Networking in the new normal
Handshaking, back-slapping and business card swapping – gone. Virtual business networking is here to stay.
While many people eagerly anticipate the return of physical networking events, social distancing measures are set to remain for the foreseeable and thus the days of handshaking, back-slapping and business card swapping are over. Organisations are also increasingly realising the benefits of virtual networking, choosing to permanently change over to online events or to maintain a programme of virtual networking alongside in-person events.
Networking offers a wealth of benefits to business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs; from building and leveraging a professional community and developing new business opportunities, to knowledge and skill sharing, and easing feelings of loneliness associated with working independently.
So, how do you get the most from virtual networking?
Do your research
Prior to a networking event, it is common for a list of attendees to be made visible, so identify those you wish to engage with before the event. These people may include those who work for organisations you’re interested in partnering with, those with similar or interesting job functions, or those who spark your interest with their social media or published content.
Your LinkedIn profile is your new virtual business card. Share this far and wide with attendees and invite them to connect. Before you do, however, ensure your profile is up-to-date and that information about your business and role as a business owner is clear, accurate and detailed – no wedding photo profile pics, acronym stuffing or one-line descriptions here please.
During the networking event, make a note of those who you’d like to connect with afterwards – that is, those who run businesses that complement yours and where there are opportunities to collaborate or exchange skills. Once a LinkedIn connection has been made, the networking doesn’t stop there; this is your opportunity to engage through reading, sharing and commenting on their content or endorsing skills.
Networking is a two-way dialogue. It is about building mutually beneficial relationships in order to fill skills gaps, enhance creativity, open the door for collaboration, provide mentorship or offer a sounding board for ideas – not forgetting, good old-fashioned friendship.
While networking events may be an opportunity to promote your offering, self-serving sales pitches tend not to be well-received. Indeed, a common pitfall of networking is broadcasting rather than participating. Engage with the host and fellow delegates by asking questions, sharing interesting information and keeping conversations relevant. And who knows, you may just be invited to be a guest speaker or present at the next event.
Don’t forget about 1-2-1s
A networking event is just the beginning. If someone shares something of interest, use that as a starting point for a conversation when you reach out to them on LinkedIn or via email. Invite them for a virtual 1-2-1 over coffee and keep the discussion going.
Host your own networking event
Friday night drinks anyone?
Creating a social circle among networking delegates demonstrates your commitment to forming meaningful connections beyond those that benefit your business. Indeed, some of the greatest business ideas and partnerships are made in more relaxed and social settings (aka the pub!), so why not take the afterwork drinks online too?
Hosting your own networking event also enables you to share your insight and your expertise, giving value back to your business community – plus, it’s free! Don’t forget to invite your connections to promote the event to their wider network to further extend your reach.
Have a regular presence
Networking requires commitment – a commitment of time and of energy. To form and nurture meaningful business relationships, you need to commit to having a regular presence and to keep in regular contact beyond the virtual event space.
Now, go forth and network!
MENTA offers monthly online networking for business owners in Norfolk and Suffolk via Facebook Live. This blog is the first in a series exploring “the new normal” of the post-Covid working world, so keep an eye out for more advice and guidance coming soon.
About the author: Lucinda Sloane is a seasoned communication specialist and founder of Bird Media, a marketing and communications agency specialising in content marketing, brand development and design. Find her on LinkedIn - linkedin.com/in/lucinda-sloane