Think You Can’t Network Because of COVID-19? Think Again.

It seems like it’s been a year since I was in a room with more than ten people.

More recently, I’m hearing this a lot: “We’ve ramped up our direct mail and digital marketing to reach our market, but I really miss interacting with people. I’m ready to start “networking” again!”

The word “networking” used to be confusing to me. I thought that in order to be networking actively, you had to be at a networking event. But over the years, I’ve learned that actual events have very little to do with effective networking and, therefore,  the limitations put on us to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus also have very little to do with effective networking.

What is Networking?

Merriam-Webster defines networking as:

The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

I really want us to focus on the last part: “The cultivation of productive relationships.” In a nutshell, that’s all networking is! Someone, somewhere along the way, realized that if we put a bunch of people in a room who were interested in “cultivating productive relationships,” it would remove some of the obstacles that are present in our daily routines, making it easier to cultivate those productive relationships. We call the events that take place in these rooms “networking events.”

Over time, as new blood enters the rooms, some of the people forget, or maybe never even knew, that the goal of networking is building relationships. These people saw these rooms like fish in a barrel that they could easily sell their products or services to. Before long, the basic networking event was an enigma where everyone went to sell something, but no one was there to buy anything.

Cultivating Productive Relationships

I believe that the COVID crises has allowed us to hit the reset button in a lot of areas, and our idea of “networking” needed a big reset!

As a matter of fact, I don’t even use the word “networking” anymore and haven’t for several years. If the goal is to cultivate productive relationships, let’s just do that. There is no reason to give the efforts a confusing label. So moving forward, let’s just make friends!

Making “Networking Friends”

I first joined a protected category networking group in 2009.

During the economic downturn of that time, my sales process stopped working, and I was looking for any way to increase revenues. I belonged to that group for a little over five years before I learned that the people in the group that were sending me the most business were the same people that I hung out with outside of the weekly meetings where we passed referral slips to each other.

It reminds me of the old saying, “People buy from people they like, know, and trust.” I remember my wife referring to the people from that group as my “networking friends” way back then. Today, however, she just calls them our friends. It’s amazing the relationships that I have cultivated by just focusing on the relationships looking for nothing in return!

It’s Time to Get Intentional

During this crazy COVID time, I have really enjoyed making an effort to intentionally call people just to talk.

I’ve returned to sending handwritten notes to people as they cross my mind. I have really enjoyed digital cocktail hours with a group of friends over a video conference.

This is a great time to build relationships because a lot of people don’t have anything better to do. Call someone today with no agenda other than cultivating a productive relationship so that they will like, know, and trust you more when it comes time for them to refer you or buy what you’re selling!

Written by

Derek Brooks

Owner, Brandywine Printing

Derek owns and operates Brandywine Printing Inc., a family-owned business founded in the early 80s. Brandywine Printing helps businesses succeed by providing printed materials that improve their image and make them more efficient. Derek and his wife Kathy have been married for 25 years and have one daughter, Shiloh, who is pursuing a degree in music education. They are enjoying the empty nest life!