Want to build your professional and business network in the pandemic? Was your success reliant on being able to attend chamber or BNI groups that just aren’t the same (or non-existent) right now?
This is the second in a 3-part series about options for you and your small business to try innovative and, actually, long-time successful methods to build your network.
In the first part of this series, which you can read HERE, the main focus was on taking a real (not superficial) interest in other businesses. Learn about them, offer to help them where you can, and never use that opportunity to try for a quick sale. It’s like building a real friendship, except this one is professional.
There’s a reason that was the first tip. It’s the most successful method we’ve found, and one we’ve seen work both for our business and for other clients we work with each day. But there are other ways, and depending on what type of business you have, or what service you provide, this may turn out to be an even better method for you.
Give others a reason to join your network
So much of building networks today is based on our ability to get out of the office, meet people, share business cards and find mutually beneficial professional relationships. Yes, we can do some of that with online portals like Zoom, but we all know how awkward those can become, how rigid they seem, and how difficult it is when the audio doesn’t work or the chat gets lost.
Sure, there are some who have become Zoom masters, and they’re spending the entirety of the day in that space. If that’s what works for them, great. My guess is, the reason you’re reading this article is because you don’t want to spend your entire day on Zoom.
And if you don’t, one of the best things you can do is to give people a reason to seek you out. Instead of you having to make the connection, instead of you doing the uncomfortable work of striking up a conversation and hoping there’s an ability to expand your professional network, what if you were the person everyone wanted to call? What if they were looking for your email or your LinkedIn page. If you can get to that point, you can start picking who you want to allow in your network, and you may have more control over it than even when you felt like you were at a cattle call.
So how do you make people want to follow you and connect with you?
Get your business in line with the most customers possible
I’m putting this first because it’s the most difficult. Best to go ahead and get it out of the way.
The best example I can give of this is the distillery business during the pandemic. Early in the COVID crisis, the nation found a glaring lack of hand sanitizer available. To help fulfill that need, a lot of places that produce vodka or gin or whiskey converted parts of their distillery to producing hand sanitizer. Of course we all know that stuff smells horrible, but that doesn’t matter. If it kills germs, we’ll take it.
They may not have realized it before, but these distilleries didn’t just fill a need. Instead, they created an entirely new network of business relationships. Grocery stores that didn’t stock liquor began stocking their product. Pharmacies bought it. Individual restaurants bought from them.
What these distilleries did was pivot their business to the most customers possible at the time. And if they’re smart, they’ll take the new relationships they’ve built (their expanded networks) and use them in the future for more business ventures.
If your business can alter what it does to fulfill a very specific need for more customers during this time, you’ll automatically multiply the people in your network.
Do something that helps others
This sounds way too cliché, but it’s worth your consideration. We all have causes we support, and maybe those causes are in need of extra support right now.
It’s never good to give with the expectation of receiving something back, but when it comes to the future of your business, it’s just good marketing for you to give something back. There’s a reason the biggest companies in the world have entire divisions focused on philanthropic endeavors.
Sure, those companies are doing it because they want to make their individual communities better, but you can bet your savings that they also know earning goodwill in the community is a sound business strategy.
If there are organizations you can help, especially those with the biggest needs right now, the work you do today will build loyalty for your brand in the future. You’ll also build your professional network in the process.
Be an expert in your field
No matter if you install mufflers or perform surgery, the world of marketing and building a network rewards businesses who are considered the experts in their field.
Here’s the best example I can give you: If you go online and search for “Tax tips for small businesses,” the first posts you see (after the paid-for links that cost a lot of money) will be from accounting firms. There’s a reason accounting firms write blogs about tax tips, and it’s clear as day. If you’re sent to a website and find the article you want, you’re more likely to trust the author of that piece. And what do you know? The author was an accounting firm. All the sudden, they appear to be the experts, and if you need an expert, you’re very likely to reach out to that specific firm when you need tax help.
It’s the same in any business, and it’s why every good marketing plan (COVID or not) suggests that good businesses be experts in their fields. The way consumers look for products today is so different from even five years ago. They’re looking for businesses who know what they’re talking about. And the only way they’ll know is if you’re producing information, whether on your site or on social media channels, that shows people you’re an expert.
Jonathan McElvy is the CEO of McElvy Partners. His company includes the Greensheet, The Leader, Fort Bend Star, Charlotte Media Group, Coastal Bend Publishing and Texas Printers. He has managed and owned small businesses for 20 years. If your business would like to talk more about your individual needs, click HERE for contact information. You can follow him on Twitter @mcelvy.