What You Need to Know About Virtual Networking
For most freelancers—including me—virtual networking is something new and strange. I’m a big fan of in-person networking. Meeting people in person at live networking events will probably always be the best way to make key contacts and begin to build the strong, trusting relationships that help you grow your freelance business.
But with most live conferences and events cancelled and other in-person networking opportunities on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual networking, also called digital networking, is the only way for us to network right now. Even when things start to open up again, it will take time before most people are willing to attend large events, especially if getting there requires travel.
A Meaningful Way to Network
So by the time things get back to normal—or the new normal—virtual networking will have taken hold. It will have become a productive and meaningful way to do some networking.
“It is unclear how the world will look or be when this is all behind us,” says Megan Burke Roudebush in 8 smart ways to keep networking while you’re stuck at home. “However, what’s clear is with the possibilities that technology provides, meaningful networking can be done digitally. All you need to make that happen is a focused, achievable strategy that prioritizes thinking about where you and the people in your network are right now, and where you want to be.”
Also, virtual networking takes less time and effort than in-person networking. Some types of virtual networking is free. When there is a cost, such as participating in a virtual conference, the cost is usually much less than the live event and you don’t have to pay for travel, meals, etc.
Relieve Loneliness through Virtual Networking
Relieving loneliness is an important benefit of virtual networking.
Even before the pandemic, life as a freelancer could be lonely. Other freelancers, who we meet through networking, help us deal with the ups and downs of freelancing. They support us when things aren’t going well and celebrate our successes with us. And they can give us practical advice about running our freelance businesses.
Now that we’re socially isolated by social distancing, our freelance friends are more important than ever. Nearly half of American adults are feeling socially isolated from family and friends and are struggling to maintain their physical, mental, and spiritual health, according to The Social Distancing Survey conducted by Harris Poll for Samueli Integrative Health Programs.
Also, our freelance friends are a great source of referrals—the easiest way to get high-paying clients.
But we need to network to make freelance friends and to build the strong relationships with them that lead to referrals.
Virtual Networking You May Already Be Doing
Some of the things I’ve been doing—and things that you’re probably doing—are actually virtual networking.
Staying in Touch with Freelance Friends
Since the pandemic started, I’ve been staying in touch with my freelance friends more often. One-on-one networking with people we already know is a great way to build strong, trusting relationships. You can start by simply emailing freelance friends and other colleagues to ask how they are doing. Then you can suggest a phone call or video chat.
I’ve mostly been staying in touch with my freelance friends by email. But I’m going to start doing some video chats on Zoom. Before the pandemic, I wasn’t comfortable being on video or using Zoom. I became comfortable doing these things because I knew I needed to.
“Talking to people face to face always helps enhance the connection,” says Frances Bridges in How To Virtually Network In The Midst Of A Global Pandemic. Zoom is not the same as in-person networking, but it’s the best we can do in the COVID-19 environment. “Maintain a robust, virtual social calendar in spite of occasional awkwardness and tension of getting accustomed to a new routine,” says Bridges.
“If this technology is new to you, this is a low-pressure way to learn,” says Amy George in 3 Easy Ways to Virtually Network. “Maybe reach out to someone you know who’s a pro at Zoom– or Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting or whatever– and ask them to connect and show you the ropes.”
Being More Active on LinkedIn
During the pandemic started, I’ve also been more active on LinkedIn.
Not only is LinkedIn a great way to network virtually, but being active also helps you rank higher in search results when clients are looking for freelancers. And many clients are searching LinkedIn for freelancers now. They’re also using LinkedIn to check you out before contacting you when someone refers them to you or when you market to them.
Your LinkedIn activity is one of the five things LinkedIn uses to rank search results. The #1 thing LinkedIn’s algorithm uses in ranking search results is your profile.
Develop a LinkedIn Profile that Will Attract Clients
Being active on LinkedIn means sharing content and engaging with other people on your content and their content. Whether you’re posting your own content (posts or articles), responding to comments on your content, or commenting on other people’s content, always be professional. You can do this in less than 2 hours a week.
Learn More About LinkedIn Activity
“LinkedIn was made for virtual networking,” says George. “Peruse your connections and ask yourself who you haven’t caught up with recently. Message connections to say they’ve been on your mind and ask if they want to catch up by phone or video. Maybe make it a goal to message a certain number of connections a week and to book a certain number of “meetings” each week, too.”
Meet New People through Virtual Networking
Meeting new people virtually will be harder—and scarier—than staying in touch with people we already know or meeting new people in person. But since most of us are feeling isolated and lonely these days, people are likely to be receptive to networking with you.
This week, I attended my first virtual networking event, signed up to attend my first virtual conference, and offered to do a virtual presentation and networking session at a professional association conference.
Right now, I don’t know much about virtual networking. But I’m learning, because I know it’s going to be important to freelancers. My first virtual networking event was definitely different than in-person networking, but it felt pretty comfortable.
Start Your Own Small Networking Group
After you get comfortable with Zoom, you could start your own networking group. If you invite a few people you know and ask each of them to invite one person you don’t know, this will be an easy way to meet new people.
Meet New People on LinkedIn
You can also meet new people on LinkedIn. A large network—at least 500 relevant connections—also helps you rank higher in search results. Now 500+ connections may sound like a lot, but it’s actually quite easy to reach that level. And having 500+ relevant connections could give you access to at least 250,000 people.
When you invite people to join your network and when you accept connection requests from other LinkedIn members, focus on:
- Other freelancers you know
- Freelancers and other colleagues from your professional associations
- Other people working in your industry(ies).
Learn More about Building a Large, Relevant LinkedIn Network
Meet New People in Your Professional Associations
Use the member directories of your professional associations to look for other freelancers who could be good connections for you, and colleagues in organizations you would like to learn more about or work with. Email each colleague to introduce yourself as a fellow member of XYZ Association who is interested in building your network.
Attend Virtual Conferences
Virtual conferences will be offering networking opportunities as well as education. Whatever format virtual networking at virtual conferences takes, remember that networking—whether virtual or in person—is not about “selling yourself.” It’s about getting to know people.
And most best practices for in-person networking apply to virtual networking too.
Attend the virtual conference with a positive attitude and an approachable manner. Make networking easier by focusing on helping others without expecting anything in return, or giving more than you take. Ways to do this include:
- Listening more than you speak
- Asking questions about the other person
- Sharing relevant information and content
- Connecting people who would benefit from knowing each other.
Learn more about Networking Best Practices
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Learn More About Virtual Networking
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