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4 free, smart ways to network from home, from the author of 'How to Work a Room'

Susan RoAne
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Successful networking is about building relationships. Staying in touch with people, and being of service to them, especially when we aren't asking for anything in return, speaks volumes about us and strengthens bonds for the future. 

The physical distancing required during this moment is tough on everyone, even the most introverted or shy among us. For our own professional and personal emotional well-being, we need to stay connected. Networking can help you get a job now, or in the future, and it can also be used to build a community and identify opportunities you hadn't considered.

Even though you may be staying home to protect ourselves and others, you can still continue to make connections. Here are four tips you can use to continue to nurture and develop your network for free, online. 

Share your time 

One of my favorite networking ideas is to be the host. In "How to Work a Room," I wrote that one of our roadblocks to meeting people is that old cliche, "Good things come to those who wait." My version is slightly rephrased and reframed: Good things come to those who initiate. 

You can benefit from being the person who organizes online gatherings, inviting people from various parts of your life to get together and meet each other, especially if you, or people close to you are looking for a new position.

If there's a colleague, former co-worker, or classmate you'd like to see, this is the perfect time. Send them a message saying so. I've always liked one-on-one visits, but if that feels like too much pressure, invite a few more people you may know who would be a good contact, source, or resource for your friend. 

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Find some good lighting and put on the clothes you would if you were going out to meet some new people. Look at the camera for eye contact, not at your screen, and choose a pleasant background.

If you're hosting a bigger group, go around and have them briefly introduce themselves. Ask everyone to mute their microphones until they are ready to speak. Make sure to include all the guests in the conversation and facilitate so that everyone gets a chance to share their thoughts.

Then follow up like you would after an in-person event. Send thank you notes to members of the group to let them know you appreciated being with them and hearing their contributions, and that it was good to see them. And ask them if there was anyone they met that they would want to talk more with.

Remember that a savvy networker makes things happen not just for themselves, but for other people too.

Share leads and referrals

Right now, many people are looking for new opportunities, due to job loss and insecurity. Or they are thinking about how they can apply their skills in new ways because their industry is struggling. Now is the time to be a matchmaker and help the people in your life build new professional relationships.

Even if you are looking for a new role yourself, reaching out on someone else's behalf can create a ripple effect. If your friend lands that position, for example, they can introduce you to the new members of their network. Or the person in your network who is hiring for the role your old co-worker is perfect for might know of a job that would be a great fit for you too.

For our own professional and personal emotional well-being, we need to stay connected.
Susan RoAne
Networking expert

The people you reach out to don't necessarily have to be close connections, either. If you see a post in one of your LinkedIn or Facebook groups from someone who is looking for a new position, help on a project, or a volunteer organization to get involved with, and you have someone in your network that could help make that happen, and let them know. Check to see if they're open to an email introduction, and if they are, send one.

Share your ideas 

If during the course of one of your virtual meetings, you have an idea that you think a colleague would find useful, don't be afraid to let them know. The managing partner of a professional firm once told me he always asked himself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" if he wasn't sure about reaching out.

More often than not, you stand to gain by trying to make a connection.

You may be hesitant to share information with a boss or the boss's boss. But if, for example, you observed the artwork in her office on a Zoom call or heard her say that she's a fan of impressionist painters, why wouldn't you let her know about the Musée d'Orsay's virtual tour of their works by Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Degas? What's the worst thing that could happen? Your boss might say, "I've already seen it, but thank you." You've shown them that you pay attention.

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Share a story 

When you listen and observe, you'll learn what issues, charities, sports teams, and nonprofit organizations are important to your boss, clients, mentors, colleagues, and friends. When you read an article or post that's in an area of interest, send it to them. Include a note that says, "I read this and thought of our visit meeting/conversation and wanted to be sure you saw it." 

If something happens that reminds you of a colleague, co-worker, or former boss that is positive, memorable or makes you laugh, let that person know. You could email or text them and say, "I just heard this amazing/funny/interesting story that reminded me of the time our team had to design a new feedback system." Shared laughter not only releases endorphins, it also builds social bonds.

Showing care and attention to detail can make a big difference. And helping someone else now could help you make a change yourself later on.

Susan RoAne is a keynote speaker, university guest lecturer and bestselling author of "How to Work a Room" and "The Secrets of Savvy Networking." You can find her online at www.susanroane.com. Questions? susan@susanroane.com

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