The biggest change in the way many folks work is that it's now largely remote, with collaboration and connection happening virtually. Sure, there are opportunity costs of the migration to a more heavily remote working dynamic (like not being able to gauge body language), but there are also big upsides. For example, there's the increased access that virtual networking offers by removing the need to be in the same location or even country as someone else. There's also the comfortability win (shout out to my sweatpants) of being able to connect with people from a physical location where you feel at ease.
So, though the way many folks are working is different than it was several years ago, the benefits of making new professional connections and nurturing existing relationships remains. You should never feel the only thing standing between you and an opportunity is luck; we each have the power to create our own trajectory, and the first step to getting there is finding the people who can support you. With that in mind, check out out my best virtual networking tips to excel in this landscape.
11 virtual networking tips that allow for useful connections
1. Reframe what networking means to you—virtual or not
If networking feels inauthentic or transactional to you, you’re likely doing it wrong! Networking is about building community, paying it forward, and being of service to others. Think of it this way: The more people you know, the more people you can help (and can potentially help you).
2. Get clear on your goals
Consider what you want for yourself and the kind of people you want to meet. Get clear on why you want to expand your network and what information and access you're seeking. Understand what you're passionate about and what you want to learn. Being aware of these things will help you ensure you don't wait to network until you need something, which can have the effect of feeling transactional.
3. Focus your energy but cast a wide net
You can do this by using hashtags on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram and by going through the guests of your favorite podcasts and conference speakers. Tap into your network’s network by posting that you want to connect with [fill in the blank] and ask for referrals!
Also, take advantage of Twitter lists (plus follow other people’s lists). You don’t have to be active on the platform to use this function—I barely tweet—it’s just a good tool for keeping things organized.
4. Get active
Make yourself visible by commenting, sharing, and tagging other people’s posts online. This is helpful for making a connection while also providing value to the community. Plus, it should take you less than five to 10 minutes. Even a quick, “loved this article!” goes a long way.
5. Reach out to the organizer
A few days before an event (whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid), ask if there’s anything you can do to support someone else. Whether it’s to get the word out, check people in (if in-person), or help to moderate an online chat, the event or group organizer will appreciate your offer. And they probably have a large network that you can maybe tap into later on down the road.
6. Be specific
When you contact someone for virtual networking purposes, introduce yourself, share your LinkedIn or other personal website, and be clear about what you’re looking for. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for the right people to connect with you.
7. Don’t be afraid to do cold outreach
Though we all may have experienced it differently, the pandemic was something we all have in common on some level. As a result, I’ve noticed an increase in the people’s openness and generosity to network. So don’t be afraid to do cold outreach as long as you follow these suggestions:
- Make it personal and specific—be clear about why them and what you are looking for.
- Respect their time by offering a number of ways to connect. For example, meet in person (offer to buy them coffee), hop on a call, or continue by email. When you suggest a call, make it for 20 minutes so they don’t feel like you’re asking too much of them. If the two of you click, you’ll probably get more time.
- Be (politely) persistent. If you don’t hear back, wait a week to reach out again. Say something like, “I’m sure your inbox is really full. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t fall through the cracks…” and then reiterate what you originally wrote.
8. Follow up
When you finally do connect, whether online, on the phone, or in person, send a prompt follow-up note thanking them and letting them know what resonated with you from the conversation.
9. Stay in touch
Relationships require time and consistency. For example, forward articles you think they’d find interesting, or even potential speaking opportunities at conferences or on podcasts. Also, include an update about you, especially if it pertains to something that was discussed at your original meeting.
10. Be a connector
One way I’ve expanded my network is by being a connector. When I meet new people and learn about what they do (or want to do!), I start thinking about my network and anyone I can potentially introduce them to. However, connections need to be meaningful, and it’s an important responsibility to connect people in a way that is respectful of everyone’s time, energy, and interests.
Ask permission of each person you want to connect with before you connect them (it’s called the “double opt-in.” Be clear about why you’re making the connection and what they can get out of it. If you are the person who is being connected, express your appreciation. Also, make sure you actually follow up with the person you’ve been connected to, otherwise you’ll look flaky and it will reflect poorly on the original connector. Whatever happens next, keep the original connector updated so they know you followed through and what came of it.
11. Don’t let insecurity hold you back
If you’re not feeling particularly inspired, whether you’re out of work or just don’t like what you do for work, I understand that can be rough. Instead of focusing on the negative, though, talk about the challenges you'd like to solve or the things you enjoy. You can also be candid about what you’re looking for since you never know what connections the person you’re talking to might have, or their willingness to help. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain!
Connections can be made anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. Never underestimate what you and those you’re connected to can do for each other—if not today, then in the future. Seize every opportunity you have and create them when they don't exist. You may not get a yes every time, but that’s okay. Your life can change with one single yes, and I promise doors will open. Now all you have to do is walk through them.
Claire Wasserman is the author and founder of Ladies Get Paid, an educational platform, global community, and book that helps women make more and live better. Join her virtual bootcamp, Get Into Your Life (October 26–November 30), to help you harness your mental, emotional, and financial potential so you get on the path to prosperity.
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