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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Why savvy trainers need to network online and offline


Mixing of online and face-to-face networking can generate business and career success, says Heather Townsend.

When you hear the words "business networking" what comes to mind? I would place a large bet that you think about a room full of people talking.

But, what about social networking? Five years ago you could have been forgiven for thinking that social networking was never going to be a serious tool for networkers. But social networking has come of age, and online networking is now a part of any serious networker’s kit bag.

This has caused a split in the world of business networking. There are those trainers who have had years of experience of networking in person but are daunted by the world of online networking. After all – if you can’t build rapport when networking, then how are you able to build rapport with your delegates?
"Face-to-face networking doesn’t have to mean attending a formal networking group."
Others are a whiz at social networking on the web but enter any face-to-face networking event with trepidation.
Many trainers fall into the trap of thinking either of online or face-to-face networking rather than combining the two for maximum effect. But consider this:
  • LinkedIn and Twitter are fantastic tools for keeping in touch with delegates after meeting them at an event or workshop
  • You can use LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with a contact prior to meeting at a networking event
Long days spent in the training room often mean trainers have little time to network, but I bet that next job or assignment will rely on growing and maintaining an extensive in-house and external network. This is where online networking has the edge over face-to-face networking. It is always possible to fit in some online networking in a spare five minutes.

Many trainers are fantastic at gaining business opportunities via social media and so have discounted the possibilities that face-to-face networking can bring. But face-to-face networking doesn’t have to mean attending a formal networking group.

Consider networking at social events. I could never commit to a regular weekly or fortnightly networking group but I do have my networking hat on at social events. For example, at a recent family birthday party I received a great lead from one of my relations. When you are are running training events, have you got your networking hat on? Who on the course list would you like to stay in touch with after the event?
Many people think that because I am an advocate of online networking I don’t see the value of face-to-face networking. They couldn’t be more wrong. A face-to-face meeting can generate trust far quicker than a purely online relationship. Indeed, it is rare to find a very strong business relationship which hasn’t been cemented by some face to face time. And even, if a face-to-face meeting is impractical – a video call or phone call is better than an e-mail or a Twitter conversation. Until you have actually taken that step to have a real time conversation, referrals and opportunities are unlikely to flow from that person.
With the arrival of social networking, a trainer's networking toolkit is now huge. But it is important to know which tool is best for which job in order to network effectively and efficiently. There are definitely times when face-to-face has the edge, and times when online networking is better. The trouble is that most networkers (and trainers generally) get into a comfort zone, and tend to stick with what they know - and for many networkers that means being blinkered and choosing online or face-to-face networking.

"Using a mix of online and face-to-face networking can help drive career and business success. And it’s the most efficient way of networking."
In my research for The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking I found that the most effective networkers were both curious, but also willing to experiment. They didn't see any boundaries between personal and professional, online and offline networking - they were always open for networking, and tirelessly looking for the best ways to make and keep a valuable connection.
Using a mix of online and face-to-face networking can help drive career and business success. And it’s the most efficient way of networking. Let me know if you agree.
Heather Townsend is the author of The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking. She specialises in working with professional services firms and is the founder of The Efficiency Coach.

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Heather Townsend


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