Networking doesn’t have to stop just because you’re working from home
Virtual networking can seem daunting to people unfamiliar with online platforms. There are, however, some advantages. In the time before Covid-19, to network meant a lot of legwork: Trade shows; industry events; lunches; parties; etc. Now, for the moment, we’re mostly stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean you have to neglect your network. As with most things in 2020, there’s plenty of online alternatives to the traditional ways of networking. By now you’re already a pro at #WFH, now it’s time to start acing #NWFH (networking from home). We’ve prepared for you 8 tips on how to improve your business networking from home, ensuring you are a top virtual networker in 2020 and 2021.
Where to do your business networking from home?
1. Your existing network
Your first port of call should always be your existing network. Take a step back and think about why you’re networking in the first place: to develop leads for your contacts. You’ll be far better off developing fewer, deeper, contacts than you will be chasing new ones. As a general rule of thumb, you should spend at least as much time maintaining your network as you should expanding it.
Those business cards on your desk
If you haven’t thrown them all away as part of a lockdown tidy-up, make use of the business cards you collected earlier in the year. Get back in touch and renew the relationship you started – or promised to start.
You can’t talk about networking in 2020 without mentioning LinkedIn. Undeniably, it’s a fantastic tool to easily follow, find and connect with people in your industry. But be sure to use it the right way and don’t fall into lazy practices. For example, don’t fire out dozens of cold requests. Instead, send a few requests to the people who will be most useful to you and to whom you can offer something in return. You should try to follow up requests with a message explaining why you want to connect. If you’ve not met before, tell them how you discovered them: was it via a recommendation, or from something they published? Tell them! People like to know that they’re being noticed, so it doesn’t hurt to start with a compliment (as long as it’s genuine).
3. Business virtual networking events
Besides being a vital skill in business, networking is also a huge industry in itself. Trade bodies such as London Chamber are still hosting networking events for their members on video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom. If you can live without the canapés, it’s well worth signing up for these events to stay up to date with developments in your industry and make contact with your peers.
Similarly, lots of businesses are replacing in-person events with webinars. These events are a fantastic opportunity to learn something new and also demonstrate your industry knowledge. If you ask the right questions, come up with some sharp analysis in the breakout rooms, or better yet, volunteer as a guest speaker! Just like at in-person networking events, use the platform to demonstrate your value as a contact and watch the connections come to you.
What should you do when virtual networking?
1. Look professional
Just because you’ve been working from home all day in your comfy slippers doesn’t mean you should let your standards slip when it comes to virtual networking. There are a few easy tips to look professional via webcam (even if you’re still in your slippers):
- Use books or files or whatever you have available to raise your laptop to eye level. This will make it appear as though you’re making eye contact, which is still important with virtual networking as it is with in-person networking.
- Wear an appropriate top, brush your hair and adjust the lighting (if possible) to make yourself presentable (even if it’s just from the waist up).
- Make sure anyone else in your house is aware that you’re in a meeting and so won’t disturb you.
- Check your background: Bookshelves, plants or plain walls are fine. Otherwise, you can make use of Zoom’s ability to add a virtual background if your actual background doesn’t exactly scream “professional”.
2. Master Zoom etiquette
Beyond those first appearances, there’s also some nuanced Zoom etiquette that’s important to grasp when virtual marketing:
- If you’re listening to a presentation or just not talking for a while, make sure to mute yourself to cut out background noise.
- Say hello and goodbye, but only if you’re not interrupting. If someone is talking, say hello in the chat section instead.
- As with in-person networking, try not to check your phone, leave your seat or anything that might suggest you’re not paying attention.
3. Boss the breakout rooms
At virtual networking events and webinars, just like in-person events, you’re not just there for the main event. You also want to (virtually) rubs shoulders with the other guests. Zoom has tried to replicate the mingling that occurs with “breakout rooms”; small groups where guests at virtual events can take a break to chat and catch up with each. Make sure you’re ready with something to say: an observation from the talk; an insight from your own business. Of course, remember to listen too. There’s only a set number of minutes in a breakout room before the host pulls you out, so make them count!
4. Foster deep connections
Building on this last point, the deeper you can establish your connections, the better. Your best connections have your business at the forefront of their minds, ready to recommend when someone enquires about a product or service you provide. Developing connections isn’t the same as developing leads; if done right, these deep connections can be a gateway to many more leads. The time you spend developing them should reflect that potential. So, to take us back to the first (and most important) point, build on your existing connections first, before developing new ones.
In some ways, networking in 2020 has been made easier: There’s no need to travel and you don’t have to shell out for dinner and drinks. And in others, it’s been made harder: You can’t circulate round a packed conference or use body language as effectively. It’s been a real mixed bag, but the opportunities are still there, just on different platforms. Some of the rules may have changed, like with the rapidly evolving Zoom etiquette, but at the end of the day, virtual networking is not too different to networking in person. These skills are easily transferable. Even when we’re able to shake hands again, the practical and logistical benefits of virtual networking means that it’s likely to stick around for certain events. Hopefully the tips in this blog will help you networking effectively both online and offline.
We hope this has helped you think more clearly about your business networking, whether working from home or, in the future, when we are back out meeting face to face.