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Digital networking during COVID-19

At a recent online National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) event, Mr Oscar Siziba, Managing Executive for Absa Bank’s Gauteng and Limpopo regions, gave small business owners tips for creating effective digital networks.

Having a digital presence is a part of any business, but the environment in which we now find ourselves has made it even more vital for small businesses to relook at their online strategies. To speak to your customers effectively, you need to be where they are, and at the moment they are online. It is at times like this that it is key to stay even closer to your customers and you need to manage your online presence in the right way. For small businesses; online communities and social media platforms enable them to share views on industry matters, network and generate business opportunities.

In the past, networking meant attending functions, shaking hands and swapping business cards. Today, we do much more of our networking online, but not everyone really knows how to go about this.

I would like you to consider seven elements that should be considered to ensure a successful and professional digital presence:

Look for online communities that really interest you

Today there are many online communities that you can be involved in. Many offer a very high degree of interaction with forums, podcasts, training and offline events. Select the ones that really interest you, where you will learn and engage. Then, don’t just visit the sites.  Become an active part of the community. Find the networks that suit you, sign up and become involved.

Be an expert and give an opinion

Take the time to comment on other people’s blog posts, articles and in forums where possible. This will let people know that you are there, that you know your stuff, that you can add value and then they will seek to engage with you.

Be a true networker and bring referrals of products and services of other businesses

The best way to get referrals is to give referrals. The more you promote other people’s businesses, the more you attract attention and get referrals yourself. Talk about other businesses in your blog posts, social media and really at any opportunity you have. You will be surprised who notices and how this leads to more opportunities for you.

Develop a smart introduction and avoid the “sales pitch”

People sense when you want something from them. Sending someone an email to introduce yourself and your business may sound like a good idea, but think about how to make that email scream “read me” without seeming desperate. Offer real value, not just an introduction.  For example, suggest ways that you can work together that will benefit both of you, as opposed to just trying to sell them something.

Link up with other businesses

Linking is still a very important way to build traffic to a website, but it is also a way to build relationships. By offering to be a link between your business and another, you are endorsing each other and that helps to strengthen your relationship. As a result, everyone wins.

Invite people to connect online in an offline way

In these times of social decompression businesses are introducing virtual morning coffee breaks, lunchtime Teams or Zoom sessions, or other events that enable employees to socialize and rekindle relationships. Invite your clients to virtual coffee and lunch sessions – this proves that we have all adapted to our new normal.

There are many opportunities to network online, but as in all business development, networking is much more effective if it is planned and managed in a strategic way. The same rules apply on digital platforms and a professional and considered approach is essential.

Article first published in Lioness of Africa. Absa is proud Partner of the NSBC.