COVID-19 has changed a lot: how our children are being educated, how we attend business conferences, how we access healthcare providers, and how we attend religious meetings. Much of regularly scheduled programming has been converted to a virtual means. Include networking in your virtual landscape as it too will need to change to keep your networking on “green light” status. The “ABC Business Association” (fill in the name of your favorite business association) is no longer socializing during happy hours. The “Who’s Who Organization” (fill in your favorite city event) is no longer hosting the pre-reception for the annual fundraiser. The fundraiser has been cancelled. The “Retreat in the Sun” (fill in your favorite annual event that has walk-out beach access) has been rescheduled until 2021. You have adjusted in so many other ways. Do not allow the pandemic to slow your networking rhythm.
You have more alternatives than you may have imagined. Jeani Van Someren, Chief of Staff at Fractional Engagements, shared the COVID19 pandemic has enhanced her networking opportunities. “The ask is easier since it is a one to one request, versus attempting to gain one person’s attention in a group setting”. Jeani is using this period to enhance her networking exposure with virtual coffee, virtual adult beverage meet ups, and “get to know you” experiences coupled with a spirit of “how may I help you”.
Here are six few ways to keep your networking:
Keep Relationships with Mentors and Sponsors Alive. If you know the genre of books they enjoy, gift a book. Send them their favorite dessert. Have lunch delivered. The bottom line here is to send them a “favorite thing” that indicates you were thinking of them. Accompany any of these methods with a personalized note. Sending individually wrapped brownies from my favorite card and gift company, are always a hit…yum!
Reacquaint yourself with your known LinkedIn contacts. Select 3-5 people each month that you haven’t spoken to in 365 days. Call them or schedule a meeting time. Tell them something positive they do not know. I called Matthew Manfra, current VP for Institutional Advancement at Georgian Court University. We hadn’t spoken in 5 years! Our connection was initiated at Syracuse University when I was on VP of the Syracuse University Alumni Board and he was the AVP for Alumni Engagement. I shared how excited we were as an Alumni Board were when he joined the University based on his prior experience and results. He told me sharing that that “made my day”!
Help Someone Find Employment. 40M jobs have been lost in the United States during this pandemic. Wow! We are a country populated with approximately 330M. Based on the numbers, you know someone who has been impacted. This could be a former colleague. If you don’t know someone in this situation, ask a friend, and they will. Find out how you can help. Does your company, or board you serve, have a role that may suit their skillset? Can someone in your network offer guidance? Can you write a LinkedIn recommendation for this person based on your working relationship? An HR professional posted this message to her LinkedIn contacts, “If your job has been negatively impacted due to the pandemic, inbox me and let me know how I can help…resume writing, interview techniques, contacts, targeting companies, negotiating offers, etc”.
Check on Veterans. The coronavirus disease is expected to increase suicide risk for the general population due to economic, psychosocial, and health related challenges. This could be amplified for our veterans. My cousin Wayne Marcus, retired Command Master Chief of the Army started a challenge on FaceBook where each day a veteran does 22 pushups and tags another veteran for the next day to do the same. Each frames their own messaging reminding their network to check on veterans. You may save someone’s life. They will never forget your impact on their life.
Create Your Own Network of Belonging. There are so many new networks resulting from this pandemic: a block where kindergarten parents are connecting to jointly develop school solutions for the fall, people who are exercising virtually as part of a cross-country virtual group, and enthusiasts who enjoy the wine and spas of Calistoga CA the same time each year. Set up a way to stay connected regularly: a Zoom, a Group Me, a WhatsApp group. When I was scheduled to move to Boston for a new job I was celebrated by six going away celebrations consisting of small groups of the top women in leadership in St. Louis. Some of them didn’t know one another yet gravitated to one another based on commonalities. I created one GroupMe called STL Girl Magic as a method to keep us connected. During COVID we have virtually celebrated awards, noteworthy mentions, and new businesses formed.
Support a Non-Profit of Someone in Your Network. Lots of people are doing good deeds and giving their time and treasure to support a cause. Non-profits are experiencing challenges with donations and their regular forms of fundraising, particularly if the fundraising is based on events. Let that “someone” know you would like to make a monetary donation to their cause of choice. If you do not know the organization(s) they are a part of, consider that a homework assignment to get the answer and surprise them with your thoughtfulness.
Random Acts of Kindness. Remember networking is about giving. You should never expect anything directly in return. Great things have been known to happen when people give from their heart. In Jennifer White’s book, Strong Heart Awakening she quotes “If you don’t receive enough, have a look if you give enough”. If you see a way to aid someone else, say something or do something. For example, if you are at a drive thru, offer to pay for the meal of the car behind you. If you know someone who is struggling financially during this pandemic offer a helping hand with no expectation for return. Here are other ideas.
Keep your network alive during the pandemic. You have worked too hard to have your networking rhythm interrupted now. So….get to work!