By Essie Bester
The development of a good network is crucial for professional business leaders. In addition to improving your judgement through regular access to independent perspectives from people who will put it straight to you, it generates career and business opportunities.
A well-developed network also serves as a support mechanism that can help you manage unexpected market or career disruptions and personal challenges.
However, you must remember that networking is much more than a numbers game and/or exchanging information with others, and it is certainly not about begging for favours either.
Networking is about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with people with whom you share connections, such as those you meet while standing in line to order your morning coffee, participate in an indoor sports league and/or when you attend a work conference or business school.
Although Covid-19 is currently placing constraints on the way we can form, maintain and expand meaningful networks outside the workplace, it is still possible through virtual networking.
Tips to become an effective virtual networker:
A major advantage of virtual networks is that there are no geographical constraints. For example, The Ivey Academy, a world leader in advanced management training and professional development, regularly hosts free interactive lectures and virtual chat sessions on topics ranging from resilience to innovation in times of crisis.
Other online networking opportunities can also be found. Search for events that interest you and use them to forge new connections all over the world.
- Use Google or LinkedIn for research
After signing up for an event, make sure you go back to the programme and write down the names of the speakers that interest you. Then follow them on Google, LinkedIn and other social networks to find common ground and/or to learn more about their work.
Take note of the most important information and contemplate how to use it when reaching out to them. Doing your homework will make the other person feel comfortable and receptive when hearing from you.
- Make sure you have something to say
In addition to the theme of the event, your research should lead to a few thoughts on how you want to involve your speakers. You can easily grab someone’s attention by preparing well-planned questions that can be food for thought. Think about discussion points and specific feedback that you can share shortly after the event.
- Be clear about what you want the outcome to be
Make sure you have a specific goal. Make sure you know what you want from the interaction with the speakers you are interested in. Would you like to ask a question, or would you prefer a personal Zoom call? Do you hope this person could be a potential mentor, or provide leads for a job or connections within the industry?
Establish how he/she can offer you the most value, and be clear about your goal. Make sure you always mention how you could also use your resources to support him/her.
- Follow up and/or maintain contact
If you have not heard from anyone after more than a week, you can follow up politely – your email could have been lost the first time. If you successfully make contact with him/her and the person offers his/her time in any way, make sure to thank the person and then you should keep in touch in the future.
This can mean regularly sending updates of what you are doing as well as friendly emails to acknowledge the person’s milestones, or to offer assistance for upcoming projects.
- Diversify your network with active participation on platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
Remember, your profile is the first thing someone sees when searching for you online. Therefore, make sure it is accurate and complete as well as brand positive.
Create and publish useful content that has the potential to inspire your connections to like, comment and share. Participate by responding to content posted by others, and use it to strengthen existing connections or make new ones.
Like a friendship, a professional relationship must be nurtured constantly. Of course, virtual networking will never have the power and impact of a personal connection. Therefore, while networking online, you should constantly think of ways to maintain and deepen your connections when bigger events, where you can be physically present, are possible again.