Cultivating Business Links Both Online And Off

With more and more business being conducted online, traditional networking practices used by many business professionals are being thrown into question. Business is often more about who than what you know, and the ability of businesses to move with the times and connect in new ways will define their ability to succeed in the coming years. But what exactly are the benefits and problems associated with each type of networking, and can a business really thrive by relying on only one or the other?
The LinkedIn Generation
Online networking has seen a massive growth in recent years mainly because it has become incredibly normalised. With social networking sites like LinkedIn, it is now possible to use ‘six degrees of separation’ to your business advantage. It is considered perfectly polite to contact people via LinkedIn with whom you share a mutual link, therefore eradicating the need for an introduction as one would need according to the social mores of offline networking.
So is online networking inherently better than offline networking? Online networking requires a completely different skill-set to face-to-face networking and in many ways allows one to concentrate on the business details. Online networking does not rely so much on charm and personal skills, but instead on an ability to zoom in on the details. This is a massive advantage to people who are not naturally sociable and would not thrive in a traditional setting. This is especially important for people involved in web and tech businesses who tend to be naturally more introverted and detail-orientated. However if social skills are your forte (like for those in retail or law for example), your particular abilities may be more suited to the charms of the offline world.
The merits of traditional networking in an online world
Despite being largely eclipsed by online networking, face-to-face networking does have its merits and in certain fields is impossible to ignore. Offline meetings are more personal and memorable than online connections, and sharing a business lunch makes much more of an impression on someone than does an email relationship. In businesses that require the build up of capital and therefore a large element of trust, the vagaries of online dealings are unsuited to building lasting relationships.
That said, offline networking is not always possible when talking about online businesses. An internet startup based in the USA may have clients from all over the world, and therefore it is not always possible to have face-to-face meetings. In general, while online networking is great for connecting new people offline networking has strength in deepening relations and building trust between business associates.
It is also worth questioning how offline networking takes place. Usually a business can find new clients or link up with resources though mutual friends or recommendations, but unfortunately such networks do not arise out of thin air. For start-ups with no links to a business, online networking is often the only way to break in and to find potentially helpful connections.
So what’s the verdict?
The benefits of online versus offline networking largely depend on what kind of business you run. Web-based businesses often have a larger need for online networking due to the fact that their potential client and resource base is worldwide, but that is not to say that offline networking is going to fall completely off the map. For businesses without a need for an online presence, offline networking is a tried and tested method of obtaining resources, finding clients and developing relationships. On the other hand, the ease and informality of cultivating business links online makes it indispensable for start-up businesses. With time however, it requires a little of both to best water a growing business.
This is a Guest Post by Nate Miller. Nate currently represents a full-service sales firm focused on high-quality lead development and outsourced sales services for B2B organizations.