Written By Drew Deraney
Networking is essential for your career, and the ability to forge new relationships is crucial to the success of any business. Building professional relationships can make the difference between staying professionally stagnant and climbing the career ladder to success. If you’re not networking, you’re not growing your career. It’s that simple.
Utilizing new skills to gain potential clients during the pandemic become more of a necessity than an option, and despite months of social distancing finally coming to an end, face-to-face networking is still taking a major hit.
As we slowly begin to embrace limited attendance, in-person networking opportunities, the days of meeting others at industry events and conferences, exchanging business cards, and shaking hands feel mostly still on hold – but there are ways to expand network connections and develop solid professional relationships virtually.
Although it may seem difficult, it’s not impossible. However, to help grow your business by networking virtually, your approach and attitude may need to change to embrace an evolving social landscape. The key to successful networking is to get to know people, have genuine conversations, and provide value. The good news is that a lot of these principles still hold true while networking virtually — but for many (myself included!) the transition has been challenging.
Here are some simple tips that I’ve found helpful along the way.
Get Comfortable With New Technology
It doesn’t matter what platform you use – though Zoom, Skype, and WebEx are among the most popular. I’ve found that giving yourself enough time to work through any kinks before the meeting is slated to begin is imperative to a successful virtual connection. Run a test of your setup before each virtual networking opportunity to ensure that your audio and video outputs are good and avoid any potential technical issues or annoying glitches by checking that the internet connection is stable.
Attend Virtual Events
Having quickly adapted to our new socially distanced reality, many conferences and other similar events have already taken a virtual approach to networking. With physical location no longer a barrier, we can even re-think geographic boundaries. Events are now available worldwide, attracting a wider range of participants who are ready to network online. With easy sign-ups and interactive livestreams, connecting with other guests has never been easier. This is also true of expanding your networking circle. If you’re part of group like BNI, you have access to a global network of professionals such as yourself. You’re not confined to your regional limitations. There is no time like the present to make new connections and learn more from a diverse cast of likeminded businesspeople.
Prepare Like You Would An In-person Networking Event
Preparation is a key component of virtual networking. Planning questions or an agenda beforehand will not only show professionalism but help direct the conversation topics and keep all participants on-track. If I am attending a networking event at a chamber, I will look at the list of attendees and decide who I want to meet. This preparedness will help keep that connection with your contact, resulting in both parties getting the most value out of the experience.
Use LinkedIn To Your Advantage
As the saying goes: “It’s not what you know—it’s who you know.”
Every entrepreneur or business owner knows the power of a strong professional network. The right connections can offer access to exciting new opportunities, help to grow your company, introduce you to new leads and so much more. A strong network is essential to take your business to the next level. LinkedIn is a great platform for expanding your network, and it’s only becoming more comprehensive. Posting regularly scheduled, thoughtful content establishes you as an expert in your industry, and allows you to engage with your network at the same time. Likewise, there are numerous groups for professionals on the platform to connect with and interact in meaningful discussions. If the kind of group you’re looking for doesn’t exist yet, make it!
If you told someone you would get in touch with them or promised to introduce someone to a person you know, take the time to do it. It often only takes minutes to shoot off an email and keep the relationship alive. If you do not hear back from a person with whom you want to network, a follow-up is fine, but remember: if you try many times in quick succession, you could quickly be perceived as an annoyance!
Practice Your Writing
While remote networking is great on paper, it’s not without its challenges, and not everyone you connect with will be readily accessible for video chats. These potential contacts will likely prefer to message back and forth to fit their schedule. Honing your writing skills to ensure a professional tone will reflect your attention and appreciation when communicating — especially during early interactions — as that crucial first impression is so important. I recommend sending a thank-you message to anyone you do connect with, as this simple but memorable gesture often goes a long way.
If you got into business before the pandemic, you may be struggling now with how to network. That is completely understandable; we have all had to adjust. However, take advantage of the technology at your disposal, and make the new landscape work for you. I’ve had a lot of success with this in my new role as a franchise owner, and that’s just in my first year. The nice thing about networks, is that if you nourish them, they will keep growing.
Desirae Haluk is passionate about marketing for startups and small businesses. For the last 15 years she has held marketing executive positions for organizations both large and small. She realizes that her true passion is helping establish, grow and evolve startups and small businesses to make them successful and help achieve their goals.