According to a survey of 1,000 small businesses, commissioned by accountancy firm Kingston Smith, and conducted by the Universities of Greenwich and Surrey, the majority of entrepreneurs consider online networking to be 'a necessary evil'...
While 90 per cent use social media and the like, 35 per cent consider it to be ineffective. The study argues that online isn’t a substitute for face-to-face networking. Attending events should be a priority, supplemented by a social media presence.
As much as it’s important to schmooze, the value of online can sometimes be underestimated. We take a look at how platforms and social media can work wonders and four types of connections they can be useful for establishing.
Nena Chaletzos is the founder of recently-launched holiday search website Luxtripper. She found one of her mentors through Twitter. She was tweeting about having been shortlisted for multiple awards, when her mentor-to-be got in touch.
After exchanging numerous DMs, Chaletzos realised they had similar interests, and having exited a number of businesses, his ear could be a valuable one to bend.
Following their conversation, he agreed to meet Chaletzos every couple of weeks. In return she gave him some free holiday perks.
"As start-ups and entrepreneurs, you are working very long hours, so physically getting out of the office can be difficult. Social media allows you to stay connected and communicate your views to the world," she says. "[Online] networking also allows potential mentors to follow someone for a while, to observe them and see their views, before deciding if they are someone they would like to [take under their wing]."
For Bilal Kaiser, who runs a PR agency and teaches social media and digital marketing at UCLA, social media has proven to be invaluable to finding "solid guest speakers to share real-world experiences with my students". It’s helped him to "not just connect with major influencers and digital marketing leaders…and establish enduring [working] friendships" offline.
"If someone is ignoring your requests to connect, you have to take the hint and back off. Just because it’s ‘social’ media doesn’t mean one has to be social with the other," says Kaiser. "Social media can though be effective at breaking down barriers preventing from people connecting in real life."
AngelList is the LinkedIn for cash-hungry start-ups. "Everyone in Silicon Valley is on it," says Olivia Martyn from MORI, a London-based baby wear subscription company currently on the 500 Startups accelerator.
MORI have used the site to try and attract potential investors, with a pretty mixed bag of results. While it has its benefits, it also has its limits.
"We’ve found through trial and error that just reaching out to them on AngelList doesn’t really work. As much like LinkedIn, they get many connections requests daily," says Martyn.
She adds that when sourcing potential investors they look for mutual connections who could make an introduction. "This isn’t always an option, but when it is, it’s much easier to get a response and take the conversation offline."
According to the Kingston Smith study, 67 per cent of SMEs consider direct referrals to be of extreme importance to the continued success of their business.
A mixture of social media and face-to-face networking can create access to mentors coaches and consultants, however, some businesses strive to connect with senior people who are less visible. Tim Latham believes he’s come up with a solution to what he sees as a big problem. He’s the founder of Extperts, a new platform that’ll connect business owners with external experts who can provide advice and help.
"There shouldn’t be much demand for a service that simply introduces SMEs to people, that with a bit of research, rooting around LinkedIn, broader Googling, they could find themselves," says Latham. "We want to link them with impressive and highly appropriate people, some of whom have led large organisations (£10m plus annual revenue). There previously hasn’t been a way to access these senior people in a bite-sized way."
It could be a director of IT, strategy or marketing. The idea is that Extperts will link business owners to the type of people they’d unlikely get to shake hands with at a social event or who might ignore them on Twitter.
Latham believes that time and money are of utmost importance, particularly for young entrepreneurs just starting out. The platform hopes to help cut the small talk and let them get straight down to business.