27 Online Networking Tips for Small Business Owners

Online networking can feel like an avalanche of things. For some small business owners, it’s a natural extension of in-person contacts. For others, a temporary replacement of face-to-face networking that’s currently down due to social distancing. And for others still, it’s an intimidating experience  — kind of like a dentist’s appointment that we just force ourselves to get through.

Psychologically, all small businesses approach online networking in various ways. But the benefits are non-disputable. As of 2020, 80% of hires are made through networking; LinkedIn messages have opened up new career opportunities for 35% of networkers, and people who spent about 6 hours/week networking say it played a critical role in their success. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (in a good way!)

While we’re all waiting for normal business and social life to spring back, right now is a special time to lay that foundation for online connections or update it as needed. When else will you get a chance to connect with so many people and businesses who’re also in need of fast help and looking for someone like you to meet their needs?

To walk you through online networking at this super important time, we’ve asked nearly three dozen entrepreneurs to break down their wisdom into bite-sized insights. Without further comments and interruptions, here is everything you need to know about online networking  — from first steps to smart tips and new platforms to explore!

1. Start off right

Biron Clark careersidekick.com

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Biron Clark is the founder of CareerSidekick.com, a job search advice website read by more than one million people per month and mentioned in Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC, and more. 

“The biggest challenge to overcome when networking online is getting a response to the first message you send each person. I recommend keeping the message short and well-spaced to avoid overwhelming them at first glance [and] asking for something small to start. For example, if you’re looking for a new job…you could say, ‘I was thinking of applying to… How have you enjoyed the work environment since joining? I read some positive reviews online but I always like to ask about this type of thing first-hand.’ That will get you more replies and open the door to a longer conversation where you can build a relationship, which is what networking is really about.”

2. Target industry experts 

diana ross getemails

Favorite networking platform: Clarity

In November 2019 Diana Ross launched her second tech startup, GetEmails. Just four months later it hit $100K in monthly revenue. Diana says this success was due partly to networking, which she used to get expert advice, industry insights, and sales contacts. 

“My favourite platform for online networking is Clarity. You can browse the expert community to find industry leaders who are willing to help, and then schedule a call with them. It’s a great way to find other entrepreneurs who have done it before and can offer valuable advice and insights based on personal experiences. Don’t be afraid to use it as a sales tool. Don’t look only for experts who can guide you, look for people who could be potential buyers. In our experience, we found many entrepreneurs with big networks who were often
happy to make intros or join our affiliate program.”

3. Sow well to harvest richly

kent lewis anvil

Favorite networking platform: Linkedin

Kent Lewis, President & Founder, Anvil, is one of Linkedin’s first million users. When he first moved to Portland, OR in 1995, he knew 1 person, his cousin. Now he knows hundreds of area professionals, founded his own networking group in 1999 (pdxMindShare) with over 11,000 LinkedIn Group members, and has over 18,900 connections on LinkedIn.

“There is no personal and professional growth without a supporting network, regardless of your age, experience or industry. Treat your network like a garden. It requires constant care in order to grow and harvest. Regularly reach out to your network with updates …phone calls for tier 2 and web/video conference meetings for tier 1 contacts. Don’t assume people DON’T want to hear from you. Reach out, ask a question, provide valuable insights, etc. and your response rate will be much higher.”

4. Polish up your brand image

shelley grieshop totally promotional

Favorite networking platform:  LinkedIn

Shelley Grieshop is an award-winning AP journalist who switched careers in 2016 to become a creative writer for a private company, Totally Promotional. Her tasks include blogging, public relations and communications, and website page content.

“Networking is all about getting and keeping your company name in front of your target audience [and] it’s best to give them something they can physically hold. We suggest customizing affordable and usable items with your business logo and mailing them to those important clients and loyal customers. Even something as small as a magnetic chip clip or bottle opener will make an impression. Another way to network remotely is to wear logo apparel or have personalized items on your desk when video conferencing clients. It can be a big boost to your business and give you an overall professional appearance.”

5. Go where your audience is

Brian Robben media

Favorite networking platform: Instagram

Brian Robben is the CEO of the international digital marketing agency Robben Media, who helps businesses scale via SEO, paid ads, and website conversions.

“There’s a fine line between being assertive and overly aggressive in pitching your services when online networking… Before you send a message, do some quick research on their bio, pictures, and captions. Find an interesting post, then mention that in your introduction message. Networking, especially online, is a numbers game. Keep at it until you have a thriving base of people you can go to for advice and new business. Instagram is my favorite platform to network because many entrepreneurs are on the platform and my marketing services are for them specifically.”

6. Be a resource to the community

Deborah Sweeney

Favorite networking platform: Twitter Chats

Deborah Sweeney is CEO of MyCorporation.com, a document filing service that helps entrepreneurs start and run a small business. 

“I have a slightly unusual approach to online networking — I enjoy networking via Twitter chats. I participate in Twitter chats that are relevant to my industry and get to meet a lot of like-minded users through these chats while answering questions and sharing expertise on business topics. [To get started] find the chat that is relevant to you and your industry. Attend it regularly and join in the conversation. You don’t have to respond to every question, but you should be able to reply to a few questions that are asked and engage with responses made by other users.”

7. Show up on a daily basis

malte scholz airfocus

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Malte Scholz is a passionate product manager and technology enthusiast with deep knowledge in launching cross-platform SaaS and e-commerce products who co-founded Airfocus  – a software solution that enables smarter roadmap prioritization for teams and solopreneurs.

“The biggest challenge is setting your foot through the door. You should start making your first connections, posting some content and building your presence, one post at a time. Also, it can be challenging to do cold outreach but it’s necessary to send a message or a connection request to strangers sometimes to create new opportunities. My biggest tip for first-timers on LinkedIn is to be present for at least 15 minutes per day. Even if you don’t create any new posts, you can like and comment on others’ content, which will show up in your connections’ news feeds and you will get new profile views and connection requests.”

8. Engage directly with brands

elna cain

Favorite networking platform: Twitter

Elna Cain is a freelance writer and freelance writing coach.

“As a freelance writer, I rely on networking to help me land content projects. For example, I do Pinterest marketing for my blog writing and an editor found one of my pins in a parenting group board and reached out to me for a writing project. Twitter is the best platform for networking online because you can share content easily, tag leads, and engage in Twitter chats. To get started with online networking, start following brands you want to collaborate with, feature them in your blog content or client pieces, and engage with them on Twitter.”

9. Avoid automation

sri gaddam bansuri media

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok 

Sri Gaddam is the founder of Bansuri Media, a global digital advertising and marketing agency that helps grow some of the biggest brands from Fortune 500s to well-funded startups.

“People get bombarded by automated tools that send messages that aren’t personalized, so your goal is to stand out by being authentic and personal. Everyone’s competing for time, so being genuine really needs to come through if you’re going to get a positive reaction. It helps to follow up immediately and set up a phone/video call immediately so you aren’t just another virtual connection. That’s a proactive approach that helped me get to know other people in my industry.”

10. Be interesting and direct 

Sean Nguyen

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Sean Nguyen runs Internet Advisor because he believes everyone should be aware of every service provider option in their area. He is an avid gamer and takes internet speed a little too seriously. 

“You have to understand that 90% of the mail people receive is spam and people trying to scam them, so getting people to answer and take you seriously can be difficult. No matter if you’re emailing or sending a message on LinkedIn, you have to get their attention from the first couple of lines, but without spammy subject lines and cheap tricks like that. Be confident, be persuasive, and be concise. Never apologize for contacting [someone], and don’t ‘ask’ for things. Instead of saying ‘Would it be ok if we had a Zoom call so we can discuss this opportunity?’, say ‘I would like to have a Zoom call to discuss this opportunity’.”

11. Pioneer new platforms

Stacy Caprio

Favorite networking platform: Shapr

Stacy Caprio is Founder at Her.CEO, a hub of resources for women entrepreneurs.

“One online networking app that has helped me gain more connections and brand awareness in the form of online swipe networking is the professional networking app Shapr. It’s a great app that uses your location and professional interests to match you with other professionals in your area. It’s also great to get visibility for a specific product, service or launch you have, since people will be able to view your profile and details when swiping by you.”

12. Build trust through video networking

tal paperin

Favorite Networking platform: LinkedIn

Tal Paperin has over 15 years of diverse professional experience in International Sales and Marketing. As CEO for KSW Solutions, Tal works to help other companies succeed in strategic planning, reaching new markets, and sales worldwide.

“The biggest challenge to overcome is building trust with someone you’ve never met. I do this by posting videos. At first, I would do them almost every day. I didn’t think anyone was really paying attention, but if I skipped a few days [of posting videos] I’d get DMs saying they missed seeing me! [Soon] I started engaging with everyone who liked my videos on LinkedIn. I’d send relevant people invitations to connect, and when they did I would send a short note thanking them for their connection. One of our most lucrative contracts came from someone liking one of my videos.”

13. Research your network

Scot J Chrisman the media house

Favorite networking platform: Business Network International

Scot J. Chrisman — founder and CEO at THE MEDIA HOUSE, is a professional skier turned influencer and entrepreneur who is building a media, and marketing empire. 

“My experience with online networking comes from Business Network International or BNI, which used to
be an in-person marketing group that shifted to online networking when the pandemic hit. […] My tip for first-time online networkers is to have an idea of who you’d like to talk to and build a prior connection through private messages before the meeting. With BNI [Business network Intenrational] this is possible because you’re gonna have an idea of who’s gonna be there, so you can actually reach out to them prior to meeting them for the first time.”

14. Don’t be afraid to ask 

nettie owens

Favorite networking platform: Zoom

Nettie Owens is a nationally recognized and award-winning expert and speaker in the field of organizing, accountability, and productivity. She has been included in such media outlets as TLC, ABC, Parents, Fox, CNN, eHow and Entrepreneur, and the Pittsburgh Gazette for her expertise. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. 

“It’s not uncommon during networking to have an ‘ask’ that you can share [like] feedback on a blog, podcast, video post [or] connections, especially very specific ones, that could help you in what you are trying to accomplish. I once asked for a connection to Robert Downey, Jr. because I wanted to collaborate on his Footprint Collation Project. Although I didn’t reach RDJ, I did find a connection within one degree of separation and that was extremely helpful!”

15. Help, don’t sell

steve morgan

Favorite networking platform: Facebook Groups

Steve Morgan is a Freelance SEO Consultant based in the UK. He’s also written a book – Anti-Sell – the award-winning sales guide for freelancers who struggle with sales and networking. 

“It’s unlikely that you’ll get a great client with little effort and straight away (unless you’re incredibly lucky). Give it time and appreciate that you’ll have to sow some seeds first… If the very first thing you do is to jump in with an ad for your services, it’s going to be a massive turn-off and people are going to struggle to trust you. Instead, just help people. If people have a query or need a recommendation for something and you’re able to help, then get onto their radar that way. Facebook groups…have a strict ‘no self-promotion’ policy but even so, I’ve built up such a rapport with the community that people will often refer me if they know someone who needs SEO help.”

16. Don’t ghost established contacts

meg marrs

Favorite networking platform: Facebook Groups

Meg Marrs is Founder and Marketing Manager at K9 of Mine, dedicated to helping owners take the very best care of their four-legged friends.

“Make sure to maintain your connections! While digital networking makes it easy to make new connections, maintaining them requires a bit more effort. When you meet folks you like and want to keep working with, make sure to shoot them an email periodically, reply to their tweets, etc. There are tons of unique ways you can give a little nod or wave to people online – commenting on an article, sharing one of their Facebook posts, tagging them on Instagram, etc. Use social media to stay in the peripheral and slowly build your connection!”

17. Use networking to learn

murad musakaev

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Murad Musakaev works for Full HP Ltd as a developer of mobile games. He’s a Project and Business Development Manager in charge of external connections.

“When I’ve started the self-education process in order to improve my skills, I’ve decided to reach out to many professionals in the industry just to know how they became who they are. What they studied, how they feel about their job. If you are only getting started with online networking, be sincere and open-minded – that’s all it takes! Reach out to anyone without hesitation… If you are trying to reach some big and busy person, let them know your point and the exact time you are going to borrow from the start. Introduce yourself and ask your questions.”

18. Grow your roots

aly brine

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Aly Brine is a Career Alignment Coach and Consultant at Aly Brine Coaching, LLC with a background in Human Resources and recruiting. She’s been networking both virtually and in-person since undergrad and throughout her career. 

“Networking is still driven by human connection, no matter the platform. So while we may be moving to a virtual platform, connection through relationship building is still going to be driving the force in successful networking. If you attended a college or university, one of my go-to recommendations … is to start with the alumni tool found on the college’s LinkedIn page. Depending on your networking goals, you can utilize filters to connect with alumni that are in the same geographical area, are in the same professional field as you or that work for a company you’d love to be a part of in the future. Be sure to check out their profile and when you send them a connection request include that you’re a fellow alumni.

19. Join niche groups

jacob edwards bytom

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn Groups

Jacob Edwards-Bytom is the Director of E-commerce at Made4Fighters, an online retailer that sells training gear and equipment for martial artists.

“I’m using LinkedIn now to connect with vendors or potential business partners… LinkedIn has groups where you can connect with professionals who work in the same industry. I like to use LinkedIn groups to share content from our website, ask questions, and network with other executives. I’ve found the key is to not use it as an opportunity to promote your company’s products or services, but instead as a chance to engage with other professionals.” 

20. Prepare for video networking in advance

Stephanie Thoma, Confident Introvert

Favorite networking platform: icebreaker.video

Stephanie Thoma is a networking strategy coach, event host, and founder of Confident Introvert. She has facilitated over 1,000 events and established a fulfilling career helping people generate meaningful connections at online and in-person events. 

“I have enjoyed hosting and attending events on icebreaker.video. I host at least monthly, and love the 1:1 connections that are made! Unique challenges [of video networking] include the time it takes to set up tech. I like to think of tech set up as the commute. Aim to get into a virtual space at least 15-minutes early in case an unforeseeable tech glitch occurs. Another is background noise. A great rule of thumb is to enter virtual spaces on mute, and consider getting a dynamic (not a condensed) usb mic which helps block out additional noise that would otherwise be picked up from your keyboard.”

21. Look the part

angelo sorbello

Favorite networking platform: LinkedIn

Angelo Sorbello, MSc, is the Founder of Astrogrowth, a fast-growing business software reviews site that helps every day thousands of entrepreneurs to select the best software for their needs. He has been a consultant for Techstars-backed and Appsumo featured companies, and the first company that he started at just 13 years old was acquired in 2013.

“Networking online can start from one single post and can lead to just about anything in the online world. Maybe you find a new business partner; maybe you find a new job; and maybe you get yourself a new client. [In order for this to happen] portray yourself as professional as you would in person. This may be obvious, but many people fail to use proper photos, don’t take the time to build their profile, and are too impersonal when chatting. This can turn someone off from collaborating even if it is far from the truth in real life. Make sure you appear as you should: professional and organized.”

22. Get your tech straight 

Cynthia Orduña

Favorite networking platform: Slack Groups

Cynthia Orduña is a Career Coach with a background in HR and recruiting.

“Because it requires less effort..more people are open to hopping on a call or scheduling a video chat. However, it definitely comes with its own set of challenges. When I worked in recruiting, a potential client couldn’t hop on Zoom, and there ended up being so much miscommunication we missed our entire meeting time. My tips for first-timers would be to always prepare for the worst and make sure to fix the situation as quickly as possible! No matter how safe you think you are or how fast your wifi is, your sound, video, or connection can cut off any time. You may only have 20 minutes scheduled and you can’t waste 5-10 of them trying to fix the tech.

23. Choose quality over quantity

ditto digital

Favorite networking platform: Remo

Michelle Symonds is a technical SEO specialist who devises and implements digital marketing campaigns for businesses in the UK and USA. She established Ditto Digital in 2010 to grow the organic search presence of SMEs by providing tailored digital marketing expertise. 

“Online networking for me during the COVID-19 crisis has been more about the mutual support from other people running small businesses. By far my favourite platform is Remo. The reason is that you can choose to “sit at a table” of no more than 6 people and you can see which people are at which virtual table before joining a group. […] It’s better to get to know a few people than speak briefly with everyone. Also, when asking a question specifically direct it to one person by name – online it’s less easy for people to realise the question is directed at them, and asking an open question means either everyone tries to answer or no-one does!”

24. Focus on giving back

nikola roza

Favorite networking platform: Twitter

Nikola Roza blogs about SEO and affiliate marketing, and how to combine the two to become successful online.

“For every tweet I send out promoting my blog posts, I send 20 tweets promoting my friends and other bloggers in the same space. That way I get to promote myself while being generous with others. And then I get to experience the awesome effect of other people generously sharing my work with their audiences. It’s a give-and-get system and it works because other people can promote me on their own much more than I can promote myself.”

25. Keep it simple

wisdom within counseling

Favorite networking platform: Facebook Groups

Katie Ziskind, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Wisdom Within Counseling.  Based in Niantic, Connecticut, it’s a Holistic Marriage and Family Therapy with Child and Teen Speciality.

“Online networking doesn’t have to be scary and you can do it from your pajamas! If someone posts something that you enjoy, comment and see if you can message them if you have further questions. [For example] if someone posts about working with a counseling client with an eating disorder (a speciality of mine) and has a question, I’ll comment and say ‘I’m happy to help you, feel free to personal message me,’ and connection becomes a personal message conversation that eventually turns into a phone call and a referral work.”

26. Draw up a networking schedule

Tobe Brockner

Favorite networking platform: Zoom, Facebook Groups

Tobe Brockner is the founder of Re:purpose Initiative, an online peer-to-peer training, coaching, and accountability platform. He has a deep, first-hand experience of the benefits of online networking.

“Build networking and relationship development into your daily schedule. Whether that is more formal, such as scheduling weekly Zoom meetings, or simply hopping into your favorite Facebook Group and making a contribution, it needs to be a habit you cultivate. [For] people who pay, pay attention. Seek out paid networking groups such as accountability or mastermind groups. When we have skin in the game, we are much likely to show up and participate fully.”


27. Find your tribe

Cynthia Harder

Favorite networking platform: Facebook

Cynthia Harder has been an online entrepreneur for over two years and has effectively sold out her Virtual Assistant and Consulting services by networking on social media. 

“The main challenge to overcome is feeling like you have to be everywhere, all of the time. This will lead to burn out or just losing interest altogether in your online networking efforts. For this reason, I recommend choosing one main social media platform to focus your energy and time on. Along with that, don’t go too Join-happy and join dozens of networking groups. Once you find 2-5 groups that are valuable to you, stick with those. Set a daily alarm to pop into your groups for 15-30 minutes each day and make posts (many groups have theme days to guide you in posting), read new posts from other people, and of course, respond or engage with anything you find interesting.”

You may also like…

Hosting or attending a video networking event soon? Be sure to check out our guide to video conferencing apps for every occasion. And if you’re doing phone networking, you’ll love this phone etiquette guide.

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