Just as COVID-19 has changed where and how we work, how we communicate with colleagues, and the ways in which we meet the needs of patrons and prospective clients, how we network has adapted to an era of social distancing and sheltering-in-place. For some, these changes can present a number of challenges, be it becoming familiar with a variety of telecommunication options, to learning to thrive in a more solitary environment. But for others, especially the introverted among us (hi!), the ability to create networking opportunities from the comfort of your own home is a welcomed change.
A number of major companies are likely to make work-from-home positions permanent — another sign that COVID-19 has undoubtedly altered how Americans work not only now, but for the foreseeable future. And there’s no reason to believe that the following network opportunities will remain long after the current public health crisis has ended. As we, as entrepreneurs and business owners, CEOs and working moms, continue to balance the needs of our businesses with the realities of the current moment (among many, many other responsibilities), we are presented the opportunity to get creative about how we meet new people, how we build potentially lucrative relationships within the confines of our respective fields, and how we can flourish in a virtual network environment that leads to more opportunities in the future.
1. Grow your social media presence
Yes, social media can be the actual worst — just ask anyone who isn’t a cis white male who dares share their opinion online. But it’s also an effective way to connect with people across the globe, create meaningful connections and relationships with people in your industry, and cultivate influence in a way that established you as an expert in your field. And for better or worse, a large social media following can make you, your brand, and/or your business more palatable to would-be investors and other potential partners.
Growing a social media presence (in a non-Caroline Calloway, “I bought 100,000 followers” kinda way) does take time and dedicated thought. In other words, it’s not as easy as it looks. And there are more than a few examples of companies, brands, and influencers who’ve tanked existing or future partnerships as a result of a problematic tweet or Facebook post. So if social media isn’t “your thing,” considering hiring a consultant or social media strategist to assist you.
2. Join relevant online communities
We all know there are a myriad of ways to build community, and for those communities to speak to certain aspects of our lives. Whether it’s an online mom meet-up, a BFF text chain, or a neighborhood Facebook group, we’ve long been reaching out to like-minded people without the need to actually leave our homes.
Take the time to do the same when it comes to your business. Be it the HeyMama community (sure, we’re biased, but we’re obviously the best), or another online enclave that best speaks to your specific work situation and/or area of expertise, establishing the chance for regular contact and the sharing of ideas, resources, and opportunities will only prove beneficial as you look to expand your network.
3. Build a website that includes a blog and post regularly
Building a website can feel daunting. As someone who put it off for 10 years because it sounded like a nightmare, I get it. But a website provides yet another opportunity to market yourself, especially one that is search engine optimized, showcases your work, success stories, or establishes your brand in an easily identifiable way, and highlights your social media channels and contact information. There are a number of online resources available that will assist you in creating a website, from Squarespace to Wix, and if you want to just throw money at the problem (hey, your time is worth it!) you can always hire a developer to build a website for you.
Having a blog, and updating that blog regularly, is another way to network online. While it may feel as though you’re shouting into the ether, regularly updating your blog with relevant content can establish you as a thought leader and, perhaps more importantly, showcase how in-tune you are to the ins and outs of your industry. Bogs also give you the option of cross-promoting content with parallel brands, and open up avenues for content-sharing partnerships and advertising revenue.
4. Attend virtual conferences
In-person conferences and industry meet-ups have had to pivot in the era of COVID-19, meaning many are now offering virtual options to continue to provide attendees with networking opportunities. At HeyMama (again, we’re biased!), we’ve always offered both digital and live events for working moms to establish industry connections, network, and learn more about current and future job opportunities, and have since converted many of our in-person events to virtual hangouts, online town halls, and other accessible opportunities.
But of course, we’re not the only online community offering virtual networking options! And if you have a favorite annual conference you were bummed to miss out on this year, check to see if they’re offering a virtual version and, if so, go get your networking on.
5. Weigh in on current events
Obviously there’s a lot going on right now, which means no shortage of issues to weigh in on. And while this doesn’t mean you must (or even should!) have an opinion on every little thing — especially things that are not in your wheelhouse as a professional and/or things you cannot speak to in an informed, authentic way — if there’s a trending topic that speaks to your business and/or brand, consider it an opportunity to establish yourself as an expert. Whether it’s posting on a professional blog, submitting an op-ed to a well-establish local or national publication, or speaking out online, publicly speaking with authority, passion, and nuance can elevate your brand and draw the attention of influential individuals, especially if you’re speaking on a niche topic that speaks to your strengths and will be noticed by those within your industry.
Networking can feel like a full-time job. Sometimes, it legitimately is. But the benefits usually far outweigh the time, resources, and finances you invest in creating working relationships. And beyond the possibilities these relationships can mean for your business, is the chance to feel more understood within your industry. These connections will provide you with opportunities to troubleshoot problems with those who’ve been there, done that, lament the downsides of your job without putting it in danger, and, let’s face it, bitch about the small-but-still-annoying aspects of working motherhood. Because like networking itself, it’s not always fun and games, but it pays off in ways both big and small.