Like so many of us, I enjoy face to face Networking meetings as I have always liked to personally meet and engage with people – both to grow my own network and to help business leaders connect with my contacts.
In 2020, the world of physical networking ceased to exist as we knew it before and whilst we moved to online Zoom coffee mornings and networking meetings, it didn’t always feel the same as before.
We are moving back to traditional network meetups slowly, but the online virtual meetings have remained and I believe will continue to remain for some time, which made me wonder whether it has positively or negatively affected those of us who used it to further our ventures – especially in the case of start-up founders to whom business networking is very important.
Why is networking so important?
Networking plays a hugely important role in the lives of any entrepreneur or start-up founder. It allows them to meet with both like-minded entrepreneurs to generate and share ideas and gain industry sector insights as well as meeting potential investors.
Many of those business networking events were designed to cater exactly to these needs and create platforms where thought leadership and entrepreneurial spirit could flourish alongside showcasing business ideas and bringing an increased level of visibility to investors and VCs.
What happens when you can’t network in person?
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 brought an abrupt end to physical business networking and pushed it into the virtual world.
This has led to a new type of digital transformation for start-ups whereby they needed to develop creative digital strategies, including increased use of social media and becoming early adopters of the virtual networking circles.
As it happens, virtual networking has many advantages for start-up founders; here are just some that I found:
- Expanding your network – Networking events are often linked to your locality, but online – the world is your limit. You can reach out to prospective investors far beyond the reach of your usual networking circle without the need for planes and trains.
- Save time and money – Not having to spend time travelling saves both time and money. A working day need not involve potentially lengthy travel times and possible overnight stays; instead, the virtual networking and conferencing circles mean that founders can forget the commute and spend more time preparing to reach out to investors and entrepreneurs. Every penny counts when you run your own business, and reducing your travel expenses or being able to fit more into the working day is certainly a financial benefit.
- You can become an online authority – the virtual world presents many possibilities, from holding your own podcast on a regular basis to participating in online networking and conferencing events as a key-note speaker.
- Staying in touch – Business cards are seemingly a thing of the past. If, like me, you have a stack of them, it is sometimes difficult to find the one that you need, or you can remember a face, just not a name. Virtual networking circles have the participants’ names visible so that you can always put the name to the face. More importantly, emails are readily available, so there is no reason to lose touch with someone.
- Take advantage of social media platforms – Using platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter can help to raise your profile and can assist in finding the kind of people that you would like to connect with professionally. You can use these platforms to build your own “personal” brand and demonstrate your authenticity as well as building your business brand. You can also use search functions to find interesting topics and threads that you would like to comment on and, in turn, find more like-minded people.
- Network on a virtual one-to-one basis – Networking doesn’t have to be about group events. The beauty of the virtual world is that you don’t need to travel far to hold a one to one coffee with someone to spend more time growing your business relationship. Even though the COVID restrictions are easing, many people are continuing to hold one to one meetings over virtual platforms.
Networking is a lifelong activity. As founders, entrepreneurs, investors and relationship builders, we never stop growing our professional network, be it in the real or the virtual world. Just because we don’t meet in person, the virtual world can’t hide the type of people we are, and we remain as authentic behind a webcam as we do face to face.
The important takeaway for me, and I am sure for everyone reading this, is not to be overwhelmed by the world of virtual networking, to treat it just as we treated face to face networking, but to consider how much further our reach can be and our network can grow in this age of digital transformation.
Sue Rees is an expert C-Suite executive search specialist with over 25 years of experience in Pharma, Biotech, Lifesciences etc.