Networking with other advisors is undoubtedly a great way to improve your practice. After all, no one has a lock on all the good ideas. And it can be surprising—even humbling—to learn how others approach managing the many facets of their business. But in today’s socially distant environment, chances are you won’t be introducing yourself to people at live conferences any time soon, or even meeting over coffee with as much regularity.
So, embracing networking in a virtual world, despite its challenges, is essential.
How can you connect with colleagues, clients, and prospects in meaningful and productive ways when in-person interactions aren’t an option? If you’re struggling to translate some of your usual strategies for networking into a virtual reality, here are five best practices to help you get started.
1) Be Intentional
Let’s face it—if you don’t book something on your calendar, it probably won’t happen. After all, you’re a planner at heart, so come up with a schedule of specific days or times you plan to reach out to colleagues or initiate a new connection. Experiment with the medium—phone, email, social media, or a one-to-one video conference—to find what feels comfortable and works most effectively for you. Remember, it’s the activity and not the means that matters.
2) Increase Your Social Media Presence
Now is a great time to create or revisit your profile on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Make sure you have updated photos and messaging, and remember, being authentic is the key to helping you get the most from any of these platforms. It may be worthwhile to invest some time bolstering your LinkedIn activities. It’s free, easy to use, and highly visible, so it can be a great way to initiate and strengthen connections with people in the industry, as well as existing and prospective clients. And getting active on Twitter offers the added benefit of allowing you to connect with and follow people you don’t know yet but want to. Try to engage in conversations that help you showcase your strengths and promote what makes you different. And be sure to look for content you can share that helps you express your point of view and feels consistent with your brand.
3) Prepare Carefully for Online Interactions
While I’m a big fan of Zoom and its capabilities, I’ve seen my share of snafus and missteps. (Case in point: eating a salad dripping with dressing while you’re on video simply isn’t a good idea.) As a rule, you should prepare for a virtual networking meeting just as you would for an in-person meeting—especially when you’re introducing yourself to people for the first time. First impressions—even virtual ones—really do matter and can set the tone for future interactions. That said, you probably don’t need to dress in a full business suit to have an online conversation! Again, the goal is to show your authentic self. If, and when, you do have a face-to-face discussion with someone, it should feel like you’ve already met; there shouldn’t be a sense of shock over how differently you present in person.
4) Form a Zoom Study Group with Peers
Set up a recurring videoconference and invite a mix of advisors you already know and some you’ve been wanting to get to know better. This gives you a forum to talk about challenges and opportunities—networking or otherwise—and share ideas about leading your teams, connecting with clients, and reaching prospects. Include a few agenda themes you want to cover, and invite the group to share topics they want to discuss, too, so that everyone stays engaged.
5) Host Virtual Client and Prospect Events
Who says your clients and prospects need to be local to attend your workshop or event? Think carefully about the needs of the group you want to attract, and choose your topics accordingly. One advisor I know is using Zoom successfully to discuss planning needs for people who’ve lost jobs in the wake of the pandemic. By tailoring her messaging to solve for common mistakes and offering strategies for recovering, she’s been able to attract a wider audience with her digital workshop than she probably could have in person. While something like a dinner event may not work, you might be surprised to discover just how many topics translate well for networking in a virtual world.
There Is a Silver Lining
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us out of our comfort zones as we adapt to working remotely while balancing family needs, homeschooling our kids, shopping at a distance, and of course, networking in a virtual world. The good news is that we’re in this together—most of us are facing similar challenges and craving conversations with peers and others to help us problem-solve and grow. Against this backdrop, as you launch or reinvigorate your strategies for networking, hopefully you’ll find people are much more receptive than you might expect, and they’ll welcome and respond to your outreach with enthusiasm.