Networking these days is even more important than ever -- especially given that millions of people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Networking is also critical for business leaders who are seeking new ways to grow -- finding new customers, partners, and talented people who can help them innovate or gain access to new markets.
To network effectively these days, you have to do all the right things that mattered before the pandemic without being in close physical proximity.
Here are four rules for networking during the pandemic.
1. Use Your Connections to Get an Introduction.
Ask an intermediary who knows you and the person you are trying to meet to make the introduction. If that intermediary is trusted and knows both of you well, then the initial meeting will benefit both of you more.
Such introductions happen much more naturally when people are attending business conferences in person. Consider the case of medical student Maraya Camazine, who was looking forward to attending a conference with others in the field of trauma surgery this September.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, Camazine missed the fluidity of being introduced in person that she would have enjoyed before the pandemic. Instead, Camazine participated in a videoconference sponsored by the trauma surgery association that she described as a "stagnant chatroom."
There is no easy solution to this problem. Rather than participate in such virtual conferences, ask colleagues whether they can introduce you to people who might have attended such networking events in person. After the introduction, conduct a videoconference with them. While that meeting will lack the spontaneity of liaising in person at a conference, the health risk will be eliminated and you are still likely to achieve useful results for both of you.
2. Reconnect With People You Haven't Spoken to in Years.
If you have been in business long enough, you may have worked closely with many people in different jobs. You've kept in closer contact with some, and others you have not spoken with in years.
Reconnecting with such colleagues could be more helpful to each of you than another call with someone that you just spoke with a few months ago. After all, those whom you have not spoken with for a long time may have had new experiences that could be helpful to you as you face your current business challenges -- and vice versa.
3. Craft Your Message to Benefit the Recipient.
If you are just starting off as an entrepreneur and lack a well-developed network, you must master the fine art of the cold contact. These days, that won't happen by walking up to the person you want to meet as they are leaving the office for lunch.
Instead, you may contact them via LinkedIn or another social network. The key to doing this successfully is to craft your introductory message to them so that it clearly benefits them -- rather than asking them for a favor that helps you without benefiting them.
This seems like second nature to me. Yet I often receive invitations to connect on LinkedIn from people I don't know who see that I have invested in startups and think that it can't hurt to send me their standard pitch letter. Sadly, I have never received such an invitation from a sender who had invested the time to make a compelling case for why his cash emergency could be an opportunity for me.
Do not make this common mistake -- instead take the time to research each person you want to meet and communicate how a networking event could benefit you and the recipient.
4. Follow Up Persistently -- but Don't Be a Pest.
If you do not hear back from a person with whom you want to network, don't assume all is lost. You should follow up, but if you try many times in quick succession, you could quickly be thought of as an annoyance and permanently be ghosted.
There is a way to follow up without being a pest. For example, you could resend your introductory email and add links to some articles that might be of interest to the recipient or might help demonstrate the benefits of a partnership between you and the other person.
That kind of follow-up may not work all the time, but the additional time you spent thinking of how to help the recipient will increase your chances of helping them realize that it would be worthwhile engaging in a networking conversation.