Networking has taken all forms of creativity over the last decade. Personally I’ve seen everything from…“You’re invited to our Golden Ticket event!” to…”Learn about XXX, engage with others and win an iPad!”. A lot of hype and excitement around a catchy topic or phrase, which often led to little new connections and a lot of repeating the same story over and over again. For an introvert like me, networking events take a lot of energy (I usually need 24 hours of quiet time after any event!). I almost always forgot my business cards (or brought 10 and ended up needing 50…writing your details on a napkin isn’t exactly the greatest etiquette move (we’ll share that story for another time)! 

What I have learned over time is it’s one thing to network, it’s another thing to be gifted in the ability to create meaning conversations that build into blossoming relationships. The power of having real conversations (not ones where you are trying to upsell to get a meeting with their           bosses’ boss) and genuinely taking concern about what the other person is saying is one of the key tools any networker can learn and leverage. 

Even in this time of virtual everything, people want the space to talk and be heard. If we look at what networking was and what it is surely to become, we are about to witness the next phase (and probably the best one so far)…people are looking for genuine connection. Our 5 tips for where to start will help you kick start those connections and start building deeper relationships! 

Let’s first understand what networking is and why we do it. Networking can be explained as intentional interactions with people for the purpose of obtaining professional or social contact. It is a well established practice and has many benefits that can advance you in a professional aspect. Networking is done not for immediate gratification but for the long term benefits that are a return on the investment of putting time and effort into developing a relationship.

So, what are those benefits? One benefit that can be gained from networking is the life-long career development that can propel you further in your industry. Another benefit is it can help you excel in your industry by improving your skill sets and keeping you on top of industry trends. Finally, most people start working in an industry at the entry level and building a strong foundation in the beginning is an important success factor. Networking can help establish this foundation by finding mentors, meeting prospective clients, and making social connections.

In addition to the potential benefits, networking also allows you to exchange information, advance your leadership, and help you build better communication skills. Networking provides the opportunity to share your story and to explain your value. Do you know your story? Networking provides you the chance to get really good at communicating who you are, why you are good at what you do and what benefit you add to the world. This is a great tool to help you get ready for that next job interview…learning to keep it succinct and relevant to the conversation will make you look really polished and professional. 

Currently we live in a world where everything is changing and networking is no exception. Previously we spent lots of time traveling to networking events and looking to shake someone’s hand. We would arrive at events where we didn’t know anyone and would strike up a conversation that oftentimes turned into a sales pitch. By the end of the day attendees usually had lots of papers and business cards and struggled to remember who they talked to, let alone what they talked about! However, I’m sure like many things in your life during these changing times, networking has had to make an inevitable shift toward the virtual world.

While we may be over the novelty of video calls and online messaging, you may find that the increased cyber element can be beneficial to your networking efforts. If done in a smart and organized manner, virtual networking may now be one of the best additions to your professional life. Now you can network from anywhere at almost anytime rather than having to organize the logistics of physically attending a networking event. And finally, you can say goodbye to your blurry memories of who you talked to because now you have video recordings and messages that you can refer back to and use to your advantage.  

So, where do you start? How do you virtually network in 2021? Here are our top 5 recommendations of where to start…

  1. You’re existing network! The best place to start is by using resources you already have. One example of this is to make “warm calls”. Reconnecting with your current network. These already existing contacts are often more effective than the opposing cold calls. 
  2. Optimize Social Media– Utilize the social media platforms you already have and regularly use. 
  3. Virtual associations/networking groups– You can make an effort to join groups or follow pages that interest you so that you can make connections with people who have similar interests, jobs, or hobbies. 
  4. Make unsolicited introductions- Have you ever had someone connect you to someone in their network you didn’t even know you needed to be connected to? Pay it forward and do it for someone you knw! Once you have used the resources you are already familiar with, your next step should be to move on to making unsolicited introductions and join professional networks that interest you. 
  5. Stay in touch…Finally, stay in touch with both old and new connections. Often, we fall victim to the pattern of only talking to people in our network when we need something. However, you should reach out to your network not only for help but also to express intrigue, congratulate successes, comment sympathy and generally check in. Establish and develop relationships.

Everybody has a different comfort level with virtual networking but it is a new idea that we are all figuring out together. With a keen self-awareness and a careful evaluation of capabilities, you will be able to find what works best for you. As we enter into a new year, everyone is setting resolutions and goals. If you can set your mind to embrace this new way of networking, it can help you reach your professional goals in 2021 and 

To learn more watch How to Navigate Networking in a Virtual World

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