Around my Junior year of undergrad, I started to be aware of the importance of networking. Like many budding professionals, when I entered the workforce in my career field I found the task of breaking into an established field mildly challenging. Over the course of a decade, I learned from colleagues, mentors (and YouTube videos) how to master the art of walking into a room of strangers and finding those valuable, meaningful connections. I felt confident starting conversations, learned to discover events and venues that were worthwhile and unsaturated and had a healthy contact list of individuals in diverse industries.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic happened.
I spent the first week of the mandatory quarantine making my way down my client list making calls to offer reassurance, educate on what steps we were taking and simply listen to individual perspectives–shared plans, insider insights, and fears. Things quieted down for several weeks as businesses worldwide battened down the hatches and braced themselves for the inevitable economic impact. I began to describe entering the quarantine as similar to preparing for a hurricane. You prepare for the worst and pray for the best. I wasn’t far off. However the effects of COVID-19 are largely unseen and so far-reaching that even experts don’t know when we will return to “normal.” So as a community of professionals and entrepreneurs, we embrace this “new normal” and continue to operate as best as we can with a spirit of innovation and determination.
How do you network during a pandemic?
I polled the Procept Marketing team, customers and professional acquaintances and asked them “How are you guys networking in this new socially distant climate?” Here’s what I found:
Throw your old familiarity out the door.
Now is not the time to be too comfortable. I had a client tell me a story about a medical sales representative disregarding their posted clinic policies. “They just breezed past the signs on the door–no respect. The majority of my patients are elderly and at risk, so we are taking screening at the door very seriously.” The rep’s casual entrance offended my client enough that they chose to no longer do business with that company.
It’s important to remember that at the root of relationship-building is respect. Even if you have a long-standing relationship with a customer, never get too comfortable or assume. Remain professional and allow your customer to do business in conditions that they are comfortable with.
Make it personal.
When reaching out, don’t be afraid to mention the pandemic and the effects it is having. Ask people how they are coping and give them the opportunity to acknowledge the challenges they might be having. Taking the time to chat puts people at ease. Simply asking “How are you honestly doing? This pandemic has certainly taken a toll on all of us” allows you to establish rapport in less than 10 seconds. A little bit of empathy goes a long way.
Get comfortable with technology.
Everyone has either experienced or heard of a technical difficulty horror story. Coworkers using the restroom while not realizing their video is on, presenters unable to start their meeting on time because they couldn’t get their platform to work. We have to accept that using technology to communicate is a way of life. By learning to use these platforms effectively, we save ourselves the inefficiency or embarrassment when something goes wrong.
However, if something does go wrong–it’s ok. Remind yourself and others that we are all human and subject to error. People are all a lot more forgiving of technology as so many of us have or are still working from home. It doesn’t matter what platform you use–the important thing is to show up.
Take the extra steps to network after a virtual meeting.
Completely virtual conferences are a relatively new concept. Obtaining attendee lists may not be feasible, but you can easily get speaker and panel representatives, along with their company names. Consider emailing these individuals after the event, to ask questions or offer feedback. Ask if they would be willing to speak with you briefly to brainstorm on individuals and companies in the space you are targeting. Take a risk and put yourself out there – the worst that can happen is that they will say no.
Finally, consider how you can bring value to a conference – if you or one of your clients participate in a session or panel, it could open new opportunities to expand your network.
Creating and maintaining virtual relationships is now fundamental to maintaining mental health as well as business success. Leaders, you can help by encouraging employees to attend online networking events, webinars, and chat rooms in groups not specifically related to their jobs.
Evaluate your network.
It’s a good time to say hello to dorman connections in your field. Recognize that you have value and something to offer and work to find those that need your help. We should always consider ways to help others, especially in our community.
Be honest if these connections make sense for the direction your business or company is going. If not, identify what connections would be beneficial and get in touch in a sensitive way.
Talk to strangers.
Connect with different people who may not be like-minded. Find people who are different, who aren’t in your industry or social circle. Keep diversity in mind. And don’t stress if you struggle with meeting new people; introverts can be great at connecting because they have a natural ability to listen and ask questions.
Effective networking takes time to pay off. Remember to schedule webinars or virtual meetings ahead on a weekly basis to ensure you are connecting with others regularly. Pick a day of the week each week to carve out time to send out messages to schedule virtual coffees.
An old mentor used to tell me “It’s not no, just ‘not right now.’” If you continue to sow the seeds of connection, you will find a harvest once this stormy season has passed.
Are you interested in powering your website to create connections for you while you sleep? Chat with our team about SEO strategies to bolster your business page in web searches.