Networking. We know it is important. We know we should do it, even during a global pandemic, but what exactly is it? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” It almost sounds like a secret ingredient to your favorite recipe. You know the recipe would still taste good without it, but it would be amazing with it.
The COVID-19 pandemic began with what we expected to be a two-week quarantine. Two weeks turned into a year of doing business, perhaps some or all, remotely.
Now most of us working from home. It’s OK, we wear leggings to go with our professional tops during Zoom meetings too. While we are happy to keep our significantly more comfortable work clothes and shorter commute, they also mean we have not attended an in-person conference in over a year. While you can’t exactly make small talk with someone over coffee and scones between sessions, certain elements of networking remain the same. Here are a few classic tips and a few more that are appropriate for the digital age.
Build and learn. While you may have something great to sell, whether that is your skillset, product or business, avoid going into a networking setting with the mentality of selling. Focus on building relationships and learning about the people you meet. The rest will take care of itself.
Take the pressure off. Relax. You are a capable, strong and fabulous woman. Networking can trigger social anxiety for some, but you have nothing to worry about. You know what you bring to the table. You know your craft. You’ve got this.
If you hate networking, ask your self why? Consider what your motivation for networking is. Return to the mantra of build and learn. Trying to find connections between your journey and someone else’s journey makes the experience more meaningful, and may help even the people most resistant to networking.
It’s not all about you. That may seem counterproductive for networking, but ask yourself with each person you meet if you could connect them with anyone else in your network? If so, they will be grateful for the connection and may be able to do the same for you.
Be on time. First impressions still matter, and being late is a huge deal breaker for a lot of people, especially now that your only excuse is another Zoom ran long, which may be the case. But be respectful of people’s time. You want them to be mindful of yours.
Dress up. While it may be tempting to wear your college sweatshirt and leave the camera off during a Zoom meeting, putting on a professional top shows the person/people you are meeting with that you put effort in. Think of it like a first date. You could show up in a sweatshirt, but you want to impress your date. Unlike a date, dressing up, basically over-dressing is always acceptable. Also, no one said anything about the bottom’s, you can keep those. We are still in Zoomland after all.
Seek advice, not a job. As a rule, asking for advice is often welcome. Asking for a job is like walking into a board room naked. It leaves you vulnerable and exposed.
- Say, “thank you.” Always, always, always say, “thank you.” Even if you did not get anything out of the conversation. Always thank the person/people you spoke with for their time.
Use “thank you” to follow up. Zooms and emails can feel overwhelming amid pandemic fatigue. Say you had a really great conversation with someone, but haven’t heard from them since. You don’t want the connection to slip away. This is perfect time to thank them for their time, add in a follow up question about something you discussed and suggest another conversation. Include dates and times you are available to give them something concrete to work with instead of planning for something in the future.
Brush up on your digital interface. This is how we interact with friends and family who live far away. Now it is how we do business. It is so much more than email and Zoom. Communication may not be in-person, but its importance remains vital.
Use technology to foster community. There are so many options. From social media to dedicated digital platforms, you can curate or join a community from anywhere.
Social media presence. If you are about to post something you would not want your grandma to see, you really should not be posting. Focus on crafting a work appropriate social media presence. It does not have to be stuffy and forced, but some things should not be out there for all the world, including a prospective employer, to see.
Do social good. Support is always essential, but the negative economic impact caused by the pandemic has hurt a lot of businesses, making support more valuable than ever. Use your social media to like, retweet and share what people in your network are doing with their businesses. It does not cost a thing, and can help their business.
Reach out. If there is an individual or organization you admire, figure out how to connect. Be prepared to ask questions about their craft, their journey and see if you can support their work.
Utilize your local colleges and universities. These are invaluable resources, who often have or will bring in industry experts in a field that may interest you. If they host an event, such as a workshop or a guest lecture, it will likely be free, or at least very affordable. Take advantage of having a space to learn. UNC Charlotte’s Center for the Study of the New South, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Atkins Library and the Office of Identity, Equity, and Engagement are hosting a series of virtual events on Dr. L. H. Stallings’ book “A Dirty South Manifesto.” The workshop series and discussion are free.
Get to know local networking groups. The National Association of Women Business Owners Charlotte chapter will host several events in April, including their virtual signature lunch meeting on April 13 at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members.