This article first appeared in The Holland Times.
As every entrepreneur knows, networking can make or break your business. From finding a possible business partner to connecting with venture capitalists, those Friday drinks at your co-working space hold endless possibilities. Now, however, we’re all working from home, and it’s become a lot harder to meet new people. You might find yourself lacking inspiration, feeling demotivated in your business, or craving interaction with like minded individuals. The pandemic has stopped us being able to do many things, but networking isn’t one of them. Here are some ways you can network virtually – without any awkward Zoom quizzes.
Go old school
Before the arrival of LinkedIn, Bumble Bizz, and co-working hubs full of entrepreneurs looking to network, connections were made through friends of friends. Read any of the classic business books by the likes of Dale Carnegie or Mark McCormack, and they’ll say that your success comes down to who you know. You don’t have to come from a family of well-connected entrepreneurs – you can build your own valuable network that will help you achieve your business goals. Start by going old-school, and think about everybody you know. Do you have friends or friends-of-friends who would be interesting to connect with? Reach out! A personal introduction helps break the ice, and gives you something to talk about. You never know – your friend’s former colleague could end up being your business partner.
Join online communities
Online communities have come into their own during the pandemic. Opt for something industry-related, or for a more general community where you can meet people who run all types of businesses. The benefit of online communities is that they often have built-in networking activities. Look for online directories listing members alongside information about their industry and business, and reach out to people who look interesting to you.
Some communities also hold coffee roulettes, pairing members each month who then meet for a 30 minute virtual coffee. Random pairings allow you to meet people you might not otherwise have connected with, opening your business up to new opportunities for collaboration. You might also have the chance to host a workshop within your online community, opening up your business to new possible clients. From personal experience, my membership of Found & Flourish, an international supportive community for female entrepreneurs, had led to endless new clients and opportunities which I could never have foreseen. It’s worth doing some research and making use of free trial months to find an online community that suits you.
Turn to social media
Social media has a bad reputation for being a distraction when it comes to work. But when it’s used wisely, you can use Instagram, Facebook, and particularly LinkedIn to connect with new people of interest. On Instagram and LinkedIn, make use of hashtags to find people to connect with in your industry. Consider joining a couple of free Facebook groups, introducing yourself and asking if anybody would like to connect. These groups are also useful for asking specific questions, like recommendations for an accountant or business lawyer, or tips for good online courses.
Make sure that your profile across all social media channels is up to date, and shows you at your best. No one wants to respond to a message from a half-empty profile, or one that doesn’t explain what you and your business do. Ensure you’ve got a profile picture, you’ve shared key information in your bio, and you provide links to your website for added authenticity. Once you’ve started a conversation via social media, suggest having a virtual coffee date or phone call so that you can develop your relationship further. Stick to ‘owned’ channels as much as possible (email, phone calls, texts) so that if LinkedIn or Instagram were to shut down tomorrow, you wouldn’t lose all your contacts.
Finally, consider approaching people in alumni groups. These might be hosted on Facebook or LinkedIn, and include everyone who attended the same high school or university as you. You might not have been friends at the time 10 or 15 years ago, but it could just so happen that your former classmate is now a high-profile CEO, and you’d love to grab a virtual coffee with her. Don’t just stick to your former year group, either – search for people a few years above and below you, and see what they’re up to now. Your shared educational background gives you something to talk about, and you never know what might come out of it!