For many of us, networking has never been more difficult – or more important. We know that productive networking is a vital lifeline to gaining market intelligence, building value within our sphere of connections and ultimately growing our business as we face a tough economic environment.
But the ways that we used to network, both formal (at a conference) and informal (down the pub), are no longer available. Many of the skills that we relied on – consciously or unconsciously – are not as effective either. And we have to face the fact that world is not going to return to its pre-COVID state any time soon.
So it’s time for a re-think: where do we build out our networks now? And what skills do we need to sharpen up to do it most effectively?
1. The Ground Rules
First, remember that the basic ground-rules haven’t changed:
- DO NOT SELL! Networking events (online or off-line) are an opportunity to build relationships, add value and find opportunities, not to pitch your solutions.
- Take the mind-set of “Who can I help?”, rather than “Who can help me?”. People who receive help/support from you are more likely to respond positively when you ask to connect and to meet for a virtual coffee as a follow-up.
- Add value; bring relevant insight, thought provoking opinions and consistency to your discussions.
- Create a dialogue with multiple people: not just ones that you feel are “easy to talk to”.
- In summary, establish a sense of reciprocity and signal your appreciation/respect for the people you are talking to: these are the most important factors in influencing the outcomes of your networking.
2. Digital Networking
With these rules in mind, here are a handful of tips for networking more effectively in the digital world.
- Ask current clients, past clients, friends, neighbours and co-workers where they are networking at present. Ask them for an introduction or if you can join them at the next event. Give them a valid reason why you would like to join.
“Gary, I have noticed you have joined XYZ community. Can you help introduce me to this group, I’d like to build connections and relationships in the public sector to grow my account base”.
- Become the Host
- Host industry specific ‘Think Tanks’, ‘Lunch and Learns’ etc.
- If you are struggling with a lack of networking opportunities, guess what? So are your contacts, providing the platform for them to network will increase the likelihood of meeting connections you really want to. Ultimately, you are the one who is creating the guest list!
- Do not Slack on Slack:
- Join community Slack channels, e.g. RevGenius who provide a brilliant virtual roundtable event where you get to meet likeminded professionals and expand your connections instantaneously.
- Find Quality rather than Quantity:
- Do not join multiple platforms for the sake of it: you’ll end up burnt out. Join ones that add value to your role and objectives and of course ones that you can add value to as well.
- Join Professional Groups (E.g. LinkedIn Groups).
- Instead of focusing on Groups that relate to your role, join groups that your buyers are part of.
- Invite People for ‘Virtual Coffees’
- People who have a curious nature will want to join you for a ‘virtual coffee’. Some miss that coffee machine moment! But remember you must add value, which means setting time aside to prepare.
3. Preparation & Follow-Up
Once you’ve built out your digital networking platform, you need to make sure that your investment of time and effort pays off. That means being rigorous about preparation and follow-up:
- Arrive to online events early, it is a great way to introduce yourself to the host. They will be thankful someone has turned up and you can help guide the discussion (make sure your inputs are relevant of course).
- Ask the event host for more insight into the delegates prior to the event, or at the very least at the end of the event.
- Exchange contact details, email addresses and wherever possible phone numbers.
- Add all members to your LinkedIn and connect with a note attached to your invitation. Thank them for their insight and finish the note with a question that continues the dialogue:
“Thank you Julie, I found your insight on XYZ very thought provoking and I have read this relatable article that I thought you might like to read. Let me know what your thoughts are when you get a moment.”
And finally, make sure that you are projecting a sense of energy and optimism in these digital forums. There’s enough trouble in the world without you adding even a teaspoon of pessimism!
Jonathan Adams, Senior Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For further information around building your skillset towards more effective digital networking, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com or call us on +44 (0) 207 653 3740.
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