It was back in March 2011 when I was sat at an SEO conference in london listening to Distilled’s Tom Critchlow speaking about building a network when he asked the entire room how many people have their own network of specialists? He seemed genuinely shocked when nobody raised their hand in response.

One of the key points of advice I took from Tom’s presentation was to build yourself a network.

Its one of the most difficult things for people new to the web design or SEO industry to understand is the power of networking. Both on-line and off-line networking has been a fantastic source of inspiration, information and ultimately clients.

However only in this last 10 months have I come to appreciate the value of building your own network.

Traditional Networking Methods

Business networking events – These can be really useful for finding clients and specialists to help you grow your business, however they can vary dramatically in quality. I have been to some really shocking business networking events. Most of them require you to become a member of their group, this is fine if you a) have the time to keep attending meetings or b) the other members are looking for your services. These networking groups try to restrict the number of members joining from the same industry, the competition for web designers to join these groups can be very fierce.

If you find a good group with no web designers in their member list join it right away.

One of the biggest networking groups is “Business Networking International” – www.bni.com

Breakfast meetings – These are not for the faint hearted, they usually mean an army start 6am in some cases. Basically business owners and individuals meet up for an early morning networking meeting, with a breakfast included.

I have been to a few recently ran by 4Networking, these were pretty good. I don’t think I can warrant spending £100s to join unfortunately.

On-line Techniques

Networking offline is great if you have buckets of time on your hands, I don’t have this luxury unfortunately. I find that I get more out of online networking, there are various places where this can be achieved.

Forums – Ahhh a golden oldie, forums have been around for many years, which is great for networking purposes! They are probably the oldest form of “conversation site” around, other than chat rooms. Internet users are generally fairly comfortable with using forums now, and they are great places to pick up new clients and meet other people in your industry. A lot of people use forums to seek answers to questions.

Guess what… IF YOU CAN ANSWER somebody’s question then they are more likely to ask you for advice again, and the best thing is you are now their “expert” in your field. This situation is easy to turn to your advantage, I have picked up a pretty good selection of clients this way over the years.

Use “Board Reader” to search these forums for people discussing your specialities.

www.boardreader.com

Chat Rooms – An other golden oldie, unlike forums you need to set some quality time aside to get the most out of these. In forums you can reply to a thread at your leisure, chat rooms on the other hand require you to be active in a conversation.

The principles are the same, try to appear as an expert, but be careful of other experts as the worst thing that can happen is that your advice get contradicted by somebody else!

Social Networking

Twitter – A great place to find other specialists in your own industry to talk to and to take inspiration from. For web designers Twitter isn’t the best place to find clients from my experience, my clients tend to know very little about social media (before I meet them anyway), Twitter is still a very new tool and many businesses haven’t caught onto how use it as a marketing tool yet.

FaceBook – There are many uses for FaceBook, not all of them productive! Networking with people is possibly not on the minds of the majority of FaceBook’s users. FaceBook provides a great opportunity to network with people, it gives you the chance to create your own “group” for people to join. Set up a group aimed at your target audience for example if you fix games consoles, why not set up a Xbox or Play Station related group. You can also join other well established groups and find people this way.

LinkedIn – Possibly the best place to find other specialists in your industry. LinkedIn is seen as a more professional networking site, it’s users are fairly comfortable with the world of social media. There is also the same opportunity to create groups, or join established groups. LinkedIn can help you find people who have been recommended by other users, be careful not to pay too much attention to this as it can be abused, you can ask to be recommended by people in your network.

Not many people new to the web industry have heard about linked in, there has been many occasions when I have interviewed college leavers who know nothing about LinkedIn.

There are other social networking sites available, but these 3 are by far the most commonly used in my opinion.

To Sum Up

Offline networking has been a tried and tested method of networking for many years, however you need to spend a lot of valuable time attending meetings, these groups are fairly mature and have a lot of members, competition for web designers and Internet marketers is very high.

Online marketing methods give you the opportunity to meet 100’s of people, many more than you could possibly meet in the real world, best of all it’s Free!

Important Advice: Networking is all about being “liked” and “trusted” by the people you meet. Relationships should be based on these two things. If people like you they are more inclined to talk to you and do business with you. There is no substitute for face to face networking, relationships are more real if you have actually met the other person.

How ever you decide to approach building your network, I hope this post has helped.

Thanks for reading.

Andy.

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