Coffee dates, happy hours, quick lunches, post-work events—all once commonplace networking opportunities that have taken a backseat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without these in-person meetings in our networking toolkits, how can we stay connected with our existing circles and forge new professional relationships in a post-COVID world?
For an extrovert like CJ DeVries, Owner, The ON BRAND Agency and GRNow, it's a combination of intentional planning, understanding your goals and relying on existing connections to branch out.
"No longer can you walk into a networking event, see a handful of your business acquaintances and catch up," said DeVries, who was attending up to three networking events a week pre-COVID. "Instead of trying to meet as many people as I could during a function, I now strategically look to see what my business is lacking and if my circle could give me an introduction. I am relying more on others and referrals versus fishing for myself."
DeVries stresses being especially empathetic during this time when reaching out, explaining that she's accustomed to now asking deeper questions.
"The bonds I am making now are stronger than before," said DeVries. To make new connections, she recommends being active in community groups on Facebook; bonding over a shared interest; inviting potential connections to take a Masterclass with you; and asking business friends to make an introduction via Zoom.
Terry Barclay, CEO, Inforum, has kept communications consistent, shifting the organization's outreach and (new and existing) programming to a virtual setting—resulting in a 32% increase in Inforum's event attendance and membership since the pandemic began.
"Today's platforms are so rich and easy to use that it's not at all difficult to keep in touch with people through virtual connections," said Barclay, noting professionals are increasingly sharing their virtual event attendance plans online socially and attending "together" with friends and colleagues. "Attend as many virtual events as possible, and make good use of the chat function. Start with sharing a 'hello' and an introduction to the whole group. Include your LinkedIn profile URL, if you have one. As you see or hear from people you think sound interesting, send them a private message and suggest a virtual coffee. Pay attention to who asks the good questions or makes good points."
Recognize that people are fatigued by a situation they cannot control.
"Many of us are feeling isolated, so warm interpersonal relationships matter," Barclay explained. "You can make time for those online and acknowledge the challenges the pandemic brings. But also recognize that virtual meetings have made it possible for more people to participate who might not have been able to make the time for in-person meetings and events. That's a silver lining we also have to acknowledge."
Ultimately, DeVries emphasizes knowing you're not alone in struggling and offering yourself grace.
"It just comes down to patience and understanding—for yourself and those around you. You don't have to have everything figured out. None of us do anyway!"
Tips for Successful Pandemic Networking
Courtesy of CJ DeVries
- Plan. Create a goal each week. Be specific!
- Increase visibility online. Update your professional information on social media and clean up your spreadsheets of connections.
- Use your planner. Physically write down the names of connections/potential connections and how to reach out/why to reach out.
- Schedule networking. Pick your networking days and block off times to hit those networking goals.
- Face-to-face. Spring for video chat instead of a phone call.
- Gifting. Sending local connections gift cards to local businesses.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Feb/Mar 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.