As the world opens up, the time is ripe to make new connections, meet clients, and create new partnerships.
As quarantining and lockdowns were ramping up, tech giants and video-communication platforms evolved to meet the rising technological needs of social distancing. At the same time, entrepreneurs had an opportunity to creatively address the sudden increased demand for virtual connection. This resulted in more virtual networking opportunities than ever before.
The networking game has likely changed for good and business leaders must adapt. And, as with any business goal, there needs to be intentionality and strategy to achieve success.
THE BENEFITS OF NETWORKING
Networking has many benefits beyond just meeting new potential clients and customers. A business network that includes deep and regularly nurtured relationships can give your business an invaluable resource from which to draw.
Having a pool of like-minded individuals ensures that you will have the chance to bounce your ideas off someone when you need it. When tackling a challenging problem or striving toward an ambitious goal, there are often blind spots that we miss if we do our research solo. Sometimes just articulating the issue or idea to someone else will spark new solutions in either your mind or theirs. Likewise, if you have people in your network who bounce ideas off you, they may spark inspiration in your own business pursuits.
AN EXTRA RESEARCH TOOL
There are so many research tools at our fingertips these days. If you are researching an area that you are familiar with, you can usually be done in a matter of minutes with a few Google searches. If you are venturing into new territory, however, it can be difficult to know where to start—and even what questions to ask. Suddenly, the amount and accessibility of information becomes overwhelming instead of helpful. In these times, having someone in your network who has been where you are hoping to go is an invaluable resource.
Having a strong network will give you more confidence as a business owner and entrepreneur. Not only can you get extra feedback on your big decisions and ideas, but you can see real-life examples of people who have “been there, done that.” You can learn from the mistakes of others as well as your own. This can make all the difference when you are in the position of having to take risks.
TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND TRENDS IN NETWORKING
The best networking apps make networking straightforward and intuitive, allowing you to make strong connections in your field. LinkedIn has steadily risen to the top of professional networking apps over the last 15 years and has expanded into the areas of hiring and education, although it remains a solid option for business networking. The main downside to LinkedIn is that the vast number of users across nearly every industry can make it difficult to find the right connection.
Let’s take a look at some of the new trends I’m seeing in networking platforms.
“DATING APP STYLE” SWIPING AND MATCHING
More exclusive apps are gaining popularity in both the business and social networking worlds. Invitly is one example of an app with a much smaller pool than LinkedIn, but the restricted access means there is little to no spam. Additionally, Invitly offers member benefits like mentorship and uses algorithms to connect users to people who can help further their career and business goals.
Lunchclub is another app that matches users to connections that make sense for their professional goals, and also simplifies the setup of virtual one-on-one meetings by allowing users to input their availability right into the app. Shapr and Bumble Bizz also use “swipe right” algorithms to match users to other professionals based on mutual interest.
The app that first introduced the world to audio networking was the social media platform Clubhouse. After seeing the success of Clubhouse, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, announced that Slack would be integrating several Clubhouse features into its platform. LinkedIn and Twitter have also replicated these features, embracing the idea of audio networking.
Social networking apps are becoming more and more niche, and this idea is beginning to take off in the professional networking realm. I predict it’s a trend that will only continue to gain traction. Fishbowl, for example, is a professional networking app that started out by inviting only those in the fields of consulting, accounting, and advertising. As the technology becomes more advanced and accessible, it is likely that more networking tools will become specialized in order to stand out.
HOW TO BUILD A MODERN NETWORKING STRATEGY
The first step to building on your professional network is to make a detailed SMART goal. Spend some time identifying what you hope to achieve and the time frame in which you hope to achieve it. Make sure the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
Once you set your goals, take an EQ self-inventory. Networking is, at its core, relationship building. It has a lot to do with emotional intelligence and requires a readiness to let others in. Take some time to revisit your values and identify any emotional triggers or unresolved feelings that may interfere with your ability to build new relationships.
After you have set your goals and values with intention, you’re ready to dive into the “new normal” of networking, whether that’s virtually or in person. Identify people who are in your extended network with whom you would like to build stronger relationships, and try new platforms to identify people who you don’t know but would like to bring into your network.
In the “new normal,” professionals will be able to utilize virtual networking platforms while also making face-to-face meetings happen. With all the available tools and developments at our fingertips, everyone has the ability to create a strong, meaningful professional network. If you start with a clear goal and a detailed plan, you will be able to build the network you’ve always wanted for your business.
Founder/CEO @ GetVoIP, a global comparison resource for business technology buyers.