Networking during a pandemic

At a recent meeting (yes, it was virtual, harumph), I was asked about how I rebuilt my national network. I’d spent five years focused on a local market and had neglected US and international contacts I’d spent decades building. Whether it was out of laziness, neglect, or just plain practicality, it happened. You can probably relate.

Of course, many wanted to add their two cents to the question asked of me (that’s how meetings go these days, isn’t it?). Most asserted some form of “just say you’re back and want help.” I respectfully disagree. Making it all about you is not a good way to start networking during a pandemic.

That’s not to say it can’t work, particularly if you’re an extrovert. Plus, people relish the opportunity to offer knowledge or aid in the right kind of circumstances. “Send me business” isn’t usually one of them. There are better ways to build a referral base. Easier ones too.

Participate in challenges

In this pandemic-restricted world, tons of online challenges have cropped up. Many are free or available for a small investment. I prefer those that require a little bit of money because it improves the caliber and involvement of participants. It’s others learning along side you that provide the greatest opportunities, not the host.

Networking during a pandemic

As an example, Darren Rowse recently offered several 7-Day Content Sprints in 2020. The cost was $7. I participated during September and continue to communicate with other interesting bloggers who were in my “class.” The atmosphere was encouraging and supportive. To boot, he featured my website in a live video as well as later on his 10,000+ follower Facebook Group.  That was $7 well spent.

The key to these challenges is to participate and connect. Not with self-serving messages or canned statements, but with genuine caring and interest in what others are doing. Sure, the 80/20 principle applies, but even if you only build deep connections with ten people ideally positioned to help you reach your goals, that’s a lot of depth in the long term. Pick a challenge that resonates with you and helps you meet some specific business goals.

Give before getting

People are more prone to recommend you to others, or introduce you to referral agents, if you’ve made an effort to recognize them. This can take a lot of forms. I’m not talking quid pro quo thinking. Others sense when they’re being played. Sure, there can be some of that, but It’s more about shifting your perspective. Getting creative about noticing and responding to what’s important to others is a great way to start.

On social media, you appreciate people who often share your content or give you shoutouts for achievements. Offering solutions to challenges in groups is a good way to be memorable too. If your messages are self-serving with pointers to your wares, though, these won’t be recalled in a good way. People remember those who kindly help them with a challenge unconditionally.

I still clip articles and send them snail mail. This could be everything from a good contact to news about a daughter’s soccer success. Few are using the USPS anymore, so letters stand out. Add a brief hand written note for greater impact.

Shifting your focus toward helping others invariably leads to more referrals. Curiously, it rarely comes from those you might expect. That’s why reciprocity expectations don’t work.

Invest in others

These days, more and more business owners expect people to purchase their products to be considered for a job, email response, or collaborative promotional venture. If you’re in a service business, things work a bit differently, but this still applies to getting referrals. It doesn’t seem to matter much whether it’s a $27 or $1997 product. It’s more about caring enough about what they do to and taking the time to understand their passion.

Last year, I reconnected with a contact who sponsored an international challenge about a decade ago. She had since amassed a vast network. When an email came through offering four coaching sessions for under $200, I jumped at the chance to lock in some time.

Here’s the thing – I probably could have sent her a message and gotten a response. She knew who I was. But I wanted come back to the relationship helping her first. My goal wasn’t coaching time; it was to tap into her network. That small investment resulted in more than $15,000 in new client business. During the pandemic. She happily introduced me to appropriate contacts because I had already invested in her.

Reposition for the new normal

As we continue to navigate a world none of us imagined while networking during a pandemic, we may need to shift our business focus. Providing marketing services for small business owners in Roanoke, Virginia wasn’t a sustainable model for me once COVID-19 hit. Many businesses still don’t know if they’ll survive continuing government mandates. It’s a hard time to justify investing in marketing.

Of course, those who decided to get creative with new business offerings and bullish on promotion are now thriving, but it was a risk. Those companies represented a small percentage of my total client base.

Admittedly, I didn’t jump into a new strategy quickly. I spent a few months paralyzed and feeling powerless. Once I realized the pandemic affects would outlast my reserves, I got out of my funk and into inventive mode. In the end, I wound up merging some areas where I had seasoned expertise with a new method for ghostwriting books I had perfected a couple of years ago. Now, I’m spending half my business time ghostwriting or editing non-fiction books for first-time authors. It’s been delightful getting to know and support so many interesting business owners fulfilling their dream.

What can you do to make your business better, faster, or more appealing to prospects and clients in today’s challenging times? Why not start the journey with a better strategy for networking. The people you meet through contests, kindness, and small investments may give you the key you need to recrafting your business into something greater. When you consider challenges from your prospects’ perspective, you’re bound to find a new way of doing things that’s better for everyone.

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