Networking Made Easy

Virtual Networking

Does anybody really like to network? Honestly?

Maybe there are some extroverts in the world who embrace awkward first meetings and thrive in group environments. But I’m going to bet that even if you consider yourself an extrovert, networking still comes with its challenges. Traffic. Parking. Finding the appropriate place to pin the “Hello my name is…”

If we are being 100% straight with ourselves…the way you are when no one is looking…isn’t there a wee piece of you that did a virtual high five (with no one), dancing around your living room in your underwear when you realized that COVID meant the end of a sea of endless networking functions. Okay…maybe it was just me. (Maybe I should have closed the curtains).

I can’t be the only one who looks as forward to networking events as one looks forward to a trip to the O.B. GYN Kenobi. I mean both are super similar…we know we have to go, we know it’s good for us but they are super uncomfortable.

So bam…COVID-19 hits. We are all social distancing. Living life like a walking mullet…business on top…party on the bottom and a mask in our pockets and the best part of all… we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we should get a break from dreaded networking.

But every good party needs a pooper and today that’s going to be me.

You may have said to yourself, it’s not like anyone is booking travel right now anyway. Who cares if I don’t hand out my business cards? It will just be a waste of time. Hmmmm…I wonder what’s on Netflix tonight?

But sales is a multi-layered exercise in relationship building. And right now is the perfect time to be networking and laying the foundation for future business relationships. Sure, it may be true that many of the traditional forms of networking events have been put on hold for the foreseeable future. There won’t be any travel shows or bridal shows to attend to find new prospects.  Still, there are so many other networking channels that can be explored virtually. These days…people have more time than ever to network in front of their computers.

According to an article in the New York Times, Facebook usage has jumped by 27% and video chat rooms like Nextdoor and HouseParty have increased their usage by almost 80%. Not to mention Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. With social outings being limited, there has never been a better time to network online – Like a zoo full of caged monkeys, we are a captive audience.

So how does one go about networking online?

The Power of Facebook Groups

To be clear, most reputable Facebook groups do not allow you to promote yourself to community members. So you might be thinking…then what is the point? But the truth is networking done properly should never be about the hard-sell in the first place. You don’t want to be a bull in a China shop. But leveraging Facebook communities is a fantastic way to begin to build connections. 

A few years ago, Conde Nast Traveller started their own private Facebook group for women travellers only. It was a brilliant idea. It became a safe haven for like-minded women travellers to share their travel stories. The group now has over 150K women who share travel tales and travel tips. Conde Nast will not allow you to enter the community and sell your services but… here is the big “BUT”…networking is relationship building. What you can do is join the group and provide value. Be the one who answers all types of questions on your chosen niche of travel. Be the “Goto” person in that travel community. In time, once you’ve built trust, people will organically reach out to you and want to become friends. They will come to rely on your expert advice. And before you know it, they’ll feel comfortable enough to seek your help in planning their holidays. 

And Conde Nast is just one example. There are so many Facebook groups to choose from and probably much better ones than Conde Nast in terms of group size. You want an intimate setting so you don’t get lost in a sea of 150K members. And ideally, you want a group that is synergistic to your travel niche. The more niche you can get, the more opportunity you’ll have to showcase your expertise. To learn about choosing a travel niche that is right for you, check out another of my blogs,  Defining Your Travel Niche 

As an example, say your travel niche is gourmand travel. You curate travel itineraries that include the best trattorias in Italy and the finest vineyards in Argentina, a good Facebook group might be one that includes members who have an affinity for international cuisine – it could be a cooking group perhaps. Regardless of your niche, there is sure to be a Facebook group tailored for you.

Things to keep in mind when choosing a Facebook group

  1. Search for groups using keywords that resonate with your niche
  2. Choose groups that aren’t too large. You don’t want to get lost 
  3. Choose a group that has a good number of active members
  4. If you join a group and it’s not a great fit, just leave. No one’s feelings will be hurt.
  5. But do read the “about” section to get a better feel if you align yourself with the group’s mission.
  6. Choose no more than 5 groups, more than that and you’ll never be able to keep up.
  7. Most important – be active yourself. Commit to spending a small amount of time each day to comment and contribute to your groups.

Building relationships within Facebook is a slow burn. It’s not likely to happen overnight but as mentioned earlier..not too many people are booking travel right now anyway. You have time. But you better believe they are thinking about it. People have begun the planning phase and it only makes sense to offer guidance during these early stages of the travel booking cycle.

 

BNI – Business Network International

If you haven’t heard of BNI before, it is the quintessential networking platform. With over 270,000 members and 9300 chapters worldwide dedicated to connecting people for mutual success, it is the pioneering platform in networking.

And it’s not for the faint of heart. Often the greatest results come from that which requires a bit of effort. Joining a BNI chapter is a real commitment and one you can’t take lightly. Typically groups meet weekly. Attendance is mandatory. Meetings used to be in person but now continue using Zoom-like software.  Even though you can meet in the privacy of your own home now, meetings still take a chunk of time. You want to be honest with yourself before joining. Can you truly commit to a minimum of two hours each week just to meet up and talk? And there is an expectation that just as you expect to get referrals, you also need to give referrals. This can sometimes scare some people off. I’m not sure why. That’s how the world rotates in the first place.  But that’s another conversation.


The good news is, if that hasn’t scared you off, you can garner fantastic benefits from joining a BNI chapter.

  • Group size average is anywhere between 25 to 50 members so you get to know fellow participants relatively quickly especially since you are meeting weekly.
  • While BNI may not be right for everyone, it is perfect for small service businesses like selling travel. Each group is limited to only one type of service per group so you will be the only travel expert.
  • BNI groups are made up of affluent business savvy people like yourself who value service-based industries. And everyone travels so it makes sense for them to find a reputable travel professional like you that they can count on. I always say everyone in this world needs 3 professionals they can count on in their life:

1) a trustworthy mechanic 

2) a talented hairstylist 

3) and a knowledgeable travel advisor.

Networking Made Easy

 

Becoming a BNI member isn’t free. There is a one-time registration fee, plus a yearly membership fee of $499 US, plus any costs incurred if chapters do start to meet in person again – if that ever happens given how successful the online virtual format has become.

But if you think about it, you can easily earn that back in just a couple of sales. Of course, not all 25 to 50 members are going to be booking their travel through you. Some may already have their own trusted travel advisor but some will. You only need a couple of referrals to cover your cost and the rest is a bonus. Not to mention the spin off of referrals from referrals. 🙂

These members become part of your email list that you connect with each week and share valuable content. Over time, those connections become bookings.

BNI for a travel advisor simply makes sense. You can learn more about becoming a BNI member by visiting Business Networking International.

Femcity.com – A networking community for female Entrepreneurs

Femcity is another great networking platform especially if you are a female travel advisor. Because between 60 to 65% of the travel industry community is made up of females, I wanted to include it. And as more and more women are building their own travel businesses and working independently, joining a networking community of fellow female entrepreneurs makes sense.

Unlike BNI, Femcity meets less frequently and there aren’t nearly as many rules and regulations. You can become part of a local chapter or branch out and find one in another area of the world. You can become as involved as you like or just be a backseat observer – keeping in mind you get out of things what you put in.

The benefits of joining Femcity are many. Once a member, there are a host of resources available to you from tutorials on how to be more successful on Instagram or Pinterest or even tips on legal things to be aware of when starting your own business.

The cost to join is normally only $150 CA/US annual fee. But if you are reading this and think this might be something you want to explore, readers of my blog can take advantage of a reduced annual membership by Clicking Here.  Still not sure? Femcity offers a free 30-day trial period for you to go in, snoop around and see if it’s the right environment for you.

There is even a private Femcity Facebook group to join and like other Facebook groups and BNI, it’s about getting to know your fellow members. Networking with them. Helping them achieve their goals and in turn, you’ll achieve yours. Building solid relationships that you can count on takes time. Just think of how long it took you to cultivate your relationship with your bestie. I know some besties who have been together since kindergarten. Now that is a time commitment.

And you might have guessed it, I am a Femcity member.

One final point to remember…

Social media advice

 

Building a community with any networking group requires patience…and lots of it. There is no magic button that unlocks people’s trust. This is a long game strategy which is why the best time to have started networking really was months ago. 

But the second-best time to start – is today. Hey, if you aren’t already in the travel industry but wondering if it’s the right fit for you, be sure to watch the short video on the Top 10 Benefits of Joining the Travel Industry.

And don’t be shy…leave a comment below. What is your favourite real-world or online networking platform?

Diane

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