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.

RELATED: Coping With COVID-19: A Pandemic Strategy for Your Small Business.

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.

RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

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.   

 
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  • Next up: Governor Signs Budget Correction Bill, Ohio’s Business Tax Deduction Restored

    Governor Signs Budget Correction Bill, Ohio’s Business Tax Deduction Restored

     

    Among the key issues GCP was engaged in throughout the Ohio budget bill process and over the course of the last several years was our members’ intent to preserve Ohio’s small business tax deduction, which is utilized by our members for reinvestment back into their companies, workforces, and communities.  Ensuring the proper treatment for a variety of business types, expenses, and investments made by business owners—to support the growth of their businesses—is a crucial focus in deliberations on tax policy.

    On November 6, the Governor signed SB 26 which, in part, reverses provisions that policymakers made in the operating budget bill that required lawyers and lobbyists to pay taxes on all levels of business income, even though all other businesses are exempt on the first $250,000 of income.  SB 26 restores the deduction for those industries reportedly because Ohio tax forms do not require one’s occupation to be listed in the same way that federal tax documents do.  Therefore, SB 26 would also require all taxpayers claiming the business income deduction to indicate on their tax returns the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes associated with each source of their business income.

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  • Next up: Ohio’s Congressional Reps Introduce GLRI Act of 2019

    Ohio’s Congressional Reps Introduce GLRI Act of 2019

     

    Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) and Senator Rob Portman introduced identical bills in both chambers of Congress in late July to address the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Act of 2019, which would reauthorize and increase federal funding to protect the lakes, includes nearly 40 bipartisan sponsors from the Great Lakes region.

    The bill extends funding for the GLRI through 2026 and increases funds to $375 million in 2022. The bill also raises funding by $25 million every year until 2026, when it reaches $475 million.

    GCP has led advocacy work of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition (GLMCC) since 2018—advocating for renewed GLRI funding to protect the lakes, which serve as a major economic force. You can learn more about the work of the GLMCC here.

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  • Next up: Ohio Secretary of State Addresses Small Business Members

    Ohio Secretary of State Addresses Small Business Members

     

    Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose kicked off a meeting in which Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) small business members regularly convene to discuss public policy priorities for entrepreneurs.

    As Ohio’s chief elections officer, the Secretary of State oversees the elections process and appoints the members of boards of elections in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.  It may come as a surprise to some, however, that the office also attempts to connect new businesses with the kinds of services they may need to make them successful. 

    The office grants entities authority to do business in Ohio.  In addition, the Business Services Division receives and approves articles of incorporation for Ohio business entities and grants licenses to out-of-state corporations seeking to do business in Ohio.  Limited partnerships and limited liability companies also file with the Secretary of State’s Office.  The Corporations Section of the Business Services Division approves and keeps a registry of business names, names and addresses of statutory agents, incorporators’ names, corporations’ charter numbers, dates of incorporation, and the number of authorized shares per corporation.

    To learn more about how to properly file your business in Ohio or update your business’ records, contact the Secretary of State’s Business Services Division.

    As new businesses funnel through the Secretary of State’s system, an overarching goal is to use it as an opportunity to connect the business community with a menu of services related to topics such as access to capital, mentorships, MBE and WBE certifications, etc.

    Last week’s small business meeting also highlighted a recent tax analysis that was commissioned by GCP and remarks were also heard from Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish related to investing in entrepreneurship and inclusive innovation.

    Want to learn more about some of the specific resources available to your business?  Visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s business central resource page here.

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  • Next up: Online Marketing: Lessons from a Google Leader

    Online Marketing: Lessons from a Google Leader

    We all know Google is where it’s at when it comes to finding a business to fulfill a need. Make sure your business takes advantage of the many online marketing services—most of them free—that Google has to offer.


    During a breakout session at this year’s BizConCLE, attendees heard some lessons from Google Digital Coach Angelina Darrisaw Cheeks about online marketing from the perspective of a Google leader.

    We live our lives in moments. We come to Google to search for something in the moment we need it, whether it’s a recipe, directions, a 25th anniversary gift or a zillion other things we might want to know.

    With Google, business owners have the opportunity to connect with customers in the moment they need something. If your business doesn’t come up in that search, then it’s harder for potential customers to take action with your business.

    Here are three keys to connecting with customers.

    Key to Connecting No. 1: If you have a brick and mortar shop, reach customers where they are.

    Smart phones know your location and are usually tracking where you are. You need to make sure your business shows up around people who have an intent with your business. These are referred to as “near me” searches—allowing potential consumers to see the locations of businesses that meet their needs. People rarely scroll past page two, so it is crucial your business shows up in the first page of search results.

    Here are some ways Google can help you improve where you appear in search results:

    Verify your business on Google My Business. You’ll receive a free business listing and have access to helpful analytics, among other things.

    Collect reviews from happy customers. Once you verify your business, you will be permitted to respond to reviews posted about your business. Responding to reviews, especially ones that are negative, shows you care and you’re responsive.  

    Hire a Google Trusted Photographer. A professional will take pictures of your business to go along with your verified business description. We are living in a visual world—show people what the experience will look like when they come into your business.

    Take advantage of other Google services. These include the ability to feature special hours, engage with customers through messaging and share unique information about you or your company, thus enabling you to differentiate your business in a crowded online space.

    Key to Connecting No. 2: Be accessible across all streams, platforms and devices.

    People tend to start their journey on one device and finish it somewhere else, so it’s important that you show up for your users across all devices and know how to talk to your audience on all platforms.

    Keep it fresh. Regularly refresh your website content. Doing so will not only show you’re an active business, but it also will improve your presence in Google search results.

    Provide value. Make sure you are providing useful, powerful and engaging content. One way to offer valuable information on your site is by offering tutorials to convey your expertise in your particular industry.

    Email is still king. Platforms change, social media changes—but emails rarely change. Part of your marketing strategy needs to be a robust e-marketing tactics. When you have the opportunity to appear in someone’s inbox, you have the chance for a direct conversation with them. So instead of focusing fully on social media, as many business owners tend to do, build your base using email as a tried and true method of communicating and solidifying loyalty.

    Analyze the results. When assessing how well your approach is working, do not merely focus on vanity metrics such as how many people open your email or follow you on Facebook. The clickthrough rate from your e-newsletter to your website is a better measurement of how successfully your message got through to your readers. Take into consideration these guidelines:

    • Have a clear subject line
    • Thoroughly proofread for spelling and grammar mistakes
    • Provide content that’s useful and engaging
    • Create content that’s shareable
    • Use qualitative data based on what your customers are constantly asking you questions about

    Key to Connecting No. 3: Use other valuable Google tools to grow your business.

    Google provides myriad other tools that can help to better your business.

    Google Search Console. This program is comprised of tools and reports to help you measure your site's search traffic and performance, fix issues and make your site shine in Google search results. It can tell you what queries people are using so you can insert those key words more often throughout your site.

    Testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com. Most sites lose half their visitors while they are waiting for the sites to load. This service allows you to test your mobile speed and provides you with an assessment of your site versus those of your competitors. It can give you a sense of your load time on mobile devices and how you can improve that time.

    Google Ads. Specifically, Google Ads Smart Campaign is designed for small business owners. Using this service can help you identify what information is important to turn potential customers into actual customers. Keep in mind that one ad can’t accomplish everything. The benefit of using digital ads is that, while you will be more specific in the reach and engagement will be higher and the cost will be lower.

    Consider the following guidelines when using Google Ads:

    • Don’t put too much information into one ad
    • Tell your audience what you want them to do and what you have to offer in a clear way
    • Don’t just list your business name and its tagline or logo
    • Think of ad copy as a promise you are making to your customer
    • Hyperlink to the exact URL you want to direct people to; this is the first step in delivering on your promise
    • Google Trends. While this program isn’t specific to your website, it can give you a deeper understanding of trending key words to put on your site and to feature in your marketing pieces and other promotional materials. Trends change, especially as the seasons change—you need to maximize on what’s trending and capitalize on what’s in style based on your industry.

    BizConCLE is just one of the many events hosted by COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership each year to help give businesses the education and resources needed to succeed. Click here for a list of upcoming events that can help your company grow, too.

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  • Next up: Register Now for a Morning Conversation with Congressman Dave Joyce

    Register Now for a Morning Conversation with Congressman Dave Joyce

    On Friday, August 16 from 7:45 – 9:00 AM, U.S. Congressman Dave Joyce will join GCP for our Morning Conversation series. Congressman Joyce is a lifelong Ohioan and represents the 14th District of Ohio, which includes Northeast Ohio communities like Twinsburg, Mentor, and Mayfield Heights.

    Congressman Joyce serves on the influential House Committee on Appropriations, which is responsible for reviewing federal spending and determining how tax dollars are spent. Since he came to Congress, Congressman Joyce has established himself as a leader in bipartisan efforts to preserve and protect the Great Lakes.

    To learn more or register, click here.

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