Throughout my career in public accounting, I have been a big fan of networking and it paid off enormously in both my professional and personal life with a long list of business connections and friends. But recently, I found it more challenging to make new connections, while nurturing existing ones. This is in large part due to COVID-19 restrictions, which required us all to shift the way we interact—getting together in smaller groups, meeting virtually via Zoom, and sometimes simply picking up the phone or sending an email. Each and every touchpoint now needs to be more strategic and targeted to get the same results as in the past. In this blog post, I will share some nuggets I find useful to make powerful connections, not only during the pandemic but at any time.
Reach out to your connections
Before, we had the luxury to think there would always be another networking event, professional conference, or dinner to attend and networking opportunities would flow endlessly. With limited chances to connect in these traditional ways, we are left to our own devices, making it more important than ever to actively reach out to clients, referral sources, and friends in order to maintain and grow these relationships. All such contacts are very valuable and require us to make the most of them.
Have a plan
To maximize the connection process, it helps to have a plan, or a purpose, so you come away with a specific result. This might include researching the topic of discussion ahead of time. The days of schmoozing over a drink or going out for coffee are slow to return. In the meantime, we need to develop efficient methods to engage others. While it will look different for everyone, suggestions are to launch a joint project or solve a problem collaboratively. Regardless, it is an incentive to stay connected remotely after an initial kick-off.
Make it special
Small gatherings are becoming the norm, so there is an opportunity to make each meeting more personalized, more creative. Finding out what the other person enjoys can lead to choosing a memorable place to meet or bringing a small gift/token of your appreciation. And with the fewer number of people, it is manageable to send handwritten “thank you” notes afterward, returning to tried and true communication techniques.
To use your time wisely, it is good to pick and choose which meetings you want to attend, in-person or virtually. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the group one you want to explore? If so, attend a “test” meeting to find out if it is a good fit.
- Is the speaker someone you want to hear?
- Are the people you want to connect with going to be there? If so, who are they?
- How will you approach them? What will you say?
- Can I bring a guest? If so, who would be the most appropriate person?
Connect like minds
Connecting powerfully is not just about yourself. It can involve introducing people with similar interests and goals who could benefit from the connection. Consider inviting others to meetings with you, whether it be a mentee, a co-worker, or a friend. There is much personal satisfaction in helping individuals build their business connections, and there is always the chance they will reciprocate.
It does not always have to be serious. You can also combine personal and business connections in fun, creative ways, like holding a cooking class in your home for work associates and neighbors alike. Informal settings have a way of relaxing people and making connections easy.
As things have evolved over time, we keep learning how to compensate for isolation and stay connected. On the human level, connecting gives us energy and the ability to accomplish more than on our own. In business, it translates into higher productivity. Finally, time is valuable, and it is important to powerfully connect for optimum success.