Networking in the Age of COVID-19
We’ve seen the art of navigating a crowded room to establish a rapport with a total stranger come to a grinding halt. Learn how to build connections from the comfort of your home through virtual networking.
Sure, it’s much harder to network when most business events are cancelled and we need social distancing. So, let’s look in the rear-view mirror for a change and get back to old-school basics.
Networking is all about sharing information. In 1982, John Naisbitt defined it in MegaTrends as the “exchange of ideas, information and resources.” That's where it all starts. Nothing new, trendy, high-tech or sexy.
That information exchange can be a means to an end or an end in itself. As an end in itself, Joe might be looking for a new accountant specializing in small businesses in his area and Gina might provide contact information for her accountant. The networking process can stop at this information exchange level, as Joe has accomplished his specific information objective.
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As a means to an end, that exchange of information could grow into a viable business relationship over time. That relationship could, in turn, lead to referrals, recommendations and new business for both Joe and Gina.
Networking is also about helping other people or asking other people for help. The two are separate concepts—meeting people who can help you with your goals to learn something to help you work faster, smarter or cheaper. Or, meeting people who you can help to accomplish their goals. It's an “or,” not an “and.”
That all said, the current pandemic generates a huge amount of information you can seek or share regarding surviving this crisis—best practices for working from home, local and national sources of relief and funding, office sanitizing firms, creative ideas for refocusing your business, and more.
Instead of networking with strangers you meet at business events, which we generally recommend, the pandemic suggests you network with people you already know by phone, email, text or virtual meeting. These interactions should be simpler, easier and shorter. You can start with a brief “how’re ya doin” and then seek the information you need. For example, you could ask if they know of business interruption insurance policies that don’t exclude pandemics. A simple exchange of information can follow and end with a suggestion to get together when life is back to normal-ish.
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The longer you practice “virtual networking” the more you might realize that it’s faster, easier, cheaper and potentially better than conventional schmoozing. And the “only network with strangers” concept can come into play virtually by asking people in your network to recommend others they know who you could talk to.
So, with a little refocused effort, you can successfully network through the pandemic and live to tell about it.
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.