Our small business networking events have always been a source of good conversations and valuable professional connections. The social events and hand shaking days are evolving into safer, and often remote options to meet people and spark conversations about project and partnering opportunities.
Always Have a Remote Option
You know the excitement of getting a great referral to a person or company that may have a lot of synergy with your current business endeavors? That excitement can spur people to offer a meeting over lunch or coffee, which is a normal first step. Until our businesses return to normal operations, my suggestion is to check with the new connection as far as their comfort level with an in person meeting. Recently, I reconnected with a colleague via LinkedIn and she asked to meet for coffee but offered a phone call if I was more comfortable. This was earlier in 2020, so I erred on the side of caution and requested a phone call. Regardless of your personal health or opinions on how viruses spread, the people in your network will have many differing views and all should be respected.
Capitalize on the method of communication that is available in the moment. For example, if you are participating in an industry specific conference or webinar, the webinar hosts may invite the guests to “introduce themselves” in the chat window. I have experienced this, and it is a great way to identify others in your field or outside of your field that could spark conversation, partnerships, and opportunities. You are able to scroll through the individual participants’ intros and skip over the ones that are not relevant to you. If you see a good one, it is so easy to chat with them individually within the webinar’s platform and explain why briefly you think that synergy exists. Remember, that you are also listening to the webinar presentation, so keeping it brief is key. If the conversation continues, feel free to ask for their email address or phone number to continue the conversation outside of the webinar. Follow up with them after the webinar and use that conversation as a jumping off point to discuss your shared interest in the webinar’s topic and how you can offer mutual help to each other and your individual business endeavors.
Additionally, stay on top of your social media channels and set aside time to scroll through your feed. This process does not require a huge time commitment, but it will give you updates on your professional network’s job updates, request for help, accomplishments, etc. These are all wonderful conversation starters and keep you up to date with information that you would normally get by attending social events with your network. Social media channels are also a great way to share your own updates and accomplishments with your online audience. These channels are smart enough to recommend connections and topics of interest that may also be helpful.
With all this said, I encourage you to be wary of screen fatigue. Understand that your colleagues spend hours of their day looking at a screen and will appreciate your attempts at keeping conversations succinct without sacrificing camaraderie.
Serve Customers with the Same Commitment
Our customers are often our most valuable network. We must find ways to offer the same level of customer service to retain customers that have millions of product and service options at their fingertips. This year has taught us that customer service is just as important as it always has been and requires new strategies to keep customers safe. I have noticed many company’s websites ramping up their access across their website and social media channels. Virtual chat boxes with customer service agents are more prominent and very easy to use. They have been really helpful when I’m searching for answers on products or services after hours or even during the day, when I don’t have time to wait on the customer service phone line. So, this is one option to offer customers quick and easy service that fits their crazy schedules and can be achieved quickly and easily.
As far as the holiday season, find a way to personalize gifts and end of year thank you’s to long term customers as well as prospective customers. The holiday season is a great time to rekindle old leads and express gratitude for those who have given you and your company sales and opportunities.
Have a Virtual Open House or a Virtual Q&A Session
A new way I read about to offer your customers an “in-person” experience is by “opening up” your office in a virtual open house or Q&A. These live events could be a great way to build rapport with your current network and invite new prospects to attend. There are many ways to make the event memorable like having the attendees mix a signature drink recipe to enjoy during the event or a raffle prize to give to a drawing of those in attendance. Your network will enjoy the camaraderie that is created when they are able to see you and maybe your partners or employees in your office space in a less casual setting than a meeting with a strict agenda. It can be a great place for those outside of your industry to find out what it actually is that you do and what products or services you offer. This in-depth knowledge will aid those in your network in giving you referrals and recommending you for opportunities.
I’ll leave you with the quote below that I found very uplifting and encouraging. As we build our professional networks, trust can be the glue that keeps our relationships strong and fruitful. I’ve found that my professional network has given me wonderful opportunities and long lasting trusting relationships. I’ve found that when trust is deteriorated, the benefits that could come from the relationship can be sacrificed. Even so, take heart, this quote can give encouragement as we all network in the new and best ways that we can.
“Use the adversity of the current situation to strengthen trust within your culture. Trust does not control; it helps pull people forward, from the current challenges toward a shared future purpose.” –Rachel Botsman
Mastering Time Management and Productivity Newsletter on LinkedIn By John Hall