The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a pause on in-person networking opportunities, but that’s no excuse to stop building connections entirely. In times like these, meeting new people and forming new partnerships is more important than ever — you never know who might be able to offer you a lifeline when you need it most, and vice versa.
As important as making connections is right now, doing so requires different strategies than it would’ve just a few months prior. As many of you are stuck in your home offices for the foreseeable future, it’s time to find ways to grow your network from where you are right now.
Even when things are normal, connecting outside your network is still easier said than done. In today’s moment, it’s especially tricky — here are a few strategies that can help:
1. Enter important conversations.
A lot of marketers treat networking as though it’s headhunting: connecting with the exact right people at the exact right moment. While having a few VIPs in your network never hurt, there are far better ways to go about strengthening your connections.
At this very moment, there are hundreds of conversations going on across the industry about various issues, causes, and movements leaders and employees alike care about. If you want to make connections with valuable people, join the conversations you care about the most — you’ll instantly be in the same “room” as people with the exact same passions as you.
As entrepreneur and author Damon Brown said, “as a leader, you can’t avoid the conversation. No, all of us, including you, can’t just ‘focus on the work.’ If you are leading, this is the work.”
Making your voice heard in the right places can be a huge first step towards filling your network with like-minded people who can help you continue on your entrepreneurial journey.
2. Build digital communities.
Networking shouldn’t just be about one-off interactions or quick online meetups — it needs to be part of the process of creating a sustainable, lasting sense of community. Weak relationships make weak networks, so those looking to form a network for themselves that will really come through in times of need have to develop strong relationships first.
That’s the idea that Erik Huberman, founder and CEO of marketing firm Hawke Media, had when he turned to Slack to keep brand marketers connected during COVID-19: “Simply put, we want to gather brands into a sort of ‘think tank’ for growing and expanding. The community is encouraged to ask questions, test ideas, solicit opinions, and share successes and failures.” Building a community like this takes more effort than simple networking does, but it produces more powerful results as well.
3. Think outside your silo.
It makes sense that a lot of peoples’ instincts are to make connections with professionals who have similar backgrounds — marketers network with marketers, salespeople with salespeople, and so on. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of networking, it limits opportunities for valuable cross-occupational collaboration.
Lauren Marchese, Director of Communications at National Debt Relief, said it best when she wrote that connecting across silos “will not only lead to excellent work, but will also help create a sense that everyone involved is building something special together – and these types of shared experiences forge real bonds.” The connections you make aren’t just icons on LinkedIn; they’re real people who can play a big part in whatever your next big venture might be. If your interests are diverse and ever-changing, you’ll want a network with the diversity to reflect that.
4. Set aside a dedicated networking time.
It’s easy to think of networking as something secondary to your job: work first, then network. What so many people fail to realize is that networking is business — each connection you make has the potential to transform your career for the better, so it makes sense to treat networking just as seriously as you would any other part of your day.
Most people will spend a few minutes of their daily downtime scrolling through LinkedIn or commenting on a couple of blogs. This kind of activity simply won’t produce any results; instead, set up a dedicated networking time during which all of your focus is going towards making new connections. You’ll be shocked at how much higher your engagement rate is when you’re actually dedicating real energy to your networking practices instead of just treating them like an afterthought.
Now might be a difficult time for networking, but it’s a crucial activity all the same. As you look for new ways to connect beyond who you already know, try thinking outside the box a bit — the results will speak for themselves.