We talk these days of ‘connecting’ rather than networking, and if business social media platform LinkedIn is anything to go by, it is easier to ‘connect’ with other professionals virtually than face to face.
With the cutting back on face-to-face social events, and the move to online events that this past year has seen, this has opened up a whole realm of new possibilities. Letting others know what you’re interested in via your online profiles is a great way to start, as then you can let others do the work for you by coming to you.
For many, connecting with people virtually has long been standard practice. I have had some great experiences this year of connecting with people online, booking up a Zoom call, and having a useful and pleasant exchange. For the introverts among us, this can be a less stressful approach, as you can hand-pick the people you want to talk to, where you are already sure there is commonality of interest. A simple email, message, or comment on a LinkedIn thread can open the door to a request for a conversation.
Be visible and authentic
The key to making these opportunities is to ‘be’ in the spaces where you will find the people you want to connect with. This could be in relevant LinkedIn or Facebook groups, or if you follow topics of interest to you via hashtags for example, being visible, e.g. commenting on another person’s thread that has relevance to you. My style is to ‘work out loud’ and share my thoughts on topics of interest via my blog and article writing. This has led to several new connections, and the conversations that follow are always easy as there is a starting point of interest. Interestingly enough, it is often the personal things that are shared that drive a connection. As a Brit working in the Netherlands, I’ve been contacted by others in the same situation, some of whom ‘found’ me by reading my personal rather than my business blog.
Keeping in touch
Being in a new country and having to refocus my business, building a supportive network is key. I have had conversations with several professional peers this year, people that I only met through being visible on and offline. Usually the conversation ends with ‘let’s keep in touch’. Sometimes we mutually agree to have a conversation every 6 weeks or so, for some it is open-ended. Having had that initial introductory conversation, establishing common ground and areas of interest, dropping an email to arrange a follow-up chat or to ask a question doesn’t feel difficult. And actually, there is something very special about building professional relationships with people outside of your existing network or workplace, as you know that these are relationships you have created and fostered yourself where there is value both ways.
Keeping in touch applies to your old network also. Dropping an occasional message (via LinkedIn if you don’t have email addresses) or commenting on posts is a good way to keep a warm connection.
Invest in relationships
As with all relationships, however, you get out of them what you put in. I connected with a lady after a comment I made on a Diversity blog she shared. We had a Zoom chat, and found we had some common understandings around Diversity and Inclusion training. Over the year we had a couple more conversations, each with no particular agenda other than to check-in with the other. Genuine shared interest is the best way to lay a foundation. It is that foundation that has led us to the possibility of discussing some shared work projects, something which would not have been possible after just one conversation.
Reciprocity is a key ingredient to successful networking, which really is the fore-runner and seedbed for a potential professional relationship. Of course, when you talk to someone for the first time, you have no idea how things will progress. But there’s something about being open, and not looking at your agenda, but being considerate of the other person’s needs and how you could be of service to them.