The difficulty that has been created by COVID-19 is different for everyone. Some people’s workload has disappeared overnight, while others’ work has doubled. People are facing fear, illness, loss of money and uncertainty, so the need for unity right now is high. It is challenging to know the best way to approach doing business while remaining sensitive to the seriousness of this situation. Here are a few ideas on how to effectively network during an isolated crisis.
Be Honest with Yourself About What You Need First
If you are networking because your job requires it, that is different than networking to try to find a job. Are you networking because you need to generate revenue (either personally or for your business) or are you looking to expand your network?
Believe it or not, this is actually a great time to network simply to make good use of down time, and build up connections for the future.
I believe the primary goal of networking is to better understand another industry or the needs of the person you are talking to. Therefore it is essential that when you reach out to someone and take up their time, you have a clear intent. In order to have that clear intent, you first and foremost have to be honest with yourself – what do you need right now? What value does connecting with this person bring to you? Is this the best time to connect for me?
One thing I have learned over the last month, is that you need to give yourself time. The professional environment for many people is changing rapidly, and uncertainly is high for an indefinite amount of time. It’s easy to feel panicked or worried, but be aware that if you are, people can sense that. Therefore, you have to assess your capabilities and make sure your approach is honest. Don’t offer help you are not in a position to give, and be thoughtful about what others might actually need from you.
Try to Establish Personal Connections Instead of Mass Outreach
Required email campaigns aside, if you are trying to build your business through networking, now may be the worst time to send a generic email. Everyone’s inboxes are flooded with businesses who are trying to shift their revenue models to a digital format. From virtual events, to online business meetings, to informing people about updated procedures – the list goes on and quite frankly, it’s overwhelming. People are already stressed – even people who haven’t lost their jobs – and personal outreach is a must for any good business. Be clear about what you want, the reason you’re connecting and remain genuine.
Many people are at home in PJs, or simply in a less professional atmosphere. People can’t go out and socialize, and the new normal is anything but familiar. Depending on your contact’s situation, interaction can be a form of comfort, or a chance to simply interact with someone they don’t live with. This presents an unique opportunity to genuinely connect. Everyone knows we’re all just trying to get through this challenging time and at the end of the day, we are simply humans doing our best.
Through this process it is important to remember that while many people may be doing ok, that doesn’t mean their friends and family are.
This may be one of the few times it’s ok approach others like you’re making a new friend instead of just another business contact.
Now this doesn’t mean you go throwing out profanity and making lewd jokes, but in the case for those with a lessened workload, many people are a little more open to talking, and open to learning from one another. It is valuable to understand how other people are dealing with the pandemic, and knowing that everyone is in the same boats, helps to make those you are talking to a bit more candid about the reality of their situation.
Try to be a little intuitive. How does the person seem? If you are calling people, do they sound sad or distant? If you are emailing or messaging, what is the person’s tone? People need a bit more empathy than usual, so ease up on corporate jargon and be relatable.
Be Helpful, and Don’t Expect Something Right Away
This is generally true for networking in normal circumstances, but it is even more true now. If you are only aiming to get something directly from your first interaction with someone, you might as well pack it up.
Networking is a great way to understand what is currently happening. Understanding the day-to-day experience of someone’s role can give you a different perspective on how their business or industry is operating. Many businesses that are still afloat are running lean, and by understanding how they are functioning, you may actually have something you can do – even if that requires shifting what you normally offer – to be helpful to their cause.
Now is the time of reinvention, and taking a look at what really works and what may not. Use this time as a learning tool. The key to networking in a time of crisis is by first and foremost being respectful and understanding of others.
So go ahead and talk to someone – hearing from you might be just what they need today.