Plug in to Virtual Networking

A version of this post originally appeared in National Mortgage Professional’s March 2021 Issue.

You don’t have to be in person to make the right connections.

Networking is defined as the action or process of interacting with others and exchanging information, usually in an informal setting. Often, when people think of networking, they think of conferences or cocktail hours, but over the past year, these traditional connection points simply have not been possible. Even though the networking events we’re used to are virtually non-existent, the act of networking remains a critical component of relationship building. Due to our new normal, the way networking works has changed rapidly over the last year.

Why Network?

On its face, networking is all about growing the network of people you know. Maybe you met an important business contact at a virtual conference or connected with someone who may make a great mentor. Regardless of how you expand your network, the objective should be the same.

Networking is more than just adding to the people you know, it’s about meeting people and forming genuine relationships. These relationships should be with people that grow to like you and, most importantly, trust you.

Once trust has been established, both parties are able to add value. Keep in mind that it’s important to share information and knowledge with them that they can use or find helpful.

How Do I Network in a Virtual Environment?

Getting started with virtual networking can feel intimidating. It looks and feels different than what most of us are used to. However, virtual networking opens a unique opportunity to connect with professionals regardless of geographical location. Networking online can lead you to connections you never would have met at a conference.

There are three steps to remote networking – and networking in general. The first one is prep. Start by finding the right connections. Instead of reaching out to anyone and everyone on LinkedIn, ensure you are finding contacts that can create a mutually beneficial relationship. Find a common element that helps connect you with the other person.

After you have chosen the right contacts, it is time for step two: execution. How do you build a relationship with them virtually? Video calls are a great way to get face time with someone, even when you cannot connect in person. When video chatting, do your best to eliminate any distractions so that your attention isn’t compromised. In an effort to remain respectful of the other person’s time, use the time they have given you to the fullest.

Be creative with how you reach out to your connections. You may not be able to meet for lunch, but sending them a lunch or delivery service gift card is a great way to connect and provide a little extra value. Pay attention to their areas of special interest like pets or sports activities use those as creative touch points to express interest in their interests. By noting if someone is a foodie or has gone Keto it will not only assist you in your selection of a lunch gift card offering, it is a fantastic opportunity to support a local business and create another connection.

Social Media is another great way to connect with people and build relationships. If you take the social media route, take some time evaluating your profile and becoming familiar with how you look online. What are you saying about you? People will do their homework, so be mindful of how you’ve crafted your profile. If it’s the wrong message, there’s a possibility that you could risk an important connection.

The final step is the follow-up. Don’t let networking be a one-off, check-the-box agenda item. Be genuine and keep up with your connections. Some of your connections are likely juggling many responsibilities and may only need or have time to touch base quarterly. Other connections, depending on the nature of the relationship, may work better with monthly or weekly contact, to keep the relationship top of mind. Keep in mind that you don’t have to e-touch base all of the time; a handwritten note can even be more powerful. The open rate of a handwritten envelope is 99.2%! So, let’s mix up our correspondence.

Get Plugged In

Networking without face-to-face interaction can be difficult, but it is possible – and it can bring about new opportunities. Having a clear plan for virtual networking keeps you organized and ensures your relationship will start strong and continue to grow. Don’t let virtual networking hold you back – start connecting.

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