Virtual networking poses unique challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet new people and further develop existing relationships. Even without in-person conferences and networking events on the horizon anytime soon, you still can – and should – cultivate your network.
So how do you “get out there” when you’re inside at home? Here are 9 ways to network virtually:
With many competing responsibilities, it’s easy to put off networking unless you prioritize it. Instead of avoiding it, schedule time on your calendar to make it part of your routine. Set aside 20 minutes a day for 3 or 4 days a week to spend time on LinkedIn and send emails. Schedule a separate time for networking calls. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it should be ongoing and consistent to develop and maintain momentum. Don’t hide behind the excuse of being too busy. You can always carve out time if it’s something you really want to do.
It’s easy to find yourself communicating with a narrower group within your company when working remotely. The engagement and small talk that you’d normally have at the office falls by the wayside when a team is distributed. These interactions are important because they contribute to your visibility and connection to the company. Since they won’t happen spontaneously now, take the initiative to touch base with those you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. A simple step, like a quick email or video chat, is a great way to catch up, be top of mind and stay informed about what’s going on elsewhere within the company.
These are great people to catch up with anyway, regardless of current events. Use the time to reconnect, see how they’re doing, learn what challenges they’re facing and ask how you can help. If you’re looking for a job, or considering a job search, these people may be vital resources because they know you professionally and might know of opportunities that are a good fit for you. Plus, it’s never too early to think about references.
Touching base with those whom you’ve had a good relationship with can reignite the connection plus keep you better informed on trends, opportunities, issues and challenges other companies, industries and functional areas are facing. It’s a good idea to ask what they may need right now. You never know what you might easily be able to help with and that goes a long way and can transform a relationship.
In addition to the people connected to you via current and past work, reach out to other professional contacts, regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve been in touch. Good people to check in with can include those you’ve met at networking events, spoken on panels with, sat next to at a dinner, etc. Refreshing connections to see what people are up to helps make you more top of mind again.
The virtual environment shouldn’t stop you from making meaningful introductions. While newly connected people can’t meet for breakfast or coffee, they can speak by phone or video. Always follow best practices for introducing people – give a head’s up when appropriate, and above all, write clear, concise and informative introductory messages about the parties and why you thought they’d benefit from meeting one another. The opportunity to meet people beyond our circles is even more appreciated now so we feel connected to a larger world.
Even in an all-virtual capacity, professional associations are a great resource for making or strengthening connections. While some organizations (or their local chapters) have gone on hiatus until in-person gatherings can resume, many are still active online. Take advantage of virtual social events and selected webinars. If your association isn’t doing a lot right now, reach out to chapter leadership and offer to plan (or help with) a virtual event. It’s a great way to get noticed and foster communication with leaders in your field. And if you haven’t been involved in any associations previously, it’s a great time to research, identify a few options and test the waters.
When invited to virtual networking events, make the time to attend. While they may not be your preferred way to meet people, you can still make quality new connections. But don’t just log on and sit silently while you check email and social media – actively participate! Practice a short and strong introduction, ask questions, make comments and write a note in the Q&A. Identify other participants whom you’d like to meet, and just as you would in-person, follow up afterwards with an email or personalized connection request on LinkedIn.
A critical part of networking is following up and following through. If you promise something, deliver on the promise in a timely manner. This is critical at any stage of a professional relationship, but it’s even more so after meeting someone new, often determining if someone wants to cultivate a relationship with you or move on. While the information may not seem important to you, it could be essential to them.
Networking shouldn’t stop or slow down to a trickle just because you’re working remotely. While some adjustments are necessary, now is not the time to disconnect. Make the effort to be visible. To some, virtual networking may not be as easy as networking in person, but you can still meet new people, develop relationships and actively stay in touch with your network. The benefits are considerable, as a strong and continuously growing network is essential for business and career success.