The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic supports a saying I firmly believe: We’re all in this together. It’s a philosophy that holds true not just societally, but in business as well. The most successful entrepreneurs appreciate the value of community — in other words, the “two heads are better than one” philosophy. Accordingly, learning how to build a network is more critical than ever.
To be sure, figuring out ways to network when so many people telecommute can be challenging. Today’s remote working culture further amplifies the importance of making business connections nonetheless. When your commute involves walking into the next room, you definitely need regular engagement with your peers — even if you can’t be with them face to face.
Of course, your ego might tell you that you don’t need to know how to build a network because you’re pretty good at figuring out what to do. That’s what egos are for, and they’re pretty handy. However, developing relationships with other successful people can advance your career and remind you that you’re never alone. You’ll gain information faster, obtain insider insights from fresh perspectives, and feel supported in your toughest moments.
Let’s face it: Life can throw some major curveballs your way, even if you’re pretty darn confident. Every now and then, my own self-assurance gets rattled. It’s uncomfortable. And when I’m shaken, I lean on my network (as well as my family, friends, and faith) to keep me buoyed. When you’re facing hurdles and setbacks, you can do likewise.
Networking isn’t just for the rough patches, though. A strong network bolsters you during the good and exciting times. Being able to share ideas helps you look at problems and opportunities from different viewpoints. When I started my first entrepreneurial venture, I didn’t have money and wasn’t sure how to proceed. So I reached out to my personal network. My father-in-law loaned me $10,000 not because I was married to his daughter, but because we had built a sense of trust and rapport. In other words, we established a connection based on mutual appreciation.
How to Make Business Connections (and More Helpful Networking Advice)
If you’re interested in hearing more business networking advice, I have a few tips to share. They’re practices that have worked for me over the years. They’ll work for you — even if you’re working from a home office and doing everything online or over the phone. Let’s dive in:
1. Recognize that networking and selling are different. When you’re adding someone to your network, remember that there’s an honor code between you and the other person. You shouldn’t try to get in his or her pocket, attempting to glean something for nothing. It’s wrong to have a hidden agenda or focus only on yourself.
So how can you stop your sales side from taking over? Use your ears. I always tell people that I’ve grown old enough to listen. If you stop talking and start truly taking in what your peer is saying, you’ll construct a genuine foundation.
2. Lead with a helpful attitude and meaningful purpose. Whenever possible, commit a random act of kindness for people in your circle of influence. Find something you can do for them, such as introducing them to new connections or giving them sage counsel. Don’t just turn to your network when you need something — because they’ll withdraw.
Along these same lines, be clear with yourself on your purpose for bringing people into your network. Do you want to learn about their industries? Do their preferred hobbies fascinate you? Do you think that you might one day want to go into business together? The clearer you are on why you’re building networking connections, the more you’ll give to and get from the experiences.
3. Practice artful, thoughtful networking. You’re about to contact someone on LinkedIn to set up an appointment. Now’s the perfect time to put on your thinking hat and find ways to go the extra mile. Why? To be perfectly truthful, no one’s going to jump through hoops to chit-chat with a stranger or a casual acquaintance.
Therefore, make it easy to get together by setting up a time that works for the other person on his or her preferred platform (right now, that’ll likely be Zoom or FaceTime). Put all the meeting planning responsibilities in your court so the person can just show up.
Knowing how to build a strong network carries with it so many positives. You feel more empowered to take risks. You know you can always get a second opinion from reliable sources. You have the chance to share your gifts. And you never have to go through anything — including COVID-19 or suddenly being forced to work from your dining room table — completely alone.