Get Business Social Networking Working for You

My five guidelines for successful online networking are:

- Be Discriminating

- Be Active

- Be Helpful

- Be Visible

- Be Positive

But before I expand on that, here’s your Invitation to our Annual Gathering on May 26 in East London.  e: andrew.ferguson@lifeshift.co.uk for details.  It’s only £15 inc supper and drinks, and if you’re not already a member of the fabulous www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net your fee includes free Life Membership (worth £40!).

Be Discriminating

Select a website that reflects your values and special interests.  Common values bind and define a community which is the basis for meaningful communication.  For instance, www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net  is the only online meeting-place for self-employed enterprise and businesses with a social, green, responsible, holistic remit. 

The perfect Business Social Networking Website supports its members to achieve their purpose in life and work – to make a life, not just a living.  It sees its role as facilitating mutually productive relationships between people.

You can plod round articles, websites and blogs for ever, but the answer to any question you have is a person, and a good networking website makes it easy for you to find that Person through its open, searchable Directory and a clutter-free Forum.  www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net is probably unique in making this direct contact easy. 

Breakthrough Network has always been dedicated to relieving the isolation of self-employment and making connections between like-minded people … whether through events and courses, bulletins, the uniquely indexed paper directory or personal interaction.  Our tag-line right from the start was “Creating a forum to support those taking charge of their lives through self-employment and other personal growth routes”; this is just a super new way of doing that.

Since 1988, the technology has changed dramatically.  We haven’t followed it slavishly, but have been quite selective and waited until a particular piece of technology actually works better than what went before.  The Forum element of websites now comes in this category (once the rubbish has been weeded out).  It is more democratic than blogs, which tend to be guru- or ego-centred, and a little one-way.  We are using the technology to connect people, not separate them, so you can support each other through expertise, trading and alliances.

Our Forum is the main meeting place for members, much as the Breakthrough building was in the early days – uniquely simple and sophisticated, intelligent and seriously useful.  We have a fabulous team of people already, and will keep expanding this over time.  I certainly see myself diverting most of my networking and connecting through this medium, and have set it up so it is breathtakingly easy for everyone else to do the same.

We’ve been connecting enterprising people like you for mutual support for 20 years, so we know a bit about what makes this sort of interaction work. 

Now we can meet every day!  We can connect with the buzz – what’s current and how others are responding and benefitting.  We can exchange insight and expertise, make new connections and experience again the sense of community we had all those years ago in Breakthrough Centre, Shepherd’s Bush.

Any problems, including difficulty getting hold of the person you want, email andrew.ferguson@lifeshift.co.uk or call GB (0)20 7473 5544 and I’ll help you make the connection.  What other social networking site offers that.

Be Active

Social networking offers a non-intrusive medium for responsible marketing.  It’s a great, low-cost way of starting to connect with potential customers for your business.

This has nothing to do with the sort of unsolicited, unqualified pitching other websites seem to encourage.  I call that abuse.  The right way is to be active and visible in a website’s Forum, so potential clients and allies keep being reminded of you.  Don’t overdo it, but just signing up will achieve very little. 

I make a point of engaging with forums/websites one day a week, and I have one basic message I’m communicating each week, which I adapt to each site, as well as responding to other posts, which is of course far more important.

Personally I prefer sites with an interactive Forum – twitter, facebook … and of course www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net !  Marketing works on repetition, and the advantage such media have is that they repeat your message to people who are viewing the site from choice.

Actively seek answers too.  The Forum is the core of the website.  It is where you raise questions you want other members to help you with, seek connections and alliances, float ideas/topics you’d like to explore with other members and share useful topical information on enterprise themes … for instance where the market’s going, what’s changing, what’s been superceded.

The fundamental principle is that “The Answer to Your Questions is a PERSON!”  If you’ve tried using other forums and blogs, you’ll perhaps have found that the responses you get are rather unsatisfactory.  Whether because the expertise isn’t there, or because you can’t be certain of the provenance of the respondent, or because the responses reflect someone else’s personal experience rather than your own situation, or because of misunderstandings, over-enthusiastic selling or poor communication … you can be left feeling underwhelmed.

www.breakthroughnetwork.net does it differently.

You can sometimes find factual answers on the web, but only the most basic questions have a simple factual answer.  The answer to most questions depends on your circumstances, your values and preferences.   Facts as such don’t get you very far – but reliable experience relevant to your situation gets you a very long way indeed.

To tap this experience you need a person who’s been there before and knows their way around.  www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net has nearly 600 experts with your taste in responsible person-centred enterprise.  You can ask your question in the Forum and get mature, intelligent responses.  AND you can search the Directory to find just the right person to contact DIRECT (no messing about with traffic diversions).

Ask for the information you need in the Forum and you won’t need to email me, because I will see it and answer you there.  It will only work for you if you’re active there.

Be Helpful

The one key word in networking is ‘Give’.  This is what works – at best giving without any thought of benefit, giving unconditionally, to be helpful.

With www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net we have created a community where members give to each other, link up for mutual benefit and generously share insight, experience, expertise and seriously useful answers.

If you take more than you give, you create a referral-free zone around yourself.  Don’t be surprised if this doesn’t generate connections.

Being helpful is far more likely to make a good impression and make the recipient feel like deepening the relationship.  This is how joint ventures happen too

Be Visible

Giving and supporting others is the best way to enhance your visibility within the network.  You don’t want to get known for being a self-centred nuisance.

I cannot overemphasise how important it is to be seen every week making yourself useful and interesting in any online websites you’re using.  Ask good questions.  Post replies and valuable insights into current topics and issues (but not the sort of drivel that passes for intelligent commentary on most of facebook!) 

Make certain you’re seen in the Forum.  Share your expertise.  Be helpful.  Respond thoughtfully to questions and topics.  Come back regularly for the Buzz.

When you respond to a question, you don’t just connect with the questioner.  Everyone else sees what you’re saying, and somewhere a head starts nodding approval.  The more you appear in the Forum, and the more sense you make there, the higher your visibility.

You will benefit yourself, by feeling more a part of the community; others will benefit from your expertise; and you are starting, building and refreshing masses of relationships without even realising it.

How can we help if you stay buried under your duvet?!  Tell us what you’re looking for.  “The Answer to Your Questions is a PERSON!”  and the Forum is where you’ll find the PERSON who can help you find the answers that will work for you.  You just click on their name and there they are!   And there you are too, as visible as we can make you.

It’s all breathtakingly simple, transparent and user-friendly (no really!), with a high quality of the sort of socially responsible, good-hearted people Breakthrough has always attracted.

Be easy to find.  To ensure you and your particular skills can be found, take 5 minutes now to add a few key words and contact details to your Profile in the Directory.  There’s no confusing muddle here, so it really is quick to get to your Profile and then back to the Forum.

Much of the activity in www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net happens in the Members Directory.  So it’s crucial your Profile tells us what you have to offer and how to contact you.

I know for instance that Rachael Ross will help me organise myself to work from home; that Julian Childs is a sales and marketing consultant with a specialism in careers coaching for certain specific groups; that Clarissa Stoneham is the person to call if I find myself involved with young offenders seeking work.  I know this because their Profiles are fully completed, and each has posted a telephone number where I can contact them direct.  They have also used other elements of the network to make themselves more visible … and here they are again!

At the very least enter your “Services Offered”, so it’s easy for us all to find you through a Search.  Include a telephone number and ideally an email address, so it’s also easy for other members to contact you.

Expand your entry in “Description of Services” with phrases like Chocolate Manufacturing, Marketing & Business Development, Therapist, Adviser or Portrait Artist & Cartoonist – rich words that people might search for.

Members can only contact you if you at least enter a telephone number (still the most effective medium for dialogue) and ideally an email address.  Then we can all direct other people to you, and it’s much easier to include you.  Because of the nominal entry fee, it is much safer to reveal details here than on unpatrolled websites.

While you’re on the site, say hello and give us some feedback.

There is room for you to show up to 3 URLs, and promote the portfolio career or varied personas many of us have.  And it is easy to insert a photo or distinctive picture to represent you.  Include your country and nearest big town in your profile, so those who want to organise local gatherings can find you.  You can select what data you want to reveal about yourself, so we can look you up when you raise or answer a question, and make contact direct … and so can you!

The answer to your questions is a PERSON, so members will often go straight to the person. It is dead easy to Search the Directory, select from the profiles that come up and make contact direct.  This way you can find like-minded suppliers and allies, and get gently acquainted before you make any expensive, irrevocable or awkward commitments … and others can make contact with you for the supply of your services, skills and experience. 

Suppose you’re looking for someone to help you with your software, a Chinese retail expert, an accountant in Rome, a wine shop in LA, a holiday in Greece or insider info on the art market.  The uniquely brilliant Search tool takes you straight to the word you’ve searched on, wherever it appears in the Network Directory; so forget those ghastly Search tools on the property websites, and those endless lists and categories that never quite have the phrase you want, ours is a doddle!  Search the Directory using “Any of my keywords” or get a closer fit with “Exact Phrase”.

You can also find people whose surname you’ve forgotten, or that Adonis who lives in Edinburgh or does gardening, but his whole name escapes you.

www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net is completely unique in its searchability and unlike other Forum/blog/network sites our technology does not get in the way of the connections.

Two more final ways to raise your visibility.  Connect with the site organiser (for www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net that’s Andrew Ferguson e: andrew.ferguson@LifeShift.co.uk).  I am far more likely to remember you when a query comes up.  The other way to connect is to write one or more of our eMags.  The One Minute eMag is another Breakthrough first -  no-one has time for any more than 60 seconds online; and as a result our eMag gets read.  And if you help me deliver the weekly eMag I will never forget you!

Be Positive

Communicate Positively.  We will take a stand against materialism, negativity and denial in the interactions on this Forum, and discourage trivial gossip and boring self-promotion.

Positive Communication goes beyond this.  You need to stick with the initial response you get, follow through and help them help you.   Answers on other Forums are inadequate because no question worth its salt can be answered in a few words of type … with no account taken of personal situations and preferences.  Even the classic “What’s the current rate of VAT?” can’t be answered intelligently without more background.

The revolutionary idea of this site is that through the initial responses you get to the queries and issues you raise in our Online Forum, you will find the right person for a proper dialogue … beyond the Internet shorthand.

For instance, you have a question –Network Members bring their years of experience and specialist skills to bear, (and you too become one of those members sharing your special knowledge).

From the initial responses you receive, you get an idea who might be worth following up for a conversation about your personal situation.  So you call them (or initially email to see if they’re up for a bit more interaction), and together you adapt their understanding to your situation.

Now, if your question is worth asking, then a good answer, specific to you, has a value too.  As a rough guide, we suggest that after an initial few minutes of generous networking time, a very nominal fee of something like £10 for 15 or 20 minutes is agreed between you.  The website takes nothing; the £10 is purely a valuing of the respondent’s expertise … and it might actually be a swap of some kind.

One of the really differentiating qualities of this website is the way it enables members to get gradually acquainted.  This is surely how we like to come alongside possible future collaborators and suppliers.  We like to see how they think and operate; we want to see how they work and deal with other people’s dilemmas.  Once you’ve seen a bit of this and built your confidence, you can make contact and have an initial conversation, with no expectation of anything more than an initial answer and maybe a tenner’s worth of their time.  This creates such a safe way of building relationships.

The relationship that develops beyond this is also up to you both to negotiate.  That 15 minutes might be all you need for now; or it might have given you both a chance to get acquainted and file each other away for future reference.  You might then refer each other on to others, include them in joint ventures, tell them about opportunities and generally add them to your personal network.  Or you might decide to team up as buddies for co-counselling or regular exchange, or enter into a consultancy or trading arrangement for income.

We have always uniquely operated at the point where Enterprise Development meets Personal Development … because we recognise that there are few if any business or career problems – just personal issues thinly disguised.  If in attempting to answer each others’ questions, we fail to take into account the personal dimension, we will fail to have anything very useful to contribute to the business issues raised.

Positively friendly.  This is not just a user-friendly website; the users are friendly too.  In fact all the members are your friends already; there’s no need to prove how cool you are by accumulating friends – friendship is a given.

You know how valuable it is going to Networking Events – the people you never knew existed, the ideas and opportunities that come at you out of the blue, the feel-good you get from being useful and helpful, the serendipity.

The Breakthrough Network Forum is a Networking Event that’s always open – 24/7.  Check in and see who’s there, what’s hot and what’s not, what you weren’t even aware you didn’t know about.  Get the local/topical buzz.  Find the person you need and the ideas you didn’t even know you needed … and let the right people find you too!  No booking, no travelling, no hanging about – it starts when you arrive.  The more you engage with it, the better you’ll find it works for you.  Make a date at least once a week with www.breakthroughnetwork.net!

Somehow at Networking Events, you often miss the one key person you needed to meet – here you can search the Directory Profiles, so there are no misses.                                    

Staying connected to great support is crucial at this time.  And it’s available on the Breakthrough Online Forum all the time.  Got a question, or fancy feedback on a project?  Looking for ideas or information?  Your hunt starts here.  Keep us posted too on things that have helped you and might help the rest of us.

Search TipGet clever with www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net … because this is a really clever site!  Put a good keyword in your Forum questions; because one of the unique features of www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net  is that you can search for topics … and find old topics which on any other site will be buried in an unwieldy index … if you can find them at all!

Put a word like “market, money, tips, book” or even more specifically “flash, London, DVD” in your post and then search the forum.  Your post will come up, but also any other posts with the same keyword.                              

WHO you will find on this wonderful website

There is a whole lively community of holistic and responsible enterprises, professional advisers and coaches on www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net.

Here you will find other service providers with a passion for people, good will and integrity.  They will often be owner managers or social enterprises; and you will also find the familiar mix of “portfolio people”, expert hobby/lifestyle businesses and virtual home-workers.  Most members will tend to be or at least think self-employed, enjoying the independence of managing their own lives, but appreciating the value of belonging to a generous community of helpful like-minded people.  Small Within Big is what is really Beautiful.

The thing that most differentiates Breakthrough Network from LinkedIn, ecademy and facebook (its nearest competitors) is its members’ focus on working towards a personal positive purpose in life – socially and ecologically responsible, providing authentic leadership, joy and meaning.  They link up to form brilliant teams and we link these socially responsible entrepreneurs to the right support and challenge for them.

There’s 3 ways to join:

Use this link http://www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net/partner_signup.php to secure Life Membership for just £9.50 (this is a 75% discount on the full list price)

OR

Attend a www.TheKitchenTable.co event (the fee needs to be £9.50)

OR

Buy the full set of 5 LifeShift Books for £39.95 and we throw in FREE Life Membership of www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net

Tell all your friends to join, and they too will save £30 to be Life Members.  They get this benefit because of your commitment to networking and Breakthrough.

Rest assured the site is as safe and secure as we can make it.  Only those who make a small commitment and reveal themselves can even see the Forum.  But this is so effective at keeping out unsavoury elements we’re even losing genuine new members.  So please reassure those you refer that the membership is worth knowing and the Forum works better than any other, because they too can’t see it till they join!

© Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson: Life and Business Relaunch Coach                      t: 020 7473 5544

MA Oxon, Chartered Marketer, FRSA, FCIM, FIC

SFEDI accredited and award-winning Business Advisor

Breakthrough Centre, 29 Adine Road, London E13 8LL

www.LifeShift.co.uk                                               e: andrew.ferguson@lifeshift.co.uk  www.TheKitchenTable.CO                                 www.BreakthroughNetwork.Net

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