If you’re an entrepreneur, networking is an important tool for growing your business and building connections to your audiences. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic (aka “The Before Times”), it was easy enough to strike up a conversation with someone you met at an event and trade business cards. Shared kitchens in coworking spaces were our modern-day water coolers, where people could connect, exchange ideas, and learn about what was going on in the community.
In a virtual world, those connecting moments are still entirely possible, but they have to be more intentionally curated. Rather than waiting for everything to go back to “normal,” you may want to use this time to keep making connections and build out your networking skillset. Plus, even as in-person socializing resumes post-Covid, the business world will continue relying on virtual formats more than before. So let’s talk about how you can create fruitful networking opportunities and put your best virtual face forward!
At its core, virtual networking or online networking is similar to in-person networking but with some unique prep work involved. Whether you’re looking to build your network from behind the screen or over the coffee machine, these tips will help you take your networking to the next level.
Start By Creating a Digital Profile
Your connections will be made virtually, so it’s important that your digital profile is reflective of the image you want to put forth. And with the wide reach of virtual events connecting people all over the world, you should be ready to exchange information with potential contacts at the drop of a hat.
Making sure your digital assets are up-to-date will keep you connection-ready so you don’t find yourself scrambling to gather information when the opportunity to connect arises.
Polish your image
In a professional setting, sites like LinkedIn are easy ways for someone to learn about your background and brand. Be honest: when was the last time you looked through your work history and skills to make sure they reflected current responsibilities and accomplishments? Giving this a quick spruce will ensure your contacts are getting the most accurate picture of who you are, and what you can offer.
Tip: Turn on notifications so you can be sure not to miss a connection or message!
Create a digital business card
In person, we often carry around a stack of business cards in our wallets. Online, we may find ourselves scrambling to find links and email addresses to exchange when a virtual event is wrapping up.
To make sure your contact information is ready to go, you may want to create a note on your devices with relevant information, such as your name, pronouns, professional website, and email address. Think about what you want to share and how you want people to contact you, and make sure the information you give out reflects that.
Hone Your Networking Skills
Some people are natural-born networkers. But for many of us, it takes some development and exposure to really feel comfortable in this arena. Devoting some time to develop networking skills will pay off in the long run.
Add networking to your routine
Set aside some time every week for cultivating your network.
Maybe one week, that means attending a virtual conference with people in your field. Another week, that could be writing a blog post on trends in your industry and sharing it out on LinkedIn.
Tip: Sometimes, gamifying or quantifying your goals can help you achieve them. If motivating yourself to attend networking events is a struggle, set a target for the event. For example, “I’ll attend this Unity meetup and share my code with two other developers.”
Strengthen your networking muscles
If networking doesn’t feel natural or you’re feeling out of practice (who among us has gotten our fill of social interaction this year?), seek out programs that can help you strengthen your relationship-building or speaking skills.
Events such as Skip the Small Talk help you cultivate skills to make deeper connections in your networking. Venture Café also offers a networking session at the start of their Thursday programs where entrepreneurs can pitch themselves, ask for help, or just meet other attendees. These sessions are guided by experienced hosts, so they offer a supportive environment for those still finding their networking groove.
Tip: Self-identified introvert? You’re not alone! Workshops hosted by BostonSpeaks can also give you individualized training to get over any social speaking that public speaking may spark.
Make Your (and Their) Time Count
Okay. Your digital profile is polished. You’re feeling confident and excited to make connections. Now what?
It’s not about making connections just for the sake of making connections; you want the time you’re spending cultivating your network to be impactful. And in a virtual world, we have more demands on our time than ever. How can you ensure your time, and your connections’ time, is used most effectively?
Go where the people are
Curating your network will help you build a community with the people who you’re looking to connect with, and ensure the resources you’re looking for are within reach. Attend events in your industry (start with the CIC calendar, or search on Meetup or Eventbrite), or join groups relevant to your industry on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Tip: If you meet someone at a virtual event, make sure you follow up on the connection, whether that be sending a “nice to meet you” email, requesting them on LinkedIn, or both.
Build a personal connection
If you’re reaching out to a speaker or someone you had a conversation with at an event, make it personal. Don’t send generic messages; instead, try to highlight something they said in their presentation or something you talked about together in a breakout group. A little personalization goes a long way in networking!
Tip: If possible, have your video turned on during networking events. Your image helps people get to know and remember you, and establishes trust.
Target your ask
Why do you want to be connected with someone? Have they problem-solved something you’re still trying to figure out? Can you use their expertise on your project? Are they working on something you think you can help with?
Rather than just exchanging contact information, make it specific. You’re more likely to be remembered and build something valuable from a direct ask. For example, “I’m looking for someone to help build my website,” or “I’d love to get your perspective on how you began hiring specialized roles on your team.”
Tip: Be concise! An entrepreneur’s time is precious. Niceties are…well, nice, but make sure your ask is easy to find in the body of an email and doesn’t take too much of your contact’s time.
If you’re overtly trying to sell yourself or your product to your connection, you aren’t building a meaningful network. You want to show people the value you and your company bring, which is why it’s so important to make relevant connections who can benefit from your knowledge, and vice versa.
Tip: Writing regular blog posts or sitting in on panels can be a great way to show your expertise in an industry without being salesy. Talk about trends and challenges in your industry and what you’re doing to fix them. If you can be helpful, people will more easily remember you and want to reciprocate.
Follow up and follow through
As important as making sure you’re connecting with the right people, you want to be someone with whom people are excited to connect. If you say you’ll send someone an article or resource, make sure you do so in a timely manner. We’re all moving a mile a minute these days, and you want to follow through with your connection while you’re fresh in someone’s mind.
Tip: After an initial introduction, suggest scheduling 20 minutes for virtual coffee. Apps such as Calendly can make this a breeze!
Putting Your Virtual Networking Skills To Use
There’s no one thing that makes an effective networker. Rather, it’s about forming good habits, finding the people with whom you want to connect, and making sure you’re providing your network with resources as well. Check out the CIC events calendar for ideas on where to start, and happy networking!
Get more tips for innovators and entrepreneurs straight to your inbox!