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How to Network at Any Age - Even During a Pandemic!

Feb 19, 2021

The word “networking” can mean very different things to different people.  Just a year ago, before the Covid-19 global pandemic, networking seemed like a fairly standard business practice.  Sure, the definitions may have been different based on generation, but the idea behind it was the same.  I bet if you ask a 50-year-old executive how to network, it would probably look something like a training luncheon at the local convention center, or an evening drink at a mixer organized by a social club. Networking to a 25-year-old developer most likely involves pizza, beer, pajamas and a laptop. Though the look of networking has vastly changed over the last twenty years, the definition is the same.

According to Entrepreneur.com contributor and Founder of BNI, Ivan Misner, networking is “the process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.” But how one goes about this process is as different as the generation into which they were born.

There has always been a struggle to balance the old and the new, tradition and innovation. Traditionally, the new generations get frustrated with what they see as stagnation, and the seasoned generation can often get overwhelmed with the steep learning curve of technology.  Then – whammy! – the pandemic affects ALL generations.  Now, all generations have been affected by stay-at-home orders, social isolation and a need to find new ways to network. Is networking dead as a result?

I don’t really think so, despite how these new times are changing all of us.  Some would say that the younger generations are more suited to networking because they are more technology savvy and used to conducting business in a world that largely exists online and yet, some would also say that the younger generation doesn’t have the social skills needed to effectively network because they are more comfortable working in an isolated bubble.  (forgive the gross generalizations I’m making in this blog about each generation) The reality is that all generations and all personality styles (e.g., introvert-extrovert) can benefit from effective networking, but it IS different today.  The seasoned generation, of which I am a part, must more rapidly adopt technology.  Zoom, and other meeting applications, allow for good face to face interaction from multiple, independent locations.  If you don’t have good social skills though, sitting in front of a camera without contributing to the dialogue isn’t going to yield a good result.  Yet, the perfect approach, like anything, is balance. A powerful combination of the positive aspects of technology and social skills is the winning strategy. A professional that can master face-to-face AND digital networking is sure to reap benefits throughout their career.

3 TIPS FOR TRADITIONAL NETWORKING

1.     Be consistent. Choose one or two networking events to attend each month. The definition of “event” may be different due to the pandemic – look for online group meetups, discussions and even social time.  I’ve scheduled “happy hours” with friends, attended an online funeral and an online birthday party.  It’s not ideal but it is better than nothing.  Though it’s difficult and time consuming to seek out alternative “meet ups”, the commitment is the key.  Networking is about building relationships, so attending the same kind of event on a regular basis will help you to connect with people who will remember who you are and what you do.

2.     Be conversational and authentic. No one likes the “sales guy.” Don’t be that guy. You can talk about your business or your work, but don’t constantly try to sell your services. Since the conversation is largely online, you have to make extra effort to allow space for conversation – mics cut out and mute people so the easy flow of a face to face conversation is sometimes challenging.  Make sure you pause after speaking, and speak up more than you may normally contribute.  That will help people who are interested in your services remember who you and seek you out later.

3.     Be helpful. People remember someone who goes out of their way to help others. If someone mentions they need work on their car, as an example, jump in and offer to connect them with your reliable mechanic. If you can help solve someone’s problem, no matter what the problem is, they will remember you and be more likely to remember what you do.  That creates a chain reaction because while they may not need your services, they will remember what you do and be more likely to share information about you in a conversation with others.    

3 TIPS FOR SOCIAL NETWORKING

1.     Initiate and Comment!  Social professional sites like LinkedIn are essential to professional networking. Create a professional profile and connect with as many professionals as you can. You aren’t constrained by “local” when you are socially networking. Make posts of your own that demonstrate credibility in your field and add value.  Be present on more than one social channel – even TikTok has value!  Find what you’re comfortable with and just like in the traditional model, be consistent with posting there.  If you know of someone that is in your field, has common interests or information you could benefit from, initiate the conversation by sending an email or private direct message asking for some time. Then move the conversation to Zoom or facetime or your favorite social app.  You must be more overt in reaching out to effectively network in social channels.  The pace is faster yet casual so don’t be afraid to ask for a few minutes of someone’s time.  It is still flattering to be viewed as the expert and I have yet to have someone say no if I have reached out to ask for 10-15 minutes of their time on a specific topic.  You never know where those conversations go, and sometimes whole new business relationships can develop as a result of intentional networking.

2.     Privatize your personal profiles. Make sure to check your privacy settings frequently. Many social media sites will automatically update on mobile devices, and this can often change your privacy settings.  Like it or not, people will form an opinion of who you are based on your personal online presence.  Be judicious in how much personal information you share.

3.     Join groups. One of the best ways to utilize social media to your advantage is to join groups related to your business or field of work. You can glean tips from veterans and make valuable connections. There are billions of people using online social platforms to extend their sphere of influence – join the conversations to extend your own network.

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