When we typically think of networking, we imagine ourselves over a cup of coffee at a cute cafe or over a glass of wine after work, or even in our work cafeteria - face to face with another person, discussing careers or advice or just the meaning of life in general.
And then COVID-19 came along.
And once we dealt with the immediate issues at hand, like staying healthy, staying home, and securing a paycheck, the issues associated with surviving day to day kick in. And the reality of the missing personal infrastructure that a working environment provides, paired with the lack of a “normal” everyday work schedule leaves us faced with some very real issues that need to be addressed. Immediately.
The good news is that there is a community of us that literally do this for a living. We are independent teams that work remotely from each other all of the time, and have learned a thing or two over the years.
Below you will find some tips to surviving at home and networking amidst a cultural quarantine that for many of us means you can’t meet face to face and in person.
Keep (or re-instate if you have canceled) all of your normal 1:1 meetings on your calendar. This is a good place to start, even for those of us that may find networking as a whole a tough and unnatural thing to do. So start with something that is already a routine for you. Don’t cancel because you can’t be in person. Alter the way in which you have these meetings. Do you do better when you can see someone than on the phone? Make them video chats. Do you always have coffee together when you meet? Set a reminder for both of you to brew a cup before the call. Start with a few minutes in the beginning on how you are each doing and offer up any tips you have garnered from this experience. We are all in this together.
Reach out to the people on your list that you have been “meaning to check in with”. We all have these people. You come across someone and think, man that person is smart. I should connect with them. Or someone recommends a person you could learn from and encourages you to introduce yourself. You know who these people are in your life. Ask for 30 minutes. And then follow the steps above. Get to know someone new or catch up with someone you don’t often have enough time for. It will do you both a world of good.
Make an active effort to extend your virtual network. The first two recommendations are what I like to call “warm-ups”. They are people you already know, or people that have been referred to you before that you “kind of” know. They may work inside your company, so you have the natural means to connect and you already have things in common to talk about. Now is the time to move outside that comfort zone. You can start this process by asking people you know for recommendations, or you can take a step outside of your company into the “real world” and take a new perspective on things. What podcast have you been eyeing? What is something you have always wanted to learn about and who might know a lot about it? Who have you always followed on Instagram because they take great photos and you admire them? What new skill could you build now that you have a little extra time on your hands? Use the social networks or your personal network, find someone new and connect. It is not as scary as you might think, I promise. Connecting with humanity outside your bubble will do you good now more than ever.
Okay, so now you have a process for who to connect with, but how do you build a process for how to network? We got you started with the people above, and there are some tips listed for starting out. However, the power of networking is never going to go away so we have to get comfortable with continuing it in these uncomfortable times. And one of the best ways to get comfortable with networking is to do it regularly. Build it into your routine and it will become a way of life for you. Here’s how.
Get a regular networking schedule together. When I decided to start my own business, I set up a fairly strict plan for myself around networking. 3 reach outs per week, 1 phone call, and 1 in-person meeting for a period of 6 months to ramp up and re-engage my network. Because in my experience, we all have good intentions when it comes to networking, but when things get busy we can come up with a million excuses why not. Well, now we have a lot of extra time on our hands. Get to it.
Address the elephant in the room when reaching out. We all know these are strange times, and as we said in the beginning, the definition of networking that we all know and are comfortable with has to change because it isn’t possible right now. So when reaching out, tell people that you realize this is perhaps an unnatural approach to the normal, but you want to test it out or are finding it to work even with the physical barriers. When all bars and restaurants were closed by the governor, I had 4 networking meetings on my calendar for that week. And I kept them all remotely. No one thought twice about it once I proposed a call instead. And now that is my new norm.
Be open to new possibilities. This is not a comfortable time for any of us. We are all on unsteady ground and we are trying to re-ground ourselves as each day passes and COVID doesn’t go away. But by networking we not only fill our days, we fill our energy with that of the people we meet. That week with 4 networking meetings? I reconnected with someone I had interviewed 7 years ago and have aligned on a new potential business opportunity with her and her husband, not to mention found a super smart new contact to bounce ideas off of. I reconnected with an old co-worker that I hadn’t chatted with much over the past 5 years and she is now on my roster of designers. And I was able to run a virtual mentoring session and connect with a new business prospect and learn a new perspective on business in Latin America. Had I shut down because things weren’t normal or comfortable I would have been out of all of those connections and more importantly, the energy from connecting with others.
Find what makes you the most comfortable. I gave some tips for this above, but this is really the most important. As stated, this isn’t a comfortable time for any of us. So think about the place you are most comfortable in your home, but you still feel like you can have a good conversation and be relaxed at the same time. For me, it is a bistro table and cozy chair in my bedroom next to the window with my favorite throw on chilly days. It has always been a nook that I loved but rarely used, and now it has become my go-to spot for networking chats.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Remember at the beginning when we talked about the usual networking coffee or glass of wine? What about a remote happy hour? What about team bingo or karaoke or remote book club? I have watched my husband become a master at this - zoom team happy hours on Friday at the end of the day that used to take place in person. A Sunday afternoon video call with colleagues he was supposed to be getting together with that afternoon. And for me - who doesn’t like video - it has become chatting on the phone while doing things in my normal life without apologizing for multi-tasking. Which leads me to my next point.
Be real. Life has changed for all of us in a big way, but one thing that I have loved seeing is vulnerability and realness coming through. My husband and I watched a new take on a typical telethon early on in the pandemic that brought tears to my eyes - famous musicians singing live from the comfort of their own homes. In some, the wind was blowing. In others, dogs barked and kids invaded the room and the sound was just off. But it was so REAL. So don’t put added stress on yourself to mute sounds or apologize for noise. Acknowledge it. Laugh about it. And move the conversation on. This is not a time to be overly polished - in fact, it seems completely unnatural to the situation we are in. We should all be a little more human. (And hope it carries through when this is all over!)
Schedule the next chat. And finally - schedule the next chat. My business partner, Anne, is famous for saying, "You can't count it as networking if there is no follow-up." And she is right. Maybe this is someone you want to be involved with regularly. Or maybe they are going to refer you to someone else. I have at least 5 weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings on my calendar that usually take place in person but as I stated above, are taking place remotely now. We might not meet as regularly as the invites state, but what they do is remind us that it is time to check-in and we make these meet-ups priorities in our lives. My monthly coaching session with a mentee happens every month. My weekly 1:1 with my teammate happens religiously every single week as we work to build our business. (And we evenly talk about personal stuff and business, because we feel that knowing the ins and outs of each other’s personalities is imperative. Not to mention, we are super comfortable doing so remotely now after nearly a year of weekly in-person meetings.) And my quarterly strategy sessions with a former coworker and best friend occur every single time. Sometimes just us, sometimes with others involved. And because all of these things happen regularly, we really know each other and what is going on in our lives. Less time for catch up, more time for meaningful conversation.
So that is it. My tips and tricks and experiences for networking remotely and during this unprecedented time in our lives.
Feel like you need some extra help in this area? Give us a shout. Our motto is never turn down a call, because you just never know where it can lead. In fact, that is how Anne and I met! So you can rest assured that we live this advice. Networking at its best - a close friend recommends a co-worker that wants to go freelance, and this person refers Anne to me because we seem to be looking to build a similar business. Without networking, we never would have met, and Forthright People would have never have come to be.