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Forget The Handshake: Mastering LinkedIn Networking For Kiwi Businesses

Meet-and-greet business networking may soon be a thing of the past for New Zealand's small and medium businesses (SMEs)—worryingly, however, most Kiwi SMEs seemingly lack the mindset and skill set to adapt.

While referrals and word-of-mouth (WOM) have traditionally been king, the digital landscape demands a new approach. Unfortunately, many Kiwi businesses appear to be struggling to translate their traditional networking skills to platforms like LinkedIn.

"The problem is, many businesses simply don't know how to network online effectively," says Assia Salikhova, the Managing Director of Wellington business development agency Smarketing Lab.

"People shy away from networking on LinkedIn because it feels too much like selling, but in reality, it is just a digital version of the same principles—make introductions, build relationships and offer value."

Salikova says one issue is that people dislike the "social and time cost" of digital interactions, preferring a face-to-face approach to networking.

"Think of LinkedIn as a virtual room full of potential connections," she says. "In the real world, you wouldn't just stand by the wall hoping someone approaches you. You'd introduce yourself, initiate conversations, and find common ground."

Some traditional WOM principles still hold weight in the digital age. Building strong client relationships and leveraging existing contacts are just as important as ever.

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"Unlike chance encounters at events, LinkedIn allows you to target those who best fit your ideal customer profile.

"Many businesses miss a golden opportunity by not staying connected with past clients and partners," says Salikova. "If nurtured properly, these connections can be a treasure trove of referrals."

The same goes for building strategic partnerships with businesses that offer complementary services to your target market.

Salikova says it is essential to understand the subtle differences between online and offline networking.

"Many SMEs still need to bridge the gap. The key lies in mastering the core tenets of networking—providing value, building trust, and initiating conversations."

She offers three actionable tactics for SMEs:

  • Targeted Outreach: Craft personalised Direct Messages (DMs) to potential clients or those you wish to connect with. Don't just send generic messages. Research their needs and tailor your message to offer relevant solutions or insights. Focus on adding value, not just making a sale.
  • Become a Thought Leader: Share industry articles, insights, and updates on your profile. This positions you as an expert in your field and attracts potential clients actively seeking solutions. Regularly posting valuable content establishes you as a trusted resource and fosters connections.
  • Join the Conversation: Actively participate in industry groups related to your interests. Don't just scroll through—comment on posts, share your knowledge and start dialogues with like-minded professionals. Engagements like these build relationships and position you as a thought leader within your niche.

Salikova says New Zealand SMEs can transform online networking from a daunting online space into a thriving network if they embrace the power of online connections to build a sustainable and successful business.

© Scoop Media

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