Update from the author: we’ve updated the product information and best practices of offline and online networking to be current for 2023.
Why Offline Networking is More Relevant Than Ever in Today’s World
For most in the modern business world, the image of networking involves reaching out via social media and LinkedIn. Our online presence is a valuable advantage of the advancements in technology, but as more people spend their time online, the old-fashioned methods of connecting over coffee are often neglected for faster, simpler online alternatives.
Online networking can rapidly build a network of thousands of contacts, but a truly robust networking strategy is always going to be impossible without an offline component. A strong physical presence provides a powerful tool for complementing your online network, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Meeting people face-to-face is still important. Actually, it's even more important now than in the past. If you don't think so, you might miss out on great chances while others move ahead without you.
At its core, a business network provides a mutually beneficial community between professionals and prospects or clients. It’s a form of value that can’t be quantified, as the networks you form in businesses lead to immeasurable opportunities and potential successes. Human accomplishment has always come from teamwork, and business networks are no different; they’re a consciously manufactured community that aids each member on their journey.
Nowadays, online networking is ubiquitous in Western society. Both the personal and the professional world make use of online media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. These networking sites perform a necessary form of networking online and allow people to collect hundreds, even thousands of contacts.
While online networking is crucial for businesses in the modern world, it can give a false sense of substance, where a significant proportion of the connections online are not as well-connected as they may seem. This is due to the superficial nature of online networks – they’re easy to neglect and harder to remember.
Offline networking, therefore, can bring an element of recognition and a personal touch to business networking. A face-to-face meeting is a lot more substantial than a Facebook message, and although it takes more time and energy, it provides unique opportunities than cannot be gained any other way.
Networking offline isn’t a replacement for online networking, but it does serve to supplement it and strengthen the weak points in a complete networking strategy. In fact, with more people neglecting the real world in favour of online networking, it’s never been more beneficial to meet and network with people in a physical way.
If you’ve been avoiding your offline networking opportunities, now might be the best time to find out how to fix that!
How to Network Offline
Networking is about finding and connecting points. This is what Portland Incubator Experiment co-founder, Rick Turoczy, calls collecting or connecting ‘dots’.
To network offline doesn’t need you to be extremely extraverted. Social grace in group settings goes long way in some contexts, but introverts also have an inherent instinct for one-on-one communication which can also be valuable when networking offline. Using your strengths to your advantage is a useful talent in networking in the real world.
Networking over coffee might be one of the simplest methods of making an initial connection. This simple base-touching can be a low-pressure event that doesn’t have to involve a detailed sales pitch or an opportunity to engage on a profound level with a prospect. It can simply be an opportunity to collect a dot, which may, at some point in the future, provide an opportunity for connecting to another dot.
When one dot provides value to another, it constructs a network. It’s not long a single data point; instead, it’s a channel through which information and opportunity can flow.
When networking is considered organically like this, it takes a lot of the pressure to perform away and improves the ability to make meaningful, natural contacts that serve as a bridge between the professional and personal world.
But coffee isn’t all there is to it. With a few fundamentals and some intelligently-directed efforts, your offline network will grow quickly and you will be part of some strong chains. If you’re not sure how and where to nudge the network forward, take a look at some of these suggestions.
Offline Networking Ideas
One fundamental element of networking offline is to make sure your efforts give something back. This could be in terms of sharing knowledge, educating people, or chipping in on someone else’s project. Providing value in your networking efforts makes your reputation grow and your interactions become memorable. Here are a few ways to get into mutually-beneficial arrangements.
Networking has been around for a long time, and to streamline the process, some associations set up networking events. These are run by organizations that want to bring together people with similar ideals and business needs and allow them to find one another.
Joining these associations allows you entry to their events and the networks that come with them. These can be invaluable resources for startups and established businesses alike, or role models for graduates or students looking for mentors.
If you are focusing on finding clients, one great way to promote your services is through volunteer work. Volunteers are perceived as genuine, good-natured, and trustworthy. As long as you don’t aggressively push your product or service at every opportunity, this will also be the association people will form around your business.
Become Active in Your Community
Taking part in local events, council meetings, or donating to schools and charities are all great opportunities to be spotted.
Community events such as beach clean-ups or charity spots contests create chances for reciprocal relationships between you and your community. These can be clients, businesses, or both.
Find a Professional Mentor
Reaching out to someone you admire can be very uncomfortable, but doing it well can provide fantastic opportunities for you and your project. Finding someone with your dream job and asking for advice is the first step in this process. While this can be done via email, maintaining this relationship should really be done offline, where possible.
A coffee meeting to support an email introduction allows you both to test the chemistry and figure out how you can be of value to one another, but it shouldn’t be rushed. Taking time to get to know one another is the best way to initiate a relationship.
After the initial meeting, follow up with a gesture of gratitude; a simple thank you email and a commitment to touch base in the coming weeks. Then ask them if they have time to meet up soon. If it’s going well, make sure to maintain this relationship and take opportunities to learn from their expertise.
Tips for Networking Offline
Once you’re decided on how you’re going to start networking, it’s important to be prepared. The offline image requires going back to basics: be friendly, engaging and have your information up to date. Aside from that, take into account some of these tips:
Know your stuff
It’s a good idea to prepare a script or a framework for your elevator speech. This will help you show confidence in your approach. If possible, have someone to practice the speech with, and ask them to throw questions about what you do so that you’re prepared to answer them. Otherwise, practice by yourself, but do it intensively until you’re certain you won’t be surprised by questions coming out of left field.
Bring your own media
It’s no good having a great presence if you don’t have your physical media prepared to leave behind. This could be as simple as a business card, or booklets and flyers, depending on what you’re providing and what the product of your conversations is.
Your meetings in the physical world could be used to lead people to your online network too, so make sure your online presence is ready. Addresses of your social media, your website, fundraiser, etc., can all be valuable references and should be printed on your physical media.
As for your business card, make sure it’s tasteful and well made. If it’s the only part of you that contact takes with them, it has to represent who you are and what you do, so don’t cut corners. Remember, these contacts might be taking multiple business cards from any number of people with them, so the one that stands out is the one that’s most likely to receive a follow-up call.
Don’t forget that your job is to form mutually beneficial relationships. That means you shouldn’t always be talking about yourself. Engage your potential network with active listening and asking questions.
Allow them to talk freely and make them feel comfortable. This is also an opportunity for you to learn from them; whether they’re a prospect offering you insights into their pain points or a founder describing familiar struggles and the solutions to them, take time to pay attention.
Your journey to this point has taken hard work, imagination and failure. There’s a story to be told here, whether you realise it or not, and people often underestimate the power of a good tale.
How did you get to where you are? How did you come up with the idea? Unless you’re particularly good at improvisation, this story can be something you practice countless times in front of the mirror to know how to tell it well. A good story has flow and rhythm, and, much like a catchy song, will stick in people’s heads. This can be a secret weapon when it comes to collecting dots.
If you’re at a networking event, breaking the ice can be the most awkward part. Especially if you’re introverted or shy. Fortunately, everyone is in the same situation and having a handful of prepared ice-breakers might come in handy.
Talking about the weather or “the game last night” might be clichéd but they’re still effective conversation starters. If you can’t be original, go with what works!
If you’re feeling awkward, even that can provide an opener. Start with something that acknowledges how difficult it is for you: “These networking events are so uncomfortable for me. How are you finding it?”
Turning the situation on itself is a good pattern interrupt from conventional openers: “What’s the worst conversation starter you’ve heard today?”
If you’re feeling bold, start with a joke. Deliberately tacky or self-deprecating works wonders. “What’s the use of a heavy penguin? It can be a great ice-breaker!”
There are so many ways to open a conversation, but even with a plan, it’s really more of a matter of practice. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Pay attention to how other people do it and spot what works.
Connect with the right people
It might be tempting at first to plaster your base with business cards, especially when you’re starting out, but this is likely to land you with more unsolicited newsletter subscriptions than useful contacts. Learning how to assess the value in the people you meet is something that will save you a lot of trouble and a lot of business cards.
Conversely, If someone is more interested in adding your contact details than your project or who you are, be suspicious. There are no set templates for assessing the value of a person – this is a mixture of experience and intuition, but be aware that you will meet a lot of people who aren’t interested in a mutually-beneficial relationship, and try to learn to filter them out.
The Importance of Social Networking Offline
Offline networking is the old way of doing things. Social media is faster and has a much wider reach, and as such it might seem like this time-consuming and relatively expensive form of connecting with one person over coffee has become redundant.
However, the opposite is true. As more people move to social media, fewer people are taking advantage of the deeper connections available in face-to-face communication. In fact, social skills are dropping with attention spans and thus someone with a practised ability to connect in person has a distinct advantage over the majority who never leave their keyboards.
This is why the importance of social networking offline is higher now than ever before. Standing out offline has never been easier, and for each person who ignores the tangible possibilities, there is an opportunity for someone to take advantage. So, not only is offline networking still relevant, it’s more relevant than ever!
How to Manage Your Offline Network
It is just as critical to maintain your offline network as your online one. In fact, it can be even harder if you’re not connected online and you don’t have all the handy perks of automatic reminders, telling you of useful dates and details about a person by their social media presence.
Keeping detailed notes about your offline connections is therefore very important. Remembering that someone you went to coffee with six weeks ago had a new puppy gives you an opportunity to check in with a personal touch, asking how they’re getting on with the dog.
Maintaining these relationships is about forming and reinforcing bonds over time, and a quick lunch date or phone call, although higher maintenance than liking a Facebook status update, is also a lot more effective at doing this.
Managing small networks is relatively straightforward, but as yours grows, it will become time-consuming and complicated to keep track of. This is where customer relationship management (CRM) software might come in handy. Good CRM software can take the hassle out of managing networks, online or offline, and will send you reminders based on criteria you set, to check in with a colleague or nudge a prospect along the sales funnel when the time is right.
CRM software comes in all shapes and sizes; one such option is Dex, which allows you to keep your online and offline contacts all in the same place, organizing them by how frequently you want to keep in touch and allowing you to pick up the conversation where you left off.
Forming an offline network isn’t rocket science. It relies on the age-old social characteristics of being a decent person and reaching out to help others. Sure, that’s expensive and time-consuming, and it’s a lot easier to drop someone a line on their social media, but it’s not exactly going to stick in their heads like a face-to-face meeting would.
Learning how to navigate the offline networking world involves putting yourself out there and figuring out how to add value while identifying those around you who are valuable in turn. This is something that will take some practice but does become easier with time.
Once you have a growing network, make sure to maintain it and keep track of who, where and when by using handy contact management services like Dex.
Offline networking may seem like a primitive science but in reality, it’s as important as ever, and with less competition for attention offline, it’s even more easy and more important than ever to stand out offline.