Pre-pandemic, one of my favorite things about my business was networking during all the different events I would attend. Whether it was a Chamber gathering, a Rotary lunch or any of the other many different organizations we hold memberships in, meeting and connecting with new people was hands-down my favorite activity.
Those who know me know I’m a social butterfly. But the real charge I got from networking was finding ways to connect people I know to people they needed to know because of shared interests, common backgrounds or because they could help each other achieve their goals.
I’ll take a moment to be vulnerable here – once everything shut down last year and I was home 24/7 with my husband and my kids, I had several moments of just feeling lost. It was an extremely hard transition for me, from always being out and about talking with people to working from home and figuring out what was next without my community.
In the past few months, I’ve been working on different ways to network and connect with people that fill my bucket and feed my soul by connecting two people that should know each other. While Digital Networking is not the same as in person, I have noted 3 ways I have connected with people and continued to build business relationships.
Find your group of trusted advisors
Tell it like it is
I’ve leaned pretty hard into finding my “group” over the past six months. Beyond my business coach, I’ve also reached out to people that I view as mentors within and out of my industry, people I trust to give me the direction (and sometimes swift kick in the butt) I need as I work through how we pivot the business and next steps to take.
I’ve also joined industry-specific groups. For example, I belong to the Public Relations Society of America – Counselors Academy, a group of agency owners from across the nation that is amazingly generous with their information, resources and general friendship. They are in the same trenches as me every day, and their advice and feedback have been monumental.
I was recently accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. While the opportunity to receive business advice from seasoned coaches and the outstanding curriculum I am receiving is amazing, I have enjoyed meeting and learning from an incredibly diverse group of business owners. I have had incredible conversations with people from across the nation in completely different industries and have walked away learning something new from every single one of them. I’ve made an extra effort to have two additional calls a week with someone new from my group.
Open and Honest
While working with your group of advisors, honesty and openness are so vitally important. The world is hard and influx every day. I have found that sharing my experiences and where I am truly at has brought me so much unexpected extra support and the general sense that I am not in any of life’s challenges alone right now.
Utilize Social Networks
LinkedIn is a great social network for connecting with professionals and business owners that are both in your industry as well as potential clients.
A quick word about networking through LinkedIn – don’t be like the person hitting your LinkedIn inbox with no intention of really trying to know you, your business, your pain points, and is just trying to sell you from the get-go. That’s not how real relationships are made and is the quickest way to get your request denied.
My recommendation is to not just hit the connect button on everyone, but to be thoughtful in why you want to connect with that person. Start with a message of something you have in common. Offer a genuine connection. I am way more likely to hit accept if someone isn’t selling me the first time they reach out to me. Offer something of value to them that they don’t have to purchase.
Social Media Groups
Both LinkedIn and Facebook have opportunities to join professional and local groups that cover topics you may be interested in.
Find some of the business groups that make sense for you to join and participate in the conversations. You will find some great connections in those groups that you can then reach out to later.
I have joined several professional groups, both locally and industry-specific, and have fostered new relationships with people. It has allowed me to connect others to those individuals as experts in their industry, or if I have a question, I know I can find an answer in the groups.
For all you lurkers out there that have joined professional or local groups and are only reading posts and comments but not participating in the conversation (you know who you are!), step out of the shadows and find ways to contribute to the group. This is a huge way to gain the benefits of joining these groups.
Use Existing Connections
Prior to shutting everything down, I had grown a huge network of people in the area in all different industries that I could connect with or connect others too. And guess what? That network still exists! Over the past several months, I’ve been reconnecting with people I’ve known for years by just reaching out and sending an email, a text or giving them a call.
I’m still able to connect people to one another through this existing network, and they have been amazing at connecting me with who I need an introduction to.
Building relationships and networking may look different this year, but I have found strength in remembering I have a wonderful network. Reconnecting with old friends while finding innovative ways to connect with new ones has been so rewarding. If you’ve felt a little lost with your networking, I highly encourage you to relook at all of your former acquaintances and seek new opportunities that are available for you to start connecting again, one person at a time.