Networking during a lockdown sounds like a contradiction in terms. And it is in many ways – for most of us our social circles have been reduced to immediate family, with the most exciting social events being online friends-and-family quizzes. Now does not feel like the time to go looking for business, or to suddenly embrace e-marketing for developing your client portfolio.
However, this is not to say that your networking efforts must come to a halt with the advent of working from home. There are many things you can do to stay relevant, to keep your connections alive and interested, and to demonstrate the angle of your professional persona that will favourably set you apart from others in your field.
Identify your professional lodestar
In my first blog on the subject of networking, I recommended taking some time to learn what motivates you and identify what you stand for, as a person and as a professional.
Now is a good time to think deeply about that purpose – an important lodestar to identify before you can network effectively. Although you may not necessarily be “quiet” right now, the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in may have led you to reflect on your usual routine, away from the daily distractions of the commute and your professional communities. Before normal life resumes, make the most of any quiet space you have to give some thought to what resonates most with you.
When you are in a permanent rush, it is easy to reach for the most obvious answer: “I want to be the best in my field” or “I want to help those in need of my professional assistance”, or even “I want to have a really comfortable lifestyle”. However, you are unlikely to speak with your most authentic voice if you talk of these as your professional goals. Think deeper.
A good networker is someone people like and trust, someone they will refer others to in the confidence that they will not be let down. Someone who reflects well on them. Achieving this level of trust is no mean feat, and in my experience the people who consistently get it right are the people who know what they stand for. They are authentic and speak from the heart, and the effort they put into identifying their lodestar is repaid in the benefits that result from growing a network of people who believe in and trust the professional who is at the centre of it.
Think about your professional legacy
Now is also a good time to think longer-term:
- What professional legacy would you like to leave?
- How would you like to be spoken of in the professional world?
- What would you like to inspire in others?
- What is your most profound message for your mentee, if you have one?
Once you have answered these questions, you can start thinking about how to realise the goals you have set and how to communicate the messages that are important to you.
You may realise, for example, that joining an organisation that shares your values will help you to crystallise your message. This could be a professional association, or a movement that brings together people who share and wish to promote a particular view.
Keeping up when you’re out of the office
I set out a method for keeping in touch with your network while out of the office in my second blog post on networking. Many of the recommendations I made in that post apply equally well to the situation we now find ourselves in, when we cannot meet our contacts, or our colleagues, in person.
You may not have prepared for this situation in advance, as I suggest doing before a scheduled career break, but try to put aside some time to give attention to your network as part of your lockdown routine. There are numerous ways of keeping in touch. Depending on the contact in question, you could send a casual message on social media or suggest a short call to discuss an issue rather than sending another email. Try to maintain some level of activity on LinkedIn so that your contacts can see what you are thinking about.
Take steps now to put the conclusions of your reflections on your goals and legacy into practice – technology means that there is no barrier to taking a step in a new direction from the comfort of your own home.
Not only will this help you feel more connected in these isolated times, but it will also mean that, as normality gradually returns, you will be able to recommence your in-person networking with a renewed sense of purpose, and reap crops already sown.