The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a proverbial wrench in the day-to-day lives of company founders. For weeks on end, you’ve likely been juggling Zoom meetings, school schedules, family check-ins, squeezing in a workout, time for your significant other and, oh right, keeping your business afloat.
Those projects and tasks you used to whip through are now taking just a little bit longer to complete. OK, a lot longer! And that’s OK. More than ever, your time, energy and focus are precious commodities. When you are able to carve out time to work on your business, there are so many priorities competing for your attention.
So, how do you make the most of the precious time you dedicate to your business?
When budgets are shrinking and marketing dollars are evaporating, it’s time to focus on high ROI activities — the ones that cost the least and produce the most benefit. Networking is on the top of that list, and here’s why: virtual networking is free and offers huge upside potential.
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Why now is the perfect time to network
Schedules are more malleable than usual, as folks are working from home and there’s more flexibility naturally built into their days. Plus, people are yearning for connection now more than ever before. All of these factors make it easier to find a time to connect.
For many, the mere mention of the word “networking” conjures up images of the typical networking scenario: a room full of strangers followed by awkward conversation that leads nowhere.
That’s not the kind of networking we’re talking about. We’re talking about intentional, purpose-driven relationship building.
As the co-founders of Women’s Business League, we’ve had a front row seat to the power of smart, strategic networking. We’ve seen it transform businesses and enrich lives, and done right (even from a distance!), entrepreneurs can achieve a reliable stream of high-quality clients from networking.
Here’s our best advice on how to network well, even during a crisis:
Have a plan
As with all things in business, having a plan allows you to achieve your desired results quicker. Start with the end goal in mind.
First, your goal is to build out a network of strategic referral partners, including other businesses that service your ideal client. Second, your goal is also to create a network of professionals who provide the expertise that your business needs but is outside your zone of genius.
Start by considering what other companies or branding professionals service your ideal client. Ask yourself, “What are the businesses that my ideal client visits before they seek my services?” To go a bit deeper, ask yourself, “Who provides goods or services to my client right before they need my expertise?”
For example, if you’re a wedding planner, your list might include an engagement photographer, jeweler, insurance agent and beauty salon. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down your list. Voila! There’s your starting point for referral sources.
Now, your job is to seek out and connect with folks in the industries you just listed. The key is to find businesses that offer the same level of exceptional client service as you do. Even better if you can identify companies that target clients at the same price point and demographic as you. That way, you’ll be well positioned to take exceptional care of any clients they send your way. And, you’ll set yourself up to work with clients who are in your ideal market.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I find these folks?” Start with who you know. For example, if you’re looking to connect with engagement photographers, reach out to friends who recently got engaged. Ask them who they used and if they were happy with their service. If their answer is yes, ask them if they would be willing to make an introduction.
If you’re coming up short, utilize LinkedIn, which has a powerful search tool to find local professionals within your industry. When you reach out, be sure to let these individuals know who you are and why you’re interested in networking with them.
Your “A team”
You can use a similar approach to build out your personal network of professionals who can directly help you and your business. Pick up that pen again and ask yourself, “What are the services that my business needs that are outside my area of expertise?”
Your list might include accounting, banking, legal, social media and so on. Prioritize your list based on the immediate needs of your business to best serve your customers. Pursue connections in those industries, and plan to interview two to three professionals in each category to see who is the best fit for your company’s needs and falls within your budget.
Join a community
An effective way to expand your network amidst social distancing mandates is to join a virtual networking community. The key is to find a digital village that aligns with your values. Be sure to assess the mission, priorities and objectives of the group before joining. Make sure it’s a good fit for you personally and professionally, and once you’ve joined, go all in. Attend the live video meetings, make time for the recorded webinars and schedule time for one-on-one Zoom coffee dates. The more you show up for the community, the more the community will show up for you.
Once you’ve established connections, nurture these new relationships consistently over time. Always lead with generosity, and offer connections, opportunities, resources and client referrals as often as you can.
When networking, remember to take an interest in the other person’s business. Listen and pay special attention to what’s important to him or her personally and professionally. Let them know that you care. Establish a true connection grounded in mutual understanding, trust and kindness, because where connection grows, business flows.
A well-established network is a business generator, connection facilitator and collaboration incubator. Networking can be an absolute game changer, even (and especially) amidst a pandemic.