If you're anything like me, you don't always have time for traditional networking, i.e., taking time out of your hectic week to drive to an event, spend time talking to people who are usually unqualified leads and then following up with anyone who showed promise over email or phone later that week. It can also be exhausting to try to fit it all in. And while there's a lot to be said for meeting people in person, I believe we could be doing this more effectively, especially for those of us who aren't the best at the traditional way of networking or who have limited time for scheduling extra events in the middle of the week.
And let's be honest, traditional ways of networking are not effective for everyone all the time. Sure, it's great to grow your network, but how many times have you gone to a networking event and felt like you didn't take away a single warm lead from it? Or how many times have you walked away with a few leads you felt were solid only to follow up with those leads and hear nothing but crickets?
Well, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to know how to work a room to be an effective networker. You can still form and grow a solid network when you work from home, and you don't have to necessarily lose time commuting or gathering business cards to remember who to contact after an event.
Here are my top 7 tips for effective networking when you work from home.
1. Make time for one-on-one meetings instead.
You don't have to attend every in-person event near you in order to reach those in your local area. Instead, choose to set up one-on-one meetings and nix those large mixer events. Let the person know you'd like only an hour of their time, and make it clear what you plan to talk about so that you've also given that person the courtesy of feeling prepared. After all, it can be very draining to attend those large networking events. There are too many unknowns. A huge perk of networking in one-on-one scenarios is that if the other person agrees to meet, no one's time is wasted and you can make a more serious and effective connection. It will certainly be a more memorable one. And you can look up plenty of information about the other person and their business or organization in advance. This way, you can rule out some of those unknowns and show this person that you did your homework.
2. Send valuable information.
Instead of trying to think of something intelligent to add to a conversation on the spot at a networking event, take the time to research leads/prospective clients and send them something that is worth their while. This should be something of interest to them that they would not normally be expecting from you. It could be an article you saw that might interest them, a blog post you wrote that applies to them and what they do, or even a handwritten note (major points here, as it's not that common anymore to send handwritten notes--people love them!).
Do you sell a service that might help them in their day-to-day? Offer to give them a sample of your work that they can use free of charge. I'm not saying you should give away your work or time, but think of something unique that will make them want to keep talking to you. Whatever you choose to send, it ought to be something more memorable than just your business card.
3. Network virtually.
If you're really wanting to do business with someone, one of the best things you can do is follow them on social media and interact with them. Is your lead someone who posts regularly on a topic you are knowledgeable about? Take some time every day to work on your social media game. This includes interacting with others you follow and would like to do business with. You could even include them in one of your posts as a great shop, resource, role model, you name it. Whatever you do, give credit where credit is due and be as classy about it as possible. Also, check your "networking" posts and comments for punctuation errors, typos, etc. before you hit "publish". Even if you mean well, publicly misspelling the name or social media handle of someone you want to get to know better is not cool.
4. Send them a congratulatory note.
A very kind way of networking with someone is to congratulate them when you see they've made an accomplishment, accepted a new position or recently celebrated a milestone. Don't take this moment to hock your services. Just say "congrats" and be personable. That's all. They'll remember you for it.
5. Meet online if you can't meet in person.
While in-person meetings are ideal, technology allows us to "meet" with people we might not normally ever have the chance to sit down with. For example, just this week I had a virtual coffee meeting with someone in another state and another with a client in Europe. These are people who I would normally not have been able to sit down with as easily due to geographical challenges. Take advantage of the amazing and free technology out there and give it a go. You'll feel comfortable in your own space and there will be none of that first-time-meeting awkwardness that can sometimes come with meeting in person. You can still make a great connection and most likely have a more engaging conversation than you could at a large networking event.
6. Use your email list.
Maybe you've heard this advice before, but use your email list. Seriously. Don't depend on the power of social media to do mass networking for you. As people say--and it's true--social media accounts are rented space. That's made obvious every single time Instagram (and other platforms) change algorithms. You have no idea if you're even showing up in your followers' feeds. But in people's inboxes? Now, that's a place you know you can show up. So, work on building your email list and use emails to network with current clients, leads and people who have similar interests. Set up an email capture of some sort on your website and start sending out emails to your list on a consistent basis. Provide them with valuable information that makes them excited to see your emails pop up in their inboxes.
7. Let your other social gatherings double as networking opportunities.
Now, I'm not telling you to start handing out business cards at every social gathering you go to. But when the opportunity arises, be ready. For example, when I'm in public and I get asked about what I do, I've already got a brief elevator speech ready for anyone who might be a prospective client. And you better believe I have a business card or two in my bag should they ask me for more information.
Be ready to meet people in unexpected places--airplanes, your child's soccer game, the public library, church events, wherever you spend your time that's not your home or office--because isn't that how things go? You never know who you'll meet or who you'll be standing next to when you're waiting in line somewhere. It's not strange. It's smart. Don't spend a lot of time talking about yourself, or this may come off as being too "salesy". Just give the person your information and request theirs as well. You can follow up with them later in a more appropriate way.
There are so many ways to network that don't involve taking time away from your family in the evenings or losing large amounts of time from your workday. No more attending an event and leaving with a fistful of cards and knowing that only one or two of those people might be truly interested in what you do/sell.
Think of some ways you can effectively communicate with your target audience that work for you and your lifestyle, schedule, etc. Be creative and think outside the box! People will remember you more for these things and your business cards won't end up in their trash can.
Lastly, don't be afraid to set up a very limited number of meetings per week or month. For example, I only meet with people on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the most part. Stick to what works for you and what allows you to be effective in your business and grow at your own pace.
For a very refreshing perspective on networking, let's consider Jackson Spalding's take on relationship building instead of traditional networking as well.
"Networking is about meeting people. A big difference. Networking is a task while relationship building is a commitment. It’s more long term than short term, more quality of relationships than quantity. Networking can be superficial, while relationship building is always about professional and personal sincerity."
So the next time you think about your need to network in order to grow your business, shift your mindset to how you can actually build relationships and invest in others. The returns will be much greater.