In my last coaching session, I struck a realization as my client and I were having a conversation. The entire year, globally has been a wild roller coaster ride. Leaders who were previously not familiar with remote working styles have had to learn quickly. Employees have also been encouraged to find ways of managing work and the chaos in their homes so they can be as productive as possible. We have basically found ways to make what is impossible possible. And now with the intensive reduction in face-to-face human interaction, I have been asking myself how do we network? COVID-19 has impacted many things, one of the most important ones being our ability to openly and freely network.
Many jobs and businesses, especially entrepreneurial jobs heavily rely on the ability to develop and nurture relationships within one’s workspace and in the wider pool of industry professionals and experts. Even before COVID, networking was still a mystery to most people. And now that it has become more relevant, how can we find appealing ways to reach out. Simply put, network is the art of building alliances. It is a highly relevant skill that takes practice, practice practice. And why is such a skill so necessary? A quick survey in your own little space will reveal to you that most business positions are filled through referrals from peoples’ networks. It is the skill that makes you well-known to others, so that when an opportunity springs up, the likelihood of you being called is multiplied in folds in comparison to your slim chances of being noticed.
In April 2020, the Guardian wrote that the disruption to the world’s economies caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to wipe out 6.7% of working hours globally in the second quarter of this year – the equivalent of 195 million jobs worldwide. This insight was provided according to the UN’s labor body. This has increased the pressure on the already large unemployed numbers looking for jobs. Meanwhile, networking has also become very vital, although restrictive due to the COVID crisis.
A Berkley article explains that many people are intimidated by the word “networking” because they feel they do not have the personality type and/or skills to pass out business cards to a roomful of strangers or function like a social butterfly. The secret of networking is that not every attempt will be successful. You must make as many attempts with as many suitable candidates as possible. Networking is less about you and more about the person you are interacting with. It is like making a new friend at a party but in a slightly more formal way.
One safe way to network these days is through LinkedIn. There are still opportunities to build fruitful and meaningful relationships with people with this social platform. There are several online discussions relevant to your industry or related industries. Hop online, find these groups and join the conversation. Send short introductory messages privately to people you want to connect to. Remember to keep to a formal tone instead of friendly and familiar. Although not everyone will answer, some will. You can start from there. Remember we are not seeking perfect scores. We are looking at progress. And before you get into all of this, polish up your profile with your most recent work engagements, etc. Theresa Merrill, a Career Development Coach also says, “Post content that speaks to your audience’s needs and acknowledge their content with a “like” and ideally add a comment to start the conversation. Then follow-up with an invite, or direct message, telling them why their post spoke to you.”
Alisa Cohn who is an executive coach who specializes in work with Fortune 500 companies also recommends that business leaders turn canceled conferences into private networking opportunities.Identify participants who were supposed to attend or speak and find something you have in common that might make them interested in meeting you. You can email them or send a message on LinkedIn saying something like, “We were both planning to attend [conference] this year. I had been hoping to meet you there, because I saw that we are both involved in X research and I thought it might be interesting to chat. Since the event was canceled and we are all grounded for the moment, I thought I would reach out virtually instead. Let me know if you’d like to meet for a coffee over Zoom.”
There are some key practices to adopt if we are successfully going to network in this era. With these 4 keys, you can practise and challenge yourself with each new interaction.
- Be proactive
Increasing your visibility requires intentionality. Be proactive in finding new ways to network daily such as emails, social media, webinars, online group chats or whichever technology feels most comfortable to you. This way you will stay top of mind and be exposed to new information more readily. And then you need to be clear on your delivery. Answering these questions will bring you clarity. What do you do when you connect or establish contact? Are you prepared technically, mentally and physical for the challenge? Do you know the profile of yourself you want to communicate? What do you know about the people you are about to connect with? You must have all of these in check to actually achieve anything worthwhile. You also need to have a fair idea of the type of people you want to recognize you. What about you is special that you want seen? Is it a special project you worked on? Is it the way you speak and dress? Is it your remarkable presentation skills? Your “WHY” you want to be seen must meet adequate preparation with “WHAT” will be seen when you get their attention.
- Dress to connect with your audience
Know your audience and mirror them! What field of business is your conversation in? If it is an art focused meeting, it may be smart to drop the suit and tie and go for something more fashionable and vibrant to connect with your audience. Same can be said for any political meeting, technology-focused meeting, etc. If you are a leader or an aspiring one, still make sure that your choice no matter how casual or formal still reflects the traits of a leader. Your personal style can always shine through so you exude confidence in what you’re wearing. Mirroring your audience does not mean you should match exactly what they wear or pick out a piece you will feel uncomfortable in. You must always feel at ease in your attire.
- Speak up, speak out
The art of speaking has become a relevant skill I share all the time. From high-level executives to entrepreneurs and employees, one common yet important skill they realize they need is that which allows them to have meaningful conversations. Do not limit yourself to your job title. If there is something you see can be done better, speak up about it. Be open and forward with what you want to achieve. Do not be afraid to admit verbally what your dreams are. The people factor is one of the most essential parts of our lives, love, work and businesses. Any day is a good day to discover new people. Do not limit yourself when the world is waiting for you to explore it. Engage everyone else. There are always new things to learn. Make it a point to actively connect in the virtual meetings. Do not miss meetings, out of office conferences and any avenues that will bring you closer to the people you want to connect with. But before you attempt to network, understand why and how you are going to network.
- Think long-term.
“Even if you are not in an urgent job search or your business is not forced to curtail activities due to quarantine restrictions, what you do now can have a major impact on what opportunities flow your way down the road. If you have a business, connect with customers to share updates and ask how you can support them even if they are not in a position to engage your paid services. Provide free tools if you are able, either through your organization or others that might benefit them. If your current employment situation has not been impacted beyond an increase in working remotely, recognize anything can happen. This is not meant to instill fear, but rather meant to instill action. Staying connected to your network, helping others where possible and building good will can only serve you well in the future.” – Forbes, 2020
There are still many ways to build professional relationships while staying safe. Those opportunities are all around us. Pay attention, be intentional with your attempts and stay focused on what it is you want to achieve. The most powerful tool you have right now is your ability to adapt and adopt new skill sets that will be relevant to others. Make sure you have something to offer when you come to that table. You will gain visibility and you will be valued.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017. She has also been featured on CNN.
She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and @dzigbordi across all social media platforms.