We are living in unprecedented times right now. Offices around the world are closed, industry events cancelled, and restaurants? Well, let’s just say you can forget about taking a client out to lunch. With your opportunities for networking dwindling by the second, what can you do to maintain existing connections as well as forge new ones? I've put together some suggestions based on what I've seen work over the past few weeks if you’re looking for more ideas, have a look at Talents full guide to virtual networking. If you have any suggestions of your own, please feel free to share, I'd love to hear from you.
Just because meeting in person isn’t an option at the moment, this isn’t a reason to stop your networking efforts altogether. You should keep talking to people by utilising the channels available to you, whether this is through phone, social media, Zoom, email, or text. Right now, people are cooped up inside and have never been more open for a bit of variety in the people they talk to. Checking in to see how someone is managing or adapting to a new way of work is an important way to show your care for your clients and touch base. You may find the conversation goes a little bit longer now!
Use networking tools
Use the tools available to you to broaden your network. Lusha, for example, is a great tool you can use to obtain contact details you wouldn’t necessarily already have. Be smart about how you use this information and make sure you add it to your database. This information is invaluable and can help you to connect with people who would have otherwise been much harder to reach.
My general rule of thumb here is it’s best to focus on “giving” rather than “getting”.
You must ensure that you are genuine in all your networking efforts. Some people are hurting right now, so it’s important not to come across as self-serving. Take a genuine interest in the people you are speaking to and they will remember you when everything returns to normal. Try and add value even if it won’t necessarily give you a win in the short term. This can involve sharing a bit of content, best practice, market advice, a referral, etc. Whatever it is, you want to be demonstrating your support for others right now. My general rule of thumb here is it’s best to focus on “giving” rather than “getting”. You’ll be amazed at how a simple tweak in mindset can impact your output and the way you come across to others.
Engage with others
Remember though, your engagement should be authentic and genuine. You are interested in forging strong professional relationships, not making these connections just so you can ask for favours.
My next suggestion is to engage with people’s content on LinkedIn. This can be as simple as asking questions or requesting they elaborate on a point in their post. You can even take it one step further and write your own post in response. This will help in bringing you more exposure as well as an opportunity to interact with people beyond your internal network. Remember though, your engagement should be authentic and genuine. You are interested in forging strong professional relationships, not making these connections just so you can ask for favours.
Referrals are key
Australia has a great sense of community and I have found that people are even more open to providing referrals right now. If you can see you share mutual connections with someone on LinkedIn, get your mutual connection to refer you in for that initial conversation. This is a great way to expand your network and form new relationships. This approach will also ensure you stand out amongst all the other people sending bulk in-mails!
Actions and steps you can take...
Although networking is great to boost your personal profile, it doesn’t only need to occur on a personal level. In fact, it is a critical element of business development. While nurturing these business relationships remotely can be difficult, it is not an impossible task. Here are my key suggestions for keeping these relationships going strong:
Deliver, deliver, deliver
Make sure you deliver any existing work for your clients to an exceptional standard. While you should always do this, being highly responsive, diligent and going the extra mile in difficult times will set you apart from your competition. Your clients have so much they have to worry about, you need to remove some of that worry and be the supplier that makes their life that little bit easier.
Maintain high activity levels
Without face-to-face meetings, now more than ever, it’s important to keep activity levels high. Make sure you dedicate time each day, even just 30 minutes, to call your previous customers and existing client base to ask how they are going. You will gain market knowledge by doing this and it’s an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate you genuinely care. It’s also a great chance to ask for referrals.
Send a care package
You want to demonstrate that you care, and without physically being able to meet, this is a great way to do so.
Instead of taking your clients out for a lunch (which really isn’t an option at the moment), you can have a nice bottle of champagne or some food delivered to their front door. If you know they have a big event coming up, or something that warrants a celebration, you can organise delivery to coincide with this date, accompanied by a congratulatory note. I would suggest taking the time to personalise this as much as possible. You want to demonstrate that you care, and without physically being able to meet, this is a great way to do so.
Book a face-to-face catch up
When speaking to your clients, ask to book a tentative face-to-face catch up for a few months down the track when circumstances return to “normal”. Book it in the diary so they are locked in. That way you will have a full schedule when you return to work, and can hit the ground running!
Develop a structure
Finally, you should develop and maintain a structure. Keep a lead spreadsheet running that tells you who you’ve reached out to and when. You can then run follow-ups based on this data as well as get a better understanding of what is and isn’t working. Using this information, you can adjust your strategy as needed.
While there will undoubtedly be more difficult times ahead, it’s a sense of community that will prevail. Be genuine and be human in all your networking efforts, and you will find that you have built a strong professional network that will support you going in to the future.
Read more in our virtual networking guide here