Whether it’s a first date or a first zoom meeting, forging new relationships can be tough… especially during a pandemic. Here are some fresh tips to build and maintain your professional network.
Networking is key to creating long-term relationships with mutual benefits, and it should be a central piece of your career development. It’s an opportunity to exchange ideas, expand your creative arsenal, and develop ties to other professionals. Here are some ways to grow your network in our new normal.
1. Join online groups and communities
Find out if area chambers of commerce or industry groups are offering virtual meetings or events, which can help you meet new people or networking with your existing contacts. One of my favorites in the capital region is the Times Union’s Women@Work. A Facebook survey found that over half of all Facebook users are members in at least five active groups. With many industry groups now operating virtually during the pandemic, these online communities are thriving, and there’s no better time to get involved.
2. Reconnect with old acquaintances
Staying in touch with your contacts is key to maintaining professional relationships — which is just as important as building new ones. And if there’s ever a time to check in on someone, it’s during a global pandemic. Many people have more flexibility in their schedules, and it’s easier to schedule a 15-minute phone call or video chat than the extra pressure and time commitment of meeting up for coffee or lunch. Go through your contacts in your phone, inbox, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. and use any spare time you might have to touch base with an old colleague or acquaintance.
3. Be consistent
Like any new habit, success requires consistency. Try to set a schedule and get into a weekly or monthly routine of checking in with your current contacts and reaching out to new ones. Keep in mind, it’s much harder to call an old acquaintance and ask for something if you haven’t been in touch for ages. It’s not too late for another New Year’s resolution: Add “building my network” to your list of goals for 2021.
4. Engage with content and start conversations
Nearly a year into the pandemic, people are still turning to virtual platforms to stay informed and connected. LinkedIn continues to see record levels of engagement, according to their most recent earnings call in October. Don’t miss out: Seize the opportunity to engage with content that others are publishing, or consider posting your own. Social media and online forums are an easy way to strike up conversations and start building relationships.
(By the way: Don’t worry if you’re not a writer. Your content does not always need to be strictly work-related. You could write about your favorite hobby you’ve picked up during the pandemic, or a great recipe you’ve recently discovered. It’s an easy way to keep your name in front of contacts and help them engage you in conversation.)
5. Listen up, and follow up
Like any relationship, networking is a two-way street. Connecting with other people requires being an active listener. Many people focus more on looking like they’re listening while they’re really just waiting for a pause in the conversation to jump in. Active listening is the art of paying attention to what a person is saying and being present while they are speaking to you. You’ll get much more out of the conversation. Finally, don’t forget to follow up after an event or conversation. A friendly follow-up is a great way to solidify new relationships that you just made and lay the groundwork for future conversations.
Wrapping it up
From business to social settings, networking is one of the most important tools to develop. All people search for connections, and connections in a professional setting can help you grow in your career or even lead to new clients. It might not be love at first sight, or first zoom, but keep putting in the effort and you’ll succeed in building your network.
Minda Conroe is the Managing Director at J Strategies.