The world as we know it has changed drastically over the last year, but one thing has remained the same - the ever increasing value of building a strong business network.
With a lack of physical networking events and conferences, it’s difficult to forge new relationships as we used to. While walking into a room full of people ready to network was a daunting experience for some, it posed plenty of opportunities, not just for acquiring contacts but to develop relationships with local businesses.
Switching From Offline to Online
While some business groups are starting to look towards holding physical events again (number restricted and socially distanced, of course), there is always the risk of a second peak at a time. For this reason, virtual networking seems to be the future!
40% of people say they network more online than in person, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this statistic rises with the increasing popularity of using Zoom and other tools to host virtual networking events - it’s easy, it’s convenient, and most importantly it’s safe!
1. Personal Connection is Key
If you’re ready to dive in head first with networking, there’s something you need to remember - personal connection is key! You’ll struggle to find a business that hasn’t been affected at all by the pandemic, so it’s imperative that you’re empathetic while speaking to others.
Networking has never been about selling, it’s about being helpful and providing value to a connection, so in turn they will return the favour. By being naturally friendly and insightful, you can build trust with that connection so even if they don’t need your services at that time, you will be in the forefront of their minds if or when they do!
2. What to Expect From Virtual Networking
Most virtual networking events follow the same format as a physical event would. When researching which events you would like to attend, it would be worthwhile to check out which guest speakers will be presenting ahead of time. There is a demand for information and advice on subjects like finance, law, mindfulness, etc for business owners and employees.
Also, if you believe you have something to share that would benefit your business community, don’t be afraid to reach out to your local networking group to see if any guest slots are available.
Once the guest speaker has presented and updates have been shared, next comes the actual networking part of the event. While you would be able to move around freely in a physical event, you will usually be split into smaller breakout groups online to give you the opportunity to network with several other people. Use this time to learn the names, businesses and job roles of the other attendees.
Creating a Professional Presence During Virtual Networking
1. Think about your background
Before the event, have a quick tidy up to make sure your surroundings are tidy and presentable. Otherwise, sit yourself in front of a blank background so that you can set up a virtual background with your company’s branding.
2. Eliminate any background noise
Be mindful of the people around you and any background noise that might affect the video call. If you can, give family or colleagues a head up about your event so they can try to give you your space. Otherwise, you can easily use headphones to decrease any background noise. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the mute button in case you need to cut off your sound for any reason.
3. Avoid looking at yourself
At a physical event, you can easily engage with the other person, maintaining eye contact, even copying body language. This is unfortunately lost during a virtual event. However it is essential that you avoid constantly checking your own video as your focus will instantly shift to yourself rather than the person speaking.
4. Clear any distractions
If you’re not lucky enough to have a personal office at home or aren’t back in the office yet, make sure to clear a space free of distractions. Find an empty room, put your phone on silent and enjoy the event!
Once you’ve made a connection, it doesn’t end there! A good starting point for following up is to send them a connection request on LinkedIn in order to carry on the conversation.
LinkedIn is responsible for 80% of the B2B leads from social media.
Also, if there’s someone you’d met on a virtual networking event who you didn’t get a chance to speak to, you can still reach out to them! It is definitely recommended that you personalise each connection request or InMail to increase your chances of being accepted.
While you’re engaging with new connections, don’t neglect your existing contacts. Try reaching out to them, give them a phone call, engage with their posts to ensure you maintain a strong relationship. Taking ten minutes out of your day will show that you care about them on a personal level as well as a business level.