virtual setting, the distractions arising from people gossiping or chit-chatting or the surroundings, etc. are eliminated. 

Showcase more information

In face-to-face meetings, we make PowerPoint presentations that are generally predefined content at hand, whereas in a virtual meeting anyone can share any relevant content instantly. This easy sharing of digital content will not be possible in physical meetups.

Clear doubts

Small business owners being the members of the online entrepreneurial community now know whom to reach out to when countered with a problem. If there are any queries, they can immediately receive answers and suggestions for the same. 

Saves time and money

It saves a great deal of time and money that goes on travelling and booking rooms and spaces in hotel and exhibition halls. Now anybody can join a meeting irrespective of geographical boundaries. 

In such unprecedented times of the pandemic, companies should now embrace newer technologies or mediums to network and put health on a higher pedestal. 

Shalmoli Sarkar
Shalmoli Sarkar
An MBA in marketing and a BTech in chemical engineering, Shalmoli writes on marketing strategies and business technology for new and aspiring entrepreneurs.

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