Business Networking – How To Keep It Alive in COVID

Business networking skills are you secret weapon for finding opportunities. In the times of COVID-19 this is more true than ever before. Cultivating relationships is how the most successful people have reached the top of their professions, and that will not change once the pandemic is over. Regardless of if you are working for the Fortune 500 or run small businesses, successful business networking is going to mean you will have more potential clients and job offers than the people who fail to cultivate business relationships.

Let’s get this out of the way up front…. Networking is not about schmoozing or collecting business cards. For years I have seen many people who are out there talking about how networking events are a waste of time or why they “hate networking”, but in 2020 most people are hungry to get back to these face-to-face meetings. These anti-networking gurus are not trying to sell people on the idea that live events will not return after the crisis is over.  They seem to think people prefer Zoom to a handshake and hug.

I think that business networking will come back strong after the pandemic ends, but in the meantime, we need to keep up our connections.

At the bottom of this page I have added links to important articles on business networking in the era of quarantine.

Business Networking / Business Networking COVID

Networking Defined

Networking for business is often mislabeled and misunderstood. There are many activities that fall under the umbrella of “networking”, but unto themselves are not the whole. Networking groups are a good way to meet people, but meeting someone does not make them part of your network. Belonging to the same Chamber of Commerce or following them on social media does not mean you have a real connection.

What Networking is:

“Networking is the creation of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships between two or more people where everyone involved has more success because of the connections than they would have without them”

No matter how people want to spin what it means to have business networking relationships, the reality is there is power in connection. When forced to stay home, this does not change. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. However, over the past decade the meaning of “know” has changed in society. The creation of online social networks have lead many to believe they “know” everyone. It used to be a process to get to know someone, now believe we are there with a few clicks on LinkedIn.

The problem with the superficial way of knowing others it that we don’t get to like and trust as often. Yet when you do get to that level of connection, that is where the magic happens.  But now getting to really know people, much less like or trust them is harder.  Contrary to what many say, as Zoom call does not build the same levels of communication for business networking as would happen in face-to-face.

Business Networking Events

The real networking does not happen at networking events. People mistake the chit-chat over cheap wine to be how business networking relationships with people are formed. The event is really just a tool to put you in a place together. The real networking is in the follow up, and it can take years.  Thus, online business networking is also just a tool.  But I see little legit follow up happening after virtual connections occur.  A LinkedIn connection with no real communication means NOTHING.

Many conferences (both in-person and virtual) have “Speed Networking” sessions.  These are a great way to meet people at an event, but two minutes and a business card exchange really is useless without more conversations and developing understanding and friendship.

Referral groups like BNI (Business Network International) are a good way to get business owners and others into the same place. However many of these groups force the interaction, and this is not right for everyone. But what was great about BNI was before COVID it put twenty or thirty people in the same room every week.

If BNI is not your thing, look for other business professional meetings where you can invest your time.  For now these are online, but someday they will go back to live and in-person.  If you were there during the online version, it will be easier to connect in person.  It will take a lot of effort to cultivate relationships from home, but you can do it. Groups like The Association for Corporate Growth, Rotary, The Jaycees, etc.. all have different purposes and bring together a variety of types of business professionals. Many of these groups are doing a good job of facilitating online business networking.  Remember, it can take seven to ten times before the people at these meetings even notice you, so do not expect networking to be a fast process (especially in the virtual environment).

Give Before You Get

When actively creating business networking relationships you have to keep in mind that other people are rarely there to help you. They have their own needs and are there looking to solve problems. To get the most from building relationships in these setting you have to show up with the attitude of serving others first. In today’s economy and the virus, many people are suffering and you can easily help by just being a friend.

When you meet people do not lead with a canned “elevator pitch” where you let them know all about your products and services. Instead, ask a lot of questions about them. Discover information about their business and who they have as clients. Ask them what challenges they face. If you regularly help others you will build a reputation of being someone that others should get to know.

Never keep score. Just because you helped someone does not mean you should expect them to do something for you. While this practice of helping others means you will give more than you get, the upside is you will get more than you would have if you were self-serving in all your efforts.

Networking is NOT a Verb.

You do not “go” networking. Building networking relationships is a lifestyle. If you want to grow your career remember that all opportunities come from people. Your connections with others should as important as anything else you do in your career.

Business networking is important. Do not roll your eyes. Look closely at how others see you and make sure you are working hard to cultivate long term connections that help you and the other people.

Additional Reading About Business Networking In the COVID and Quarantine Era

How to Networking from Home (New York Times, Sept 11, 2020)

Maybe you were never comfortable networking at the office or striking up a conversation over a boxed lunch at a convention, but after half a year working inside your own four walls, oh, the chance to meet new people!  (Read Full Article) This has great tips for business networking during covid!

How Freelancers Can Thrive In COVID-19 Environment (from The Financial)

It’s been a deeply uncertain year for everyone, but there are some who have been hit harder than most. There were plenty of freelancers who have had to take a dip in their earnings, because of the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. And at this stage, we’ll have to be aware that things aren’t going to go back to normal anytime soon.  (Check out the whole story) 

(Yes, part of the answer is all about business networking.  I worry that for many, their networking skills are put aside as they ride out COVID.  But those who wait will be at a disadvantage when we get back to a society who has face-to-face meetings.  I am already being hired to speak to companies and associations about how to keep those social skills from atrophy while we work from home.  www.ThomSinger.com)

Harnessing Technology to Address Loneliness and Social Isolation (From US DEPT HHS)

Summary:
Social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health concern. Resources are available to help people stay connected even while physically distanced.

Physical distancing has played a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and, particularly in hotspots and for people at increased risk of serious illness, it continues to save lives. However, physical distancing also is increasing risk of social isolation for many, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, which is a serious issue.  (READ MORE) 

How to network during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond – remotely (from the Entrepreneurs Project)

Business networking can be tough even in normal times, but today’s remote world adds a whole new set of challenges. Consider these tips:  As businesses adapt to the new reality of remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, so too will we adapt the social behaviors that enable us to stay in touch and forge new relationships with coworkers, partners, customers, and potential clients. (READ MORE) 

Effectively Navigating Your Network During COVID-19 (from Columbia University) 

You are probably already aware that networking is an important component of professional development. But you may also be wondering whether and how you can network during this time of physical social distancing.

Even as we all do our part to help flatten the curve, our current remote landscape also provides a unique opportunity to virtually connect with the others and build relationships. As you approach networking, be sure to keep track of your conversations. (READ MORE)

Networking in a Pandemic / Building Your Relationships (from PCMA)

Before the pandemic, networking expert and consultant J. Kelly Hoey listed the three Ps of networking in this order: 1) people, 2) people, and 3) people.

That principle — that networking is primarily about nurturing relationships — has only become “more magnified and highlighted” during the self-isolation of the pandemic, said Hoey, author of the Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World. “Everything we do right now — from sending emails to making calls to sending texts — is more important than ever. How we make people feel now is going to linger longer than these turbulent times.”  (READ MORE) 

Professional Business Networking During COVID-19 (From Journal of Accountancy)

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. Recent economic reports place the national unemployment above 10%. During times of economic uncertainty, CPAs may need to redouble their networking efforts and strengthen connections within the industry to generate new business. (READ MORE).

 

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Thom Singer has been a keynote speaker and master of ceremonies / EmCee for  association and corporate conferences on the topic of connecting with people in our gadget crazed world for over ten years. He is a business motivational speaker and the author of 12 books on the power of relationships, business networking, public speaking, legal marketing and entrepreneurship.  He also works as an executive search consulting helping organizations find key hires for their teams.