I see a fair few businesses using social media as an online billboard, or the equivalent of a flyer through the door. They showcase what they do, shout it out to the world but…that’s it. It’s not pointless – it does achieve some reach and some understanding of what those businesses do, but it is not using social media to its full potential.

Whilst it is possible to get business from showcasing what you do on social media, in my experience the best business opportunities come from the relationships that you build. Once you have a good network around you and good relationships with people who may refer others to you, the opportunities start to flow in. The hard work is in building the relationships.

So how do you build relationships from scratch with people online whom you have never met in real life? You will find many different answers to that question, and for what my experience is worth here is how I go about it:

  1. Be real, don’t be fake
  2. Find “your” people
  3. Be patient
  4. Give, don’t just take

We can all spot online fakery, and most of us are annoyed by it. The people who comment with things like “you are smashing it, I love your content!” on Instagram when you don’t know them from Adam. The people who creep into your DMs on LinkedIn with some “you need this” sales pitch when they haven’t bothered to find out anything about you. It’s just aggravating, and I don’t want to do it.

For me, what feels comfortable is to make comments that are genuine, and usually have nothing to do with selling. Say things in the same way that you would talk to a stranger in real life: comment on their cute dog, tell them you love their jacket, ask them where they bought that gorgeous stationery, tell them to have a good weekend. If they share their struggles, react with empathy and support. Approach social media the way you would approach a room full of new people: find the ones you feel you can connect with and just be you.

It is much easier to build relationships with people with whom you have something in common. Yes, identify your ideal clients or your ideal collaborators, but of that group try to the find people who are “your” people. They share your values or your interests, you have something about which you can connect. Start by talking about that. People are far more likely to want to stay connected to like-minded people, as I discussed in my previous post.

You have to be patient. It takes time to build these relationships, they won’t all result in new clients or new opportunities, and the ones that do could take months to come to fruition. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You are building a network and planting the seeds every day. Only some of them will grow, but keep planting, keep nurturing and one day you will look around you and you will find that you have a whole garden full of new relationships that regularly yield fruit.

It cannot just be about you though. The best networks are a group of people who all support each other, and for that you have to give as well as take. Make sure you like, comment on and share other people’s posts. Refer people to businesses that can help them. Introduce people to each other. Support other people’s endeavours. Be a cheerleader. After all, isn’t that what you want people to do for you?

Finally, it does not all have to be online. We are all real people and nothing beats some face to face networking – even if that has to be via Zoom. Try to attend events where your network will be – and if you cannot see anything appropriate why not think about setting up your own get together? One thing the pandemic has taught us is that there are so many ways to connect with people even when we are geographically or socially distant. Make the most of the different ways you can look someone in the eye to say “hi”.

If you are serious about growing your business then you are in this for the long term. Do not get disheartened if results are not immediate: building new relationships takes time. It is time well spent though: with a solid network comes numerous opportunities.

Helen Calvert
Coach and Director of Clear Day
April 2021