Find a network that suits your business
The most popular site for professional networking is LinkedIn, though many companies also use Twitter for this purpose too.
As well as the dedicated social media sites, there are also sector-specific social media sites and many general business forums that you may want to explore.
Update your profile
Your professional profile, be it on LinkedIn, on your website or on any other social network is out there for anyone to look at. It could be the first time someone hears about you, so it's your chance to make a good first impression.
Be brief, but get your best selling points – and those of your company – across. Use this profile consistently across all sites you frequent. You may need to change the length depending on word counts, so start with a 250 word description and then edit it as necessary.
Also make sure that it's regularly updated. A profile that was last updated three years ago sends out a bad impression about you and your business.
Join communities and groups
The best way to find like-minded business owners is to join online groups and Forums that represent common interests. For example, the Forum of Private Business has a LinkedIn group
where you can meet and talk with other members and small-business owners in the UK.
Be an active participant. Post questions, start discussions and respond to others' posts. Remember to be polite and respectful at all times, even if you don't agree with someone's point of view.
Like face-to-face networking, the aim of online networking is to appear knowledgeable and helpful. Promote useful articles or interesting reports that you've written. This demonstrates knowledge and expertise far more than just listing what you know.
Ask for referrals
If you'd like to make a professional contact but they don't know who you are, don't go in there cold. Twitter is a bit more relaxed, you could follow the person and send them a message to introduce yourself, but on LinkedIn and other professional networks things are a bit different.
Unsolicited requests to join a person's network are very often deleted straight away. Find out if they have any common connections and ask them to introduce you. If you don't but you still want to get in touch with that person, send them a message explaining how you think you can help them. Do NOT just use the standard LinkedIn ‘I'd like to add you to my professional network' text.
Although social media has added a new, friendlier dimension to doing business, that doesn't mean you should let standards of etiquette you'd expect at a face-to-face networking meeting slip. Remember, you're representing your business and what you say online can stay round for a long time.