Some people love to network, others do not. And especially now in the time of Covid, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, people are worried that it might not be ‘appropriate’ to network, especially if you are looking for a job, or want to pivot your career. But if you think about it, the worst thing you can do if you have not talked to someone for a long time and now need a favor, is to reach out in the guise of asking how they are doing, and then ask for something for yourself, instead. People will see right through you. So for that reason alone, it is critical to network on an ongoing basis, no matter what is going on in your life, and how hard you think it might be.
Most people equate ‘networking’ to sticking a name tag on your jacket and bravely entering a room of strangers. And while we can’t do that anymore anyway (silver lining!) networking is really more about building meaningful relationships, about serving people and earning their trust and respect. Because humans are social beings, and I think we’ve discovered now more than ever, that we need to feel deeply connected to others to thrive. We want to be seen & heard by others, so essentially ‘connecting’ is vital for our overall wellbeing. And connections start with communication which is what networking is all about.
The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations and while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life, you never know when that conversation can. The other thing to keep in mind, especially right now in these difficult times, is that the conversation you have with another person might be the best one they have all day. Or it might be the only one they have all day.
That’s one of the real benefits of networking – you never know, when you reach out to another human being, how that conversation might make them feel. And while people might not remember the words you say, they will definitely remember how you made them feel.
If that doesn’t resonate with you, consider this. Down the road, you may need something from someone in your network! The more you build that relationship and emotional capital right now, the more that person will be willing to help you in the future. That’s especially apparent for those who have lost their jobs, or want to pivot their careers right now.
Networking has gone mostly virtual, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t or can’t still be done, or is less effective. In fact it may be more effective now because it can be more intentional and targeted. People are isolated and need distractions which should make networking so much easier than it ever has been before.
The informal, ‘let’s meet for coffee’ can still be achieved virtually if you are creative. Or if you are feeling brave on occasion, you can still ‘mask up’ and sit socially distanced in a coffee shop, outside at a restaurant, or even better go for a walk with someone. But it’s almost easier to invite someone to a zoom meeting to catch up, and we have a lot to catch up on!
Here are 11 ideas for networking that may help you build your relationships for the future:
- Host virtual coffee hours and invite a group of friends, co-workers, people in like industries or professions to join and share topics of interest
- Same with virtual happy hours – much more fun with wine and snacks!
- Start a mastermind group with people from different networks or industries but with like skills, values or beliefs
- Be very active on LinkedIn, ‘like’ posts for sure but also make comments where you can as well as share other’s posts. The author will know that you have done so. As well, create great content yourself and share on LinkedIn, get people to come to you.
- Watch the ‘Notifications’ icon at the top of your LinkedIn Navigation tab and look for reasons to reach out to people – birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, posts people are following etc.
- Also follow people on social media that you admire or who have interesting feeds, and especially companies where you either might want to work in the future or do business with.
- Download your Network off of LinkedIn and look for people, customers or old colleagues that you may have lost touch with and make a point of reaching out. Who can you possibly help, and in the future, who may help you? As well, continue to grow your network in an intentional way – send out connection requests with a thoughtful note. And message people back when they ask for a connection with you
- Also on social media, join industry groups or others you are interested in, and become active in them. Recommend and endorse people as much as possible
- If you have lost your job or want to pivot careers, (or just set yourself up for the future) reach out to individuals who work in companies or areas of interest and ask for informational interviews. People very often are willing to help you and you should also offer to do something for them in return
- Start a YouTube channel with videos that address certain challenges people have (there are enough of them these days!) and try to create a following
- Create and distribute a resource list or newsletter – share knowledge without being asked, become an industry expert
All things being equal, people will do business with and give discretionary effort for, someone they’ve connected with, someone they have a relationship with, and someone they ultimately have come to like.
Your most valuable currency is relationships, emotional capital, and the ability to connect with others at a deep level. Now is exactly the right time to continue, ramp up or jumpstart your networking. People need you more than ever and remember, the conversation you have with them at any given time, may be the only good one, or the only one they’ve had, all day.