There is an ancient adage that it isn’t what you know, but who. And the advent of the digital era has served to only bolster the importance of business networking, especially in certain sectors.
There are numerous challenges to business networking, starting with finding the most relevant people. Once you’ve located contacts, then channels of communication need to be established, and relationships built.
Doing all this takes money, time and effort, and all of this can be made easier with some handy software, not to mention your phone.
Here are some of the best tools to help you network more effectively, and develop those contacts that can open up all manner of commercial opportunities.
The best known networking site for a good reason
560 million users
Great way to find a job
Default settings are way too email friendly
Ask anyone about networking, and they’ll most likely mention LinkedIn, as the classic example of a widely used online solution.
However, it has taken 15 years and the acquisition of 17 other networking and contact management companies to make it the top dog. And, in 2016 it was itself bought by Microsoft.
The model behind LinkedIn is straightforward enough, allowing users to create a profile that then enables others to find and connect with them for business purposes.
Protection against unwarranted invites is inbuilt, and users can restrict what information is available about them. But what most people like is that they can share their trusted business associates with others, creating a community of connected and approved people.
A group messaging service
Built for business users
Supports a variety of media
Regular messaging applications like Hangouts weren’t specifically built for business users, but GroupMe was, and you can also use it for personal connections.
Available for Android, iOS, Windows 10 and the now defunct Windows Phone, GroupMe even works on phones that don’t have the app via SMS.
It operates much like a private chat room, where any message can be seen by all those in the group, allowing them to react to information sent to each other. Private messages are possible, but it isn’t the default mode of this tool.
In addition to text-based communication, GroupMe also supports pictures, videos, documents and web hyperlinks in its exchanges.
It was bought by Skype in 2011, which in turn was bought by Microsoft earlier that same year.
Impress others by remembering their name
Great for the forgetful
Only on iOS
The more senior you become in business, the greater number of people you will inevitably meet in that context. And either forgetting someone’s name or mixing them up with someone else doesn’t impress people or get them onside.
Namerick is an Apple app that sells for just $4.99 (£3.78) and aims to avoid those awkward exchanges. It achieves this by allowing you to save the name alongside useful details that will help you retrieve the name, and it can even generate a mnemonic version of their name to help set those pesky neurons up for easy recall.
The only downside we can find of this useful tool is that it is only available on Apple devices, with no Android release on the horizon.
Tinder for business relationships
No unsolicited requests
Limited user community
Making friends in business can be difficult when the emphasis is on the value of time and the application of effort.
Shapr is a business networking tool that sets out to connect people who work in the same industry and therefore might share interests and objectives.
The application bears an uncanny likeness to those dating apps where you swipe people, and in many respects, it works the same way.
Once you’ve found a suitable person, Shapr can send them a personal message and establish contact with them. The system doesn’t allow any unsolicited requests, so you won’t be getting any that you don’t expect or want.
The app is available for both iPhone and Android devices, and for those that find it very useful there is a paid Shapr Plus monthly subscription that allows you to swipe 50 profiles a day and promises to boost your profile with other users.
A tool for conference networking
Great for conferences
Free mobile app
Needs the back-end to work fully
There are two components to Bizzabo, one for those that attend conferences and another for the businesses that organise them.
Where the mobile app for attendees is free, the management tools to connect all those people costs money. How much depends on the integration needed with other software, and how much information you want to extract about the attendees.
For anyone attending a conference run using Bizzabo, the mobile app is a no-brainer, as it allows you to connect with exactly the people you’d like to meet in what might be a confused and crowded environment.
Existing LinkedIn users won’t even need to register their information, as the app can access your profile, and also the LinkedIn profiles of other attendees.
Makes sharing business details easier
Neat replacement for business cards
Multiple ways to send details
Works on any phone
While many people still use business cards, they can be frustrating if they contain out of date details, or if you don’t carry enough to hand out to everyone.
What’s clever about Contxts is that it allows you to package all the information that a typical business card includes into an SMS text message. And, you can transfer that either conventionally, or by bumping phones. Or, you tell them to SMS your account name to 50500, and they’ll get your details back as a reply.
At this time Contxts is in beta, free to use (other than SMS message costs) and it works on any mobile phone; even something ancient.
If you want multiple account names and card requests that will cost $9.99 (£7.57) per month or $49.99 (£37.84) for the whole year. If the whole company wants this facility, corporate deals are also available.
Do lunch with people you just met
A potentially great idea
Only on iOS
Not much use outside a city
CityHour takes the possibly naïve notion that people take just an hour for lunch in the city and offers the option of using that time to do some valuable networking.
Once you’ve installed the app on your iPhone and primed the system with your details, it will locate likeminded people within your vicinity. You can have a chat with them, or organise a lunch, or find a venue for a proper meeting.
The application is free, and there are no paid for enhancements as yet.
We have a few reservations about CityHour. Firstly, that is that it isn’t much use if you don’t work in a major city. And, if you or the people you need to network with don’t use Apple products, then they won’t be on the CityHour database to be found.
If you do use an iPhone and work in the centre of a major city, then it might be pretty useful…