Networking is one of the best ways to broaden your opportunities. Whether you are looking for a job, seeking new marketing opportunities to grow your brand, or hoping to find a community of other likeminded professionals, networking is important to every professional. The pandemic has undeniably changed the way we network, shifting the emphasis from in-person to virtual (at least for now), but it hasn’t changed how essential networking is. Here’s how to create a powerful network in the new normal, both online and locally.
In an increasingly virtual world, online networking has become dominant. According to Forbes, a vibrant and professional social media presence is “the most effective way to ensure that networking online is successful.” What this means for you is that it’s essential to freshen up your social media presence. Websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are prime channels to find job postings, hear from industry leaders, and keep up with those already in your network. Whether it’s personal or for your business, keep your social media profiles up to date with recent developments and accomplishments. This shows others you are engaged. An updated profile also allows others to check out who you are and what you have achieved when you first make contact.
Networking on platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and WebEx has broken down geographic barriers, helping us stay connected despite social distancing and remote working. These platforms, however, demand a few adjustments. Try to be conscious of your surroundings; make sure nothing distracting is in view of the camera and try to reduce ambient noise as much as possible. Additionally, be aware of the lighting around you. Intense lighting coming from behind you can make your face dark on camera; lighting placed in front of you and behind your device can make you easily visible (and it’s more flattering). It’s a good idea to open the camera on whatever device you are using to check what you and your surroundings look like, as well as how clearly you appear on screen, before any video conference. And be sure to make eye contact with the camera, not with the screen.
Focus on Building a Relationship
While reaching out to others on social media can help you grow your professional network, remember, even in a digital world, networking is all about human connection. It’s important to take time to focus on the personal, according to networking experts like J. Kelly Hoey, who suggests that networkers, “think about how you can just proactively do little touchpoints and outreach.” Doing so, even virtually, through a casual check-in to see how they are doing outside of their professional life, having a video call cup of coffee, or just a quick chat about personal interests like sports or movies can help establish an even more meaningful connection, particularly during these tumultuous and isolating times. Reaching out to build a more personal connection can also amplify the value of your professional relationship with a peer.
Be sure to follow timeless protocol. A thank you letter or email as a follow up can go a long way in showing appreciation for someone’s time. For bigger favors like major introductions, recommendations, and references, consider a virtual gift card to a favorite store or a donation to a charity your connection cares about. These are excellent ways to show appreciation.
Additionally, you can expand your network by participating in local events in your business community. Groups and associations can help you establish yourself or your business among area professionals. Being part of a local association like GOA has many benefits: in-person and online events to expand your network, access to resources and opportunities to promote your business, and an instant community of professionals.
There’s an additional advantage, too: advocacy, with strength in numbers. Local policymakers and legislation can influence your business. By working with nearby professionals to learn about local legislation and advocate for your business or industry, you can network to achieve a common goal. The value of this is stressed by Knockout Networking founder Michael Goldberg, who in an interview suggests “get involved on a committee or project to forge deeper relationships.”
Networking today may look different, but the value of a robust network of professionals remains high. If you are looking to further your career or grow your business, utilizing online platforms and finding kinship through regional business associations are crucial strategies in the new normal.