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At a time marked by a lack of in-person connection, the power of networking has never been more critical. Despite social distancing provisions and the total shutdown of large in-person events and gatherings, entrepreneurs continued to find support, comradery and friendship through their networks. And as the impacts of the pandemic continue, it’s evident that leveraging networks will remain a top priority. But how can this be done tactfully, given the current global limitations?
One perceived benefit of socially distanced times has been ease of access to others around the world. With no other way to communicate or continue to build a network, entrepreneurs were quick to create, sustain and support their global communities through social media, virtual events and new products specifically designed for forging online connections. Entrepreneurs know just how critical a robust network can be for building a thriving business. Although reopenings will continue, these tips on connecting with your network from a distance will be helpful for moving forward.
1. Join online groups
There’s no shortage of online group opportunities for connection, learning and sharing. Facebook groups host entrepreneurs of similar backgrounds and industries and networking groups host virtual events with speakers, happy hours and workshops. These online groups are a must-use resource for expanding your network, as many of them allow participants to ask for help and offer some assistance of their own. The more of these groups you can have a hand in, the better — but make sure to be engaged. This way, you build that recognition amongst the group, so when the time comes when you need to leverage the network, people know who you are.
For example, many entrepreneurship online groups work as support hubs. Spend some time answering other entrepreneurs’ questions or offering to get on brief phone calls as you can. Build a name for yourself virtually by inserting yourself into the conversation. You don’t always need those in-person interactions to make yourself memorable.
2. Offer help and assistance
One of the best ways to forge a relationship with key stakeholders or other founders is to see where you can help. This can always be done virtually. Think about it this way: If you were to receive a direct message or an email from someone offering to help you in a way you’ve been looking for, you would certainly take the phone call. In fact, leading from a place of service is one of the only ways to stand out from the online noise. Pay close attention to what other participants share in online events and networking groups, and see how you can help. Or ask around to offer your expertise or connections in your specific area.
An example of how this helped one business thrive was with B.ZAAR Collective. As an online marketplace for Southeast Asian designs, founder Monica Recto knew that she needed designers to source the products. “Presence is everything,” Recto explained. “Both via phone calls and in-person visits, I proved myself as an ally and someone who could help, rather than just being a customer or someone asking for assistance. By telling them why I was hoping to connect and what their inclusion on the online marketplace could entail, it was easy and straightforward to forge symbiotic partnerships with many designers.”
This can be done online — Recto was introduced to many designers through councils — but also don’t be afraid to go to someone’s place of work or office, especially as reopenings continue. This face-to-face interaction, in tandem with your offer to help, is sure to build your network.
3. Host virtual events
Attending virtual events is always a great way to build your network, but hosting your own is even better. Hosting an event gives you authority in your space and positions you as an expert. For example, suppose you’re a software developer and you host a virtual Hackathon. This is a powerful way to connect with other software developers and businesses in need of software development. The nature of virtual hosting also requires a great deal of communication with attendees, speakers, partners and others.
People also like to attend events with friends — even when they’re virtual. Many invite friends over to tune into virtual events together. This brings more eyeballs to what you’re offering, leading to more exposure and credibility in your field.
4. Ask for easy help
Finally, don’t discount the ability to ask for easy help via social media. Many artists and entrepreneurs have taken to platforms like TikTok to ask for help with exposure in the same way as crowdfunding campaigns. It goes like this: A musician shares a song they want to release soon, and they ask the viewer for a like, share or comment if the song resonated. This works and can take off like wildfire with the virality that these online platforms offer. And, it only takes a few shares to get the ball rolling. Ask friends and your online network for this help off the bat, such as sharing your video or post onto their Instagram stories or even just commenting on your content for the algorithm’s sake.
Remember that human nature is about connection and people enjoy connecting and helping others. The more you can extend a hand of help, friendship, advice, or even ask for the assistance you’re looking for, the better. Networks are built by creating and sustaining lasting one-on-one relationships over time. And, pandemic or not, these networks will always provide powerful leverage opportunities.