By Andrew Vest, the Regional Sales Manager for the PNW at Zscaler.
Around the world, people are staying indoors and working from home in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. Because many people are self-isolating, the need for social interactions may just be more crucial than ever before. This is the ideal time to practice the subtle art of networking with a kind and helpful approach.
When I mention networking to people, often the first thing that comes to their minds is an in-person event with lots of handshaking, chatting and two-minute pitches, but I’ve always believed it can be better than that. I ran the Eastside Networking Group in the Greater Seattle Area for several years and made it a point to attend every event with a “What can I do for you?” attitude, as opposed to a “What’s in it for me?” approach. Why? Because it feels good for everyone involved, and it works!
By far the most successful way to network is to provide some kind of value to everyone you speak with and to build genuine, heartfelt connections. It’s about nurturing relationships, and believe me when I say that the way you treat the people in your network during this strange time in history will determine whether you have a network when this pandemic ends. If you’re not checking in with people you know, change that today.
Read on to discover five ways to network in 2020.
1. Be nice. Some of the most basic things we learned in kindergarten apply perfectly to what’s going on in the world today, and none of those lessons resonates more right now than this one: Be a nice person. When you don’t need any favors or connections, it’s the perfect opportunity to reach out with offers to help others. Message someone just to say hello and check in. Send blogs or helpful information to people you know who could benefit from them. You can also offer to lend your skills or expertise on a project they’re working on. At this time, it needs to be about making genuine connections by creating value for others.
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2. Amp up engagement through social media. You probably already know which social platforms people in your own industry use most frequently. Take it a step further and join specialty groups that delve deeper into topics you’re truly interested in. This is a great way to meet new people and also join conversations about new ways of doing business during a pandemic. Not only will you learn from the people in the group, but you can share your input and expertise as well. Don’t be afraid to directly message people to engage them personally. Before long, you may find yourself with new peers or friends who inspire you while you do the same for them long beyond these Covid-19 times.
3. Stay active on LinkedIn. Yes, I know this is another social media platform, but because it’s a career-oriented site, it makes sense to invest extra time here. Here’s your chance to reach out to people in your network to simply inquire how they’re doing, but don’t stop there. Make sure your profile is up to date because people often check a profile after they’ve been contacted. When you inspire their natural curiosity, they’ll want to know what you’ve been up to. Be sure to post helpful information, write a blog or two showcasing your expertise, or share some helpful tips. This unselfish approach tends to attract people and make them feel warmly toward you, and that never hurts.
4. Seek out virtual networking events. Companies and individuals who make a living by throwing events had to pivot quickly to online events to stay afloat when the coronavirus hit. You’d be surprised how many virtual opportunities have been popping up recently. There are virtual events for every industry and business, regardless of size. Start by Googling “virtual networking events,” and see what appears on your screen. These events are a fascinating new way to meet, help and inspire others.
5. Create your own mini networking events. Why wait for others to host events when you can cherry-pick exactly who you want to talk to? I’ve discovered a fun way to get things started: Send your contact a gift card from Starbucks or DoorDash, and arrange to have a meeting over coffee or lunch. But here’s the key: don’t make it about business. Just sit and have a snack or a meal with a friend. Ask how they’re handling all the changes brought by the pandemic. Inquire how their family and friends are doing. Share an amusing story. Swap ideas. Touch base. Learn new things, and stay up to date. Be sure to ask them if there’s anything you can do for them. For me, it’s been a fresh and different way to interact, and I’m having a lot of fun connecting with people I don’t talk to every day and strengthening our ties.
In the end, it’s about showing people you care. When you empathize with what they’re going through and show your humanity, it will make an impact, and you’ll long be remembered for your kindness. And that is the beauty of networking.