How to make the most out of online networking
Networking in the COVID era is not for the faint of heart.
As an active freelancer or small business owner you probably used to attend conferences or networking events several times per year to meet your potential clients, mingle with like-minded people, take your skills to the next level or share your expertise.
Now, when everything has moved online and many people suffer from Zoom fatigue, networking becomes more challenging than ever. So, how to make sure you can still keep learning and making connections when face-to-face meetings are out of option? What can you do to make the most out of virtual networking events?
1. Be prepared
Online or not, the rules of networking stay the same. And the rule number says: “Prepare in advance”. Start from checking the attendee list and planning who you’d like to talk to. Research information on people you want to connect with, for example via LinkedIn, to find common ground or learn about their experience. Write down or memorise anything that strikes you and think how to incorporate it into your potential conversation.
Remember also to do some research on the theme of the event. Whether it’s a discussion on recent social media trends, combining entrepreneurship with parenthood or passive income for freelancers – do your homework and make sure you have something valuable to say.
Think about thoughtful questions, interesting pieces of information, remarkable facts and statistics or anything else that would bring value to the discussion or help you get attention of people you want to connect with.
2. Set your goal
When you sign up for an online networking event, you usually do it for a specific reason. Do you want to learn something new? Show your expertise in the specific field? Connect with potential customers? Or simply extend your network? Make sure you know what pushed you to hit the “Register” button. Set your goal for the event and prepare accordingly.
Remember not to get too wild with your expectations. You probably won’t find your perfect client after a merely 2-minute talk via Zoom. But you may get your contact’s permission to follow up via e-mail or have a chance to explain your thoughts in a separate, private call.
Networking is not only about taking, it’s more about giving and sharing. So, apart from setting your own goals, don’t forget to help others reach their goals as well. Maybe you can share your expertise with someone looking for help with a specific issue? Maybe you can forward the request of other attendees to your colleagues to help them find the right partners for their next project?
Keep your networking outcome in mind, but focus also on supporting and nurturing others.
3. Keep your promise
It’s easy to move networking down your priority list, especially if you’re swamped with regular work or feel drained from the constant use of technology. As many online conferences, webinars or networking events are usually recorded, you might be tempted to abandon the live session for the sake of you urgent projects and decide to watch the recording at a later time.
Except that… you won’t have that time! And it won’t be the same as attending the sessions live. I’ve been there and I’ve done that too many times – registering to great events in advance just to find out in the last minute that there’s something more urgent waiting for me, such as a new project, new customer’s request, family turbulences. A quick vision of a recording that would be available in the blurry future would make me change my plans, abandon my networking agenda and move to other seemingly more important tasks.
Luckily, a feeling of guilt and thoughts of lost opportunities became so pronounced that I finally learned to keep the promise made to myself. That is: showing up for the networking events when they actually take place. There might not be another chance to learn and connect with new people, you may never have time to watch the recordings, if there are any at all. So, to stay safe, schedule your networking event and plan other activities around it. Just as you would in the case of face-to-face meetings.
Online networking doesn’t have to be challenging and exhausting. In fact, it can give you extra confidence boost, since you are already in familiar surroundings which is your home office. All you have to do is to prepare in advance and make sure you can contribute meaningfully to you conversations and discussions.
Over to you
How do you prepare for your online networking events?
Do you prefer to network offline or online?