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How to network remotely with other business owners during the pandemic

8 min read
Erik Deckers

Business owners who have mastered networking already know the value of it. We attend networking meetings, Chambers of Commerce events and business after-hours events. We'll even talk to complete strangers in coffee shops. That's because good networking done properly can lead to new opportunities and new friendships. I've been a constant networker for the past 15 years, and I can't tell you the number of introductions I've made to people or the opportunities that have come to me through a referral. But how do you network remotely now that COVID-19 has halted in-person gatherings?

Networking has slowed down for everyone in the last several months, but that doesn't mean networking opportunities are lost.

Even if you've never tried networking yourself, or you need to find some new ways to network with other business owners during the pandemic, we can give you a few ideas.

In this article, we'll discuss how you can network remotely while maintaining social distancing and following proper pandemic procedures.

Why should you network at all?

No matter what business you're in, you rely on customers or clients. And there are three ways you can get new ones.

  • You can cold call every single potential customer, but that gets disheartening after about a week.
  • You can spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing, but that's an expensive way to find out what works.
  • You can create a veritable army of people who are out selling on your behalf and they'll do all the work for you.

Networking lets you find possible new referrals without spending a lot of time calling people or spending any money on digital or traditional marketing. And when it's all over, you've met a lot of great people and forged some new relationships.

It works best if you focus on helping people before you ask them for help.

If you make it your goal to connect as many people as you can rather than focusing on what you can get, you'll see greater benefits.

Introduce a business owner who needs a website to a new website designer. Introduce your neighbor who wants to sell their house to your friend the realtor. Introduce a conference owner to a public speaker.

To find out what people need, just ask them. "What's a problem you're facing right now? What's a pain point you're trying to fix?" And then connect them to the person who can fix that problem.

If you can make introductions like these, people will want to help you as much as they can. If you can help people meet their goals, they'll do the same thing for you.

It’s still important to network during the pandemic

Just because the pandemic has canceled a lot of networking activities doesn't mean networking is over. If anything, it's more important than ever that you do it.

There are always chances to do in-person networking with social distancing, but those are few and far between. It will probably be a while before we go back to those kinds of events, so you need to learn how to network remotely.

If you're currently looking for a new job, networking is definitely going to be the best way to go. It gives you access to hiring managers by people the hiring managers trust.

That is, if I introduce you to a friend who's looking for someone with your skills, they're going to pay more attention when I say, "I know someone you should talk to" rather than just spending 20 seconds glancing at yet another resume in the pile.

Here are four great ways you can network remotely and still grow your business or find a new job.

1. Find online networking groups

Most current networking groups have moved to an online experience, so you can gather on Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts.

It's not as intimate and immediate as an in-person networking group, but it's still a chance to get together and meet new people.

There are groups like 1 Million Cups, your local Chamber of Commerce, specialty chambers like the Hispanic Chamber and other groups that are local to your city.

Just Google "networking groups near me" plus any variations, and see what you can find. Or check Meetup.com to see if there are any interest groups that appeal to you.

And if you can't find any, create one.

You're not the only one with the networking itch, so it should be easy enough to create a group and find people to join.

Related: 6 top-ranked business networking groups on the web

2. Up your social networking game

With all this extra time on your hands, why not spend it on social networking. That doesn't mean spending hours on Facebook. It means being strategic in whom you connect and communicate with. This is not the time for political arguments and cat videos. Do a search on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram (at least if you're a B2C business; most B2B businesses don't use Instagram).

Search for your ideal customers and people in your profession and industry.

Connect with them and then start having conversations with them. Ask and answer questions. Discuss industry- and job-related issues.

Share their blog articles and social updates. And share industry news for your particular field. Become a resource that people can rely on.

Related: How to promote your blog on social media

3. Host virtual coffee meetings

People are very carefully starting to meet in coffee shops and for lunch. If you and the other person are comfortable doing it, then find a shop where you can still network with social distancing and mask protocols. Otherwise, stick with virtual coffee meetings.

This is the time for you to actually get to know other people more in-depth. That doesn't happen at networking events. That's the time to find out which person you want to have coffee or lunch with.

Schedule a Zoom meeting (or Skype or Google Hangouts) or just a phone call, and talk to the other person as if you were sitting across the table from them.

Remember, people buy from people they trust and like, and that's true for referrals too.

If people don't feel they know you, they won't refer their valuable connections to you. Take this time to get to know people and let them get to know you.

And if you're still working, offer to meet with people who are looking for a job. Offer to review their resume, give references and referrals, and provide advice. These virtual coffee meetings can let you help some people who need it.

4. Keep in touch with past contacts

Networking is not just about adding new names to your address book, it's about keeping in touch with the old ones and letting them know you're still around. Have you heard the old sales saying that it's cheaper to keep old customers than it is to find new ones?

That also applies to networking. The people you met for coffee two and three years ago probably don't remember it — or have forgotten most of you talked about — so you should get reacquainted.

Make it a habit to email or text five people a day. Call one person per day and have a 20-minute conversation. Send someone a handwritten note, or better yet, a typewritten note twice a week.

I own a couple of old manual typewriters, and had some half-sheet letterhead printed. When I want to make an impression on someone, I'll type them a quick note and mail it. It stands out because not only is it rare to get a letter any more, but no one sends typed letters. (I've had people call me after I send a typed letter, which also makes it a great sales tool.)

Another friend had some 8.5- by 11-inch card stock cut into thirds (3.67- by 8.5-inches), which is the size of a folded letter. She writes a note on the card stock, pops it in a business-size envelope and sends it. It still makes an impact because of the novelty and the handwritten aspect of it.

Next steps

We're in an unprecedented time businesswise, and it's important that we stay safe and keep our employees safe as well. So when you're looking to grow your business, try networking remotely or at least networking at a safe social distance.

Follow these steps to network remotely with your business associates to keep growing your business. Find out what your contacts need and figure out how to get it to them. Help people who are looking for jobs. Meet with networking groups online, meet individuals for virtual coffee and keep in touch with the connections you've already made.

If you can do this, you'll help your business grow and you'll become an important resource to others, even after the pandemic has ended.