Business networking can feel tiring. Even if you’re a social butterfly, occasionally it’s nice to skip networking events and relax at home instead. The good news is, you can still expand your professional networking connections even if you begin online.
In fact, many small business owners and entrepreneurs use online networking to boost their businesses and make valuable connections — and websites like Startup Nation and The Small Business Hub include online forums and community meetups to help expand your reach.
We’ve spoken with HR experts and C-Level executives about how to improve your online networking skills in five simple steps. Here’s their advice:
Professional Networking Online
1. Do Your Research
Before you get in touch with someone, do your research on their background. Where have they worked in the past? Have they written any books or made any public presentations or seminars? Most of this information can be found on LinkedIn or Google.
If you reach out to someone online without knowing these basic bits of information, you’ll risk appearing ignorant or uninterested in the other person — a bad start to any networking opportunity.
2. Find Something in Common
Once you’ve done your research, find out what you have in common. Whether that’s attending the same university, your love of corgi puppies, or a passion for employee onboarding, reaching out with specifics will help you to form a connection.
3. Respect Their Time
Everyone has a finite amount of time in their day. Respect the time of whomever you’re reaching out. As someone who has a steady stream of people trying to talk to him on Twitter, HR Manager at Quartet Health Micah Keawe understands the potential frustration.
“People hounding me diminishes my want to interact with them because it’s aggressive,” said Micah. Instead, he suggests giving people enough time to respond and ask when would be the best time to reach out and talk.
Get dozens more expert tips on how to build your network with our free eBook.
4. Make It Easy to Meet Up
If a contact has expressed interest in getting together, your job is to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. Suggest a specific time and place — of course, keeping in mind their convenience and limited time.
You can do this by choosing a venue that is convenient for them and won’t take up a chunk of their day. “It’s can be annoying when people you just met ask for a two hour lunch,” said Mona Patel, CEO at Motivate Design and author of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. Instead, she says, “Ask what the most convenient way is to meet — perhaps you can workout or join them for their morning coffee run instead.”
This removes some of the barriers between you talking to them online and actually getting to meet up and talk in real life.
5. Keep Up Contact
Nothing says disingenuous like only reaching out when you need something. After establishing a connection with someone, find ways to keep up, like asking how they’re doing or sharing an interesting article.
“The most important part of making connections is maintaining them,” said Kathryn Minshew, CEO of the Muse and author of the book The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career. “Send a thank you note, share relevant articles as they come up, engage with your contact’s LinkedIn updates—gestures that show you’re not just interested when it’s convenient.”
In online networking, just as networking in-person, it pays off to be genuine and thoughtful. If you show that you respect that person’s time and value what they have to say — and add some value to them, too — you’re more likely to make long-lasting connections that will become even more fruitful in the future.
This article is an excerpt from Justworks’ new eBook, How to Build Your Network From the Ground Up. You can download it for free here.