Principles of effecting networking

We are living in an age when interconnectedness and networks are dominating our lives. Some of our contemporary thinkers believe that networks, communication and cooperation are the tools which contributed to the ascension of the human race. That said, we will start this unit with a short interpretation of what networking really is.

Networking is basically the exchange of information. The same is happening with the internet, where millions of computers are connected. In a social context, networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with common professions and/or interests. Self-conscious and professional networking is carried out with the purpose of expanding the circle of acquaintances, finding out about job opportunities and being informed about news and trends in the world in general or in their professional field.

Networking can be fun, and it has multiple benefits but at the same time it has its limitations too, because sustaining your position in such networks not only gives but also takes.

Benefits: Networking can strengthen your business connections, through receiving support, career advice, and mentoring. Networking helps you remain up to date and might even help you out with some fresh ideas you can implement in your enterprise. No matter what kind of business you are in, “being visible” can be crucial to your growth or maintaining your current status. Through networking new job opportunities can be discovered. You might even gain deeper knowledge in certain topics or build confidence. Developing long-lasting friendships, gaining a different perspective through them are all important perks of networking and these benefits can all contribute to your personal and professional growth.

Working from home can result in isolation, therefore networking becomes even more important. It can link you with like-minded people and provide the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues.



Limitations: Networking also has its limitations and might result in having to make sacrifices. Professional networking takes time. It is a long-term game, so it requires regular attention. It is a time-consuming process, where you have to invest to benefit. Networking will not only cost you time and effort, but also money. Meetings can be expensive and even if you participate in such meetings, that does not mean you are set for life, networking can give you a false sense of security, where you believe if you meet the right people, then you will never have to worry for your future. Networking on virtual/digital platforms can cause a constant distraction with the frequent messages and spam, false claims you will have to verify if you want to be thorough. Networking online can create distorted self-image, facilitate laziness, and might lead to lack of emotional connection, when it comes to meeting personally with people you met online.

ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKING

A person can be part of multiple networks/networking groups simultaneously. There are several online social networking sites such as LinkedIn, 100AM networking, Meetup or Small Giants Virtual Peer Groups, to name a few.





We can look at LinkedIn like some sort of pioneer, since it was one of the first business networking site. After creating a profile and connecting with people you already know, you will see their connections and have a chance to be introduced by them to potential future partners. Introduction helps to build trust so allies who can vouch for you are essential. There is a feed where you can post and upload educational. LinkedIn also has a built-in live rolodex function, where you can keep track of people’s job roles, birthdays etc.


100AM offers different tools like a business card scanner, built-in messenger and allows you to create your own networking group, post updates and set up meetings. All your contacts in the 100AM are updated automatically. The basic functions are similar to LinkedIn, but 100AM comes with more gimmicks and features.



Meetup is not a portal restricted to only businesses and professionals; it has a huge user base. This networking website is for finding opportunities to meet with groups of like-minded people locally. Combining virtual with personal you can join existing meetups or create new ones. Finding groups of people with common interests can be beneficial for you, since nothing brings people together more than common interests.


As an online forum Start-Up Nation serves one goal, to help you gain access to other professionals, experts for advice, and networking opportunities. You can also find various articles about how to start and grow a business. While it is not packed with functions, browsing through the topics and subtopics will provide answers.


The criteria for joining the Young Entrepreneurs Council is to be a successful entrepreneur and under the age of 45. It is referred to as a “super connector”, where meaningful connections instead of networking are more important. The community is based on mutual support and members have access to concierge-level service, business resources, and media exposure via major brands.

The virtual peer group brings together founders and leaders on a monthly basis for 90 minutes to provide them with mentorship, shared resources and connections to help them develop.

 

The first three platforms are for beginners, to help you establish relations, get your name known in the professional world. They can be useful even if you have not yet started your enterprise.

When deciding which networks to join think about your needs and interests. Although joining as many networks as you can might tempting and seem a good idea, a better strategy is to consider:

  • What are your goals/needs?
  • Do you want to be known and build business relations?
  • Are you looking for guidance from others in similar situations?
  • At what stage is your business?
  • What is your purpose for using networking platforms?

Deciding what kind of networks to join requires a good amount of self-knowledge, too. As mentioned earlier, networking can be time consuming, requiring your attention and contribution. Online and offline networking combined is maybe the best way to proceed, but both take effort. As a virtual assistant/solopreneur time is valuable so it is important to carefully select which networking sites to join. A recommendation is to search and join solopreneur groups online, in social media and other platforms, so you can have conversations with people who are in similar situations. Recommendations, good advice or even occasional help in work can be shared.

To run a viable enterprise as a solopreneur you will need clients, who you can reach via adverts, newsletters, blogs or video campaigns, however a more efficient and time-saving way to get to possible clients is to join virtual assistant job boards. Sites such as UpWork, Fancyhands, oDesk, connect businesses with independent professionals. VA jobs can also be found on more traditional platforms, such as LinkedIn.

Setting a time frame to spend on networking and seeing if the results are in line with expectations can help. If necessary reconsider your strategy.

Expectations from your networks should be proportional with your contribution. Skills like empathy, positivity, verbal and nonverbal communication, humour, social and interpersonal skills are equally important to maintain strong networks. Remember that as a virtual assistant networking with your colleagues (other VAs) is just as important as networking with your ideal/future clients. A network is for the mutual benefit of all. Without putting effort into it there will be no result. You can contribute by being open minded and help others with your ideas, promote their businesses and share your knowledge and resources, so you can grow together. 

EXAMPLES/CASES

Example: Supporti offers face-to-face meetings for solopreneurs and side-hustlers. They organise online events, where you have seven minutes with every potential customer, mentor, or people, who are in a similar position to you. The whole concept is that the process is fast and since your time is being counted, the whole conversation is like an icebreaker exercise, which can be useful before you start attending more prestigious events. link.

Case: Kirsty Wilson from Australia runs a VA business, which provides virtual administration and social media support services. She started her online presence with LinkedIn, then Facebook and at the end of the year she joined Twitter. These three platforms had a tremendous impact on her business and helped her to grow and find clients, forming friendships over the years. Her philosophy regarding networking and marketing platforms is to do fewer but well. All of these platforms require maintenance, so choosing which ones are working for you is mostly based on experience.

CaseTammy Rourk virtual assistant provides services in the field of cybersecurity and digital marketing. Initially her lack of customers nearly resulted in having to close her business. As a final attempt she joined a VA club, which helped her to focus and realise she was not alone with her problems. After learning from the experience of others and forming meaningful connections she was able to make her business prosper. She finds new clients through her colleagues and returns this favour whenever possible.

TIPS

Solopreneurs are responsible for all aspects of their business, including networking, however this situation can offer a certain freedom and flexibility which can help your growth.

Networking Tips:
  • Consider networking as long-term investment and do not abandon it because results are not immediate.
  • Join a co-working space as a great way to combat isolation, especially if working from home. Meeting with new people, who might be in a similar situation, offers a wider perspective, and might also link you with future customers too.
  • Today online networking is just as important as in-person networking. To maximise what the online space has to offer, you should build your digital presence. Creating a website, social media profiles and joining online networking communities are all great ways to be noticed. Remember, once you have created them, they must be kept up to date.
MyVA Project number: 2020-1-SE01-KA226-VET-092491
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. 
The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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