As you well know, these are challenging times for most businesses. And a large percentage of the workforce is now working from home that didn’t need to before the pandemic. Likely, including you. Professional conferences and networking events have either been canceled or postponed indefinitely. Even getting together for a coffee to get to know someone professionally is not currently an option. In short, we’ll all very isolated, right now. One of the challenges this brings is the challenge of networking effectively.
Of course, there are many bigger challenges we’re all facing with COVID-19, but perhaps there is some good that can come of it for business growth too. Not the least of which is the opportunity to leverage networking platforms like LinkedIn for networking and laying a foundation for future business growth for when we return to ‘business as usual’.
Here are 8 tips on how you can thrive in networking amidst COVID-19 and social distancing and set yourself up for future success. Please share any additional ideas and experiences you have in the comments. I would love to hear and share others’ helpful ideas.
1) Make sure your LinkedIn Profile is up to date
This one is a bit of a no brainer, but you must actually commit the time to do it. Most of us haven’t updated our LinkedIn profile since the last time we were looking for a job. Take the time now to update your profile. But, I recommend setting a time limit of 30 minutes so you don’t get stuck overthinking things and end up with analysis paralysis, and decide it’s not worth the time.
As you start to update your profile, rather than just thinking of it as a digital resume, think of it as a landing page to share with others what you can do to help them, especially right now. Also, don’t be too salesy in your description and details. Be authentic, and helpful.
Ask yourself how you can utilize your professional skill set to help other businesses and people with their professional challenges in relation to COVID-19 and communicate this in your profile.
2) Reconnect with your existing connections on LinkedIn
Take a 10 – 15 minutes each day to send a personal message on LinkedIn to your existing connections, both those who you speak to regularly, and to those you haven’t done a great job staying in touch with. I recommend actually setting a recurring event on your calendar to do this to develop the habit.
When you do, it’s important to be sensitive to the hardships the pandemic is putting us all through, some more than others. Ask how they are doing. Express genuine concern for their and their family’s wellbeing.
Whatever you do, don’t be salesy. Even though we are all very concerned about the economy and our own business’ financial wellbeing, set yourself apart from others by genuinely just sending a goodwill message.
This will not only help build an authentic and trusting business relationship, but it will also set you apart from the hundreds of other LinkedIn messages we’re all getting nowadays that goes quickly from something like, “Hi, let’s connect!” to “…and now buy my product/service”.
3) Make New Connections
Since so many people are now having to work from home, this is possibly one of the best times for making new connections on LinkedIn. The same etiquette applies to new connections that you practice with existing ones. Be thoughtful. Be helpful. Don’t be salesy.
It’s also okay to state that you would like to take the opportunity, amidst social distancing, to network and get to know them and their business. Show genuine interest in them and their business.
Some of the ways that you can be helpful to your new connections is offering relevant recommendations, (not your products/services). Also, if you happen to know someone who could use your connections products or services in the current market conditions, freely offer a referral. Additionally, ask if there is anyone in your network they would like an introduction to. And then, actually make the introduction.
We all need help right now in some way or another. If you lead with value and offer to help, and then actually help, you will become a trusted new connection. And we all want to do business in the future with those that we trust.
4) Broaden your scope for who you approach for new connections
One of the mistakes I see many people making, (and I’ve made myself,) is primarily seeking connections with people you hope to convert into a customer. Though it’s okay to connect with potential customers if you’re following appropriate etiquette, (being helpful, leading with value, being not being salesy), it is important to expand the type of connections we have, now more than ever.
Send connections to potential mentors, thought leaders, experts in an area of business you’re interested in learning more about, etc., and not just in your own industry. Having broader connections will challenge your own thinking and views. You may also be surprised by how helpful others are willing to be. Ask for others’ perspectives. Bounce your ideas off of them. They may have priceless advice to share, or at the least point you in the right direction.
The main point is, if ever there was a time we need to think outside of the box, that time is now. Tapping into others’ perspectives can help us do just that.
5) Ask your new connections if you can interview them
This is not a sales call. Make this very clear in your request. Since we are not able to talk with others at conferences or other networking events, ask if you can have a 15 – 20 min phone call to get their view and opinion on something that pertains to your goals or challenges and their expertise.
Have a clear goal or a key question in mind that would like to get their view and advice on. This will help make your call more productive and be respectful of their time.
Since most people have a little more time on their hands right now you might be surprised how many are willing to have a quick online coffee meeting.
6) Join the conversation
Remember those LinkedIn Groups you joined and maybe visited once or twice? Now’s the time to start engaging and contributing to the conversation. Comment on other’s posts. Share the ones you think are relevant and helpful to your connections. And, by all means, share some posts of your own.
Why is this worth your time? Networking is about getting to know others, but also getting known. You’re not visible if you’re not part of the conversation. Others are also networking for various reasons. People are looking for job candidates, potential board members, speakers for a future conference, possible companies to do business with, future partners, etc. And these people are also spending more time online interacting now than ever before. But they won’t notice you if you’re not visible and if you’re not part of the current conversation.
It’s also still also okay to ask your connections for recommendations to boost the relevancy of your profile. But be sure you’re also giving recommendations to your connections, without them having to first ask for one.
7) Write and share relevant and helpful content on LinkedIn
You may have years of professional experience, or maybe you’re fresh in your career. Regardless, you likely have views and experience that can be helpful to others, amidst the pandemic. Everyone is still trying to figure out how to operate in this new and unknown environment. An environment that we all hope will end sooner rather than later…but we don’t really know when or even if things will return to the way they use to be.
The key here, again, is to be helpful and relevant to people’s current challenges. Share your thoughts, recommendations, and ‘how-to’ tips for addressing challenges caused by the pandemic in your industry.
The content you share doesn’t have to be original. See an article, post, or hear of an idea you think your connections would benefit from? Share it! But don’t just copy and paste a link. Share your perspective on the idea or topic and ask for others’ perspectives as well. This is also part of joining the conversation I discussed in an earlier point.
8) It’s still okay to ask for referrals
Though the landscape has dramatically shifted, and we’re all frankly still trying to get our bearings, there are businesses and people who are still in the market for your products and services. Your existing and new connections may very well know someone who is.
Now, I don’t’ recommend asking for referrals out of the gate, or even for it to be your primary objective. But, it’s still okay to ask if your connections if they happen to know of anyone who, despite the current pandemic, maybe looking for your products/services. If you’re already being helpful where you can with your connections, if they happen to know someone who is in-market for your products/services, they are likely happy to connect you.
Bringing it all together
In times of uncertainty, isolation and social distancing, we actually need each other more now than ever. By genuinely reaching out, connecting, being helpful and thoughtful of others you can build lasting business relationships that will help you now and in the future. Who knows, you may even make some lifelong friends in the process. And always remember, together we accomplish more.