Business has slowed for most contractors, but you can stay productive now by taking care of all those tasks you’ve wanted to do before, but for which you didn’t have time. One vital step you can take now: improving your professional network. Doing so while things are slower means your business will be primed to take advantage of it when the economy reaches something closer to normal.
Diversify Your Network
Before you do anything, think about who’s already in your network – and who should be. A network is most effective when it includes people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. A good network includes people in different job functions, other contractors who can mentor you, those you can mentor, potential vendors, customers, and more.
Look at your current network to see who is and isn’t represented. If you see gaps in certain areas, consider focusing on those areas first.
Reach Out to Old Connections
When you assess your current network, you’ll likely see a lot of names that you know, but haven’t spoken with in a while. These are easy connections to revive, and can be very fruitful since they already know you.
It may feel awkward to contact someone out of the blue, but something as simple as a quick email or call usually does the trick. Just acknowledge that it’s been a long time and say that you wanted to see how they were doing. Especially now, many people are craving more connection – you may be pleasantly surprised how receptive people are to your message.
Find New Connections
Meeting new people during COVID-19 means being creative. Trade shows and networking happy hours are not an option, but you still have plenty of ways to make new connections. Many organizations are moving trade shows and other events online, or providing other virtual options for members (and sometimes prospective members) to connect.
Start by looking at professional associations. Those you already belong to are probably developing more robust ways for members to interact online. Consider joining organizations that your potential customers belong to – that could mean trade and professional groups or local community organizations. They are one of your best options for forging connections you might not make in other ways.
Social media offers seemingly endless ways you can connect with professional peers, customers, and others. Depending on your goals, you may be looking for local community groups, industry insiders, or something else. All of them can be found on social media.
LinkedIn has a variety of professional interest groups that could prove useful. You can also spend some time searching for relevant groups and pages on Facebook, as well as trending tags on Twitter and Instagram. If you’re not sure where to start, look at your current connections and see which pages, groups, and tags they’re using or following.
Connect – Don’t Sell
When you’ve decided where, and to whom, you want to reach out, think carefully about how you approach them. This is especially true with new contacts. The point of networking is ultimately to grow your business, and the way to do that is to connect first.
Whether it’s a one-on-one message or a post in a social media group, there are a few things you must do to be effective. First, don’t start by attempting to make a sale or by openly promoting your business. At best, it’s not effective because a new contact has no reason to trust you; at worst, it can come off as exploitative.
A better way is to share your own insights or expertise before promoting your business or asking for something. It lets you contribute and gain credibility and trust. In time, that’s far more likely to win you more business or good advice from your new contacts.
Spending time to strengthen or create connections is always a good idea. Doing it now can help prepare you and your business for new horizons when local economies start to open again.