It has been called the business networking phenomenon. The moment COVID 19 lockdown began in March 2020 Businesses had to change their networking approach. Now it is hard to think of networking BC! (Before Covid) Throughout the centuries businessmen and women have used networking as a means to develop relationships and gain clients; by referrals, extending their client database and improving their sales funnels.
This has been conducted usually by in-person events. When the first lockdown came into practice, face-to-face networking stopped and business networking was at risk. Many networks stopped and closed their activities. Networking groups like BNI, 4N, Rotary Groups, MIBA, Athena and others could have become extinct. However, the creativity and adaptability of business people came to the fore using online technology. Zoom quadrupled its client base and became part of the vocabularly! Other platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Blue Jeans and Remo suddenly became attractive as business people embraced online networking.
Technology changed the way businesses conducted their networking in an unprecedented way. As I began to write the book, Successful Business Networking Online, it soon became obvious that there was more to online networking than originally anticipated.
- Technological phobias had to be overcome.
- A new culture and protocols began to emerge.
- Concerns that the principles of networking may not work online, had to be addressed.
The learning curve was steep, we were all learning together, at the same time. New terms entering the vocabulary: Zoomland, Zoomitus, Zoom Brain, Zoombombing and Zoom Fatigue. New phrases: “You’re on mute”, and “You have frozen” are now regular phrases in every networking group!
We had to learn how to best use the screen. It might only be 2” by 1”in size, but it is in fact a live business card. Backgrounds need to be considered. Are there pants or posters in the background? When people are deciding quickly, who they want to do business with, it’s crucial to be professional and now online etiquettes have been established, perhaps relaying from the bedroom is not the best place.
The camera has to be in the right position for you to be seen. Light has to come from in front of you and not from behind. A common mistake people make is to have a window behind them with natural light pouring in. This means they become silhouetted, or their face is in darkness, unable to be seen clearly. It is easily resolved, you have to turn to face the light, or draw the curtains and put a light on in front of you.
Five easy protocols to remember
- Do not eat on screen, even if you are not speaking – instead if you must eat use the Stop video.
- Keep your microphone on mute when not speaking, so others don’t hear background noises (phones, dogs or children!).
- Check your background, keep it neat and tidy, or use a virtual background, one featuring your logo perhaps.
- Put your full name at the bottom of the screen so people can easily find you on social media.
- Use the chat room to place your links and include the http:// before the www. This makes it clickable and goes directly to the link.
Like everything, there are advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few:
- No travel costs. You can meet people from all over the world from the comfort of your home.
- Online is more accessible for people with disabilities. Those with mobility issues are safe and those who are hard of hearing find the faces on the screen easier to lip read, and they have control of the volume button.
- Most online network meetings are free or at a low cost. Therefore, the rate of investment in time can be enormous.
- We miss the human contact and connection. Interactions can appear forced and the spontaneity or buzz that happens in group conversations is missing.
- It’s easy to tell untruths online, as we only see people from above the keyboard without the benefit of using all our senses and picking up body language clues. Therefore, it’s harder to discern the truth!
- Online overload or Zoom fatigue are real. Many people are spending hours in front of a screen, making neck, back and sight issues a strong possibility.
The book, Successful Business Networking Online covers all the above points in detail, illustrated by fantastic cartoons from Joanne Whitlock. It contains contributions from over 100 business people who regularly network online, the foreword is written by Nigel Botterill: Entrepreneur Circle and there are interviews with recognised networking gurus, including: Brad Burton, Sandra Garlick MBE and Graham Todd.
This is the first book dedicated to online networking, it is endorsed by BNI founder Dr Ivan Misner and Professor Gary Bosworth who both see it as an essential resource for business people and business students across the world.
We have to remember that networking is the lifeblood of every business. If you are serious about bringing in more clients, your networks are the way to survive difficult and challenging COVID-19 times. So, is it time for you to join the business networking phenomenon?