Five Ways to Network in a Time of Social Isolation
By Jena Kroeker
Last year, I never would have believed I’d be writing this post. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of maintaining social isolation rarely came to mind when discussing ways to network as a freelancer.
Instead, the opposite was often true. In-person networking events were seen as one of the most effective ways of connecting with potential clients. Virtual methods were acceptable, but whenever possible, we encouraged freelancers to venture out of their home office.
In a previous FreeU blog post titled “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking like a Rock Star,” we focused specifically on in-person events and provided some helpful strategies. If you’re an introvert like me, you may have worried that you wouldn’t succeed unless you put this advice into action. We acknowledged,
“Both introverts and extroverts can feel shy about networking. We can all be fearful of attending an event. But there are ways we can leverage our strengths and deal with any anxiety or discomfort.”
But enter the year 2020, when social isolation became a necessary way of keeping ourselves and others safe from the coronavirus. Sometimes a time of adversity and change results in the loss of preconceptions and the birth of innovation. With great resilience and creativity, freelancers all over the world have adapted to our new normal and discovered new ways of connecting with clients and colleagues. We’ve learned that as we physically distance ourselves, we can still draw near to each other. And virtual connections can be as real as in-person ones.
We recently asked our Freelance University Facebook Group members the following question:
Their answers gave a snapshot of what the new networking looks like for the time being. They also provided hope and motivation to keep persevering in our freelance and virtual assistant businesses during this unprecedented time.
Five Ways to Network in a Time of Social Isolation
One of the most common ways to network right now is through Facebook Groups. Here at Freelance University, we have a warm, inviting community of nearly 500 students, supported by a team of mentors and each other. It’s difficult to express how much this group means to all of us. Members share their successes, challenges, and accomplishments. And they hear about new freelance opportunities offered to those in the community. They help each other grow and learn.
Creating or joining a Facebook Group is a great way to network with others around shared interests or skills. To look for an existing group to join, simply enter keywords for the type of group you’re interested in. And after joining it, don’t be shy. While adhering to group guidelines, feel free to share your thoughts and valuable advice for others.
You never know who you might meet – a key referral or potential client could be right there waiting! In his article, “Facebook Group marketing: how to build your community,” Brent Barnhart explains, “As private communities continue to grow in 2020 and beyond, mastering your Facebook Group strategy can help you maximize your community engages from the word ‘go.’”
Facebook Live is another effective way to connect with people. You can attend a virtual event or host one yourself. Or simply share a spontaneous live video to touch base with colleagues or potential clients. They can interact with you through comments. Even though it’s different from being in the same room, it bridges the gap and provides a key source of connection.
Chances are, most of us are familiar with Zoom by now. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, “How to Look Your Best on Video Conference Calls,” the number of Zoom downloads skyrocketed between March 15 and March 20, 2020. And, as expected, many of our students and mentors listed Zoom as being one of the top ways to network right now.
For example, one of our FreeU mentors explained that a local business women’s network moved their in-person networking events online along with a speaker for the event. Zoom can be used for events like these. Even though the format and interaction are different, it’s still a good way to stay connected.
Being able to listen to a speaker provides food for thought that can help you grow in your business. It can also spark a conversation between you and other participants as you discuss what you’ve learned. In a large Zoom event, the chat feature can allow you to get to know the other participants and foster new relationships.
3. Phone calls
One of the new ways to network is not new at all. In our FreeU Facebook Group, our Community Manager, Sabrina Espinal, explained the value of phone calls beautifully. She said,
“I like to talk on the phone. For me, hearing someone’s voice is a warm and meaningful connection that doesn’t match a text or a video chat. That moment when your minds click, your laughter is like music, or your brainstorming turns into a beautiful future plan, is very soulful.”
She also shared an article titled “The Lost Art of the Phone Call” that describes how “For the better part of the life of the telephone — more than 100 years — a phone call was an event.” Now, more than ever, that statement is true.
We can leverage this old piece of technology in our freelance or virtual assistant businesses. It’s an important way to network one on one with someone. Now’s the time to revisit the ways we used to communicate and see how we can revitalize them in this new era.
4. Online Newsletters
At first glance, you might not think of newsletters as networking. But they certainly are! Many freelancers and entrepreneurs use them as a way of reaching out and engaging with their target audience. A thoughtfully worded online newsletter can make people feel cared for and valued.
At Freelance University, we open our monthly Learning Curve Newsletter with the following introduction:
It includes an educational article, Student Spotlight, Project of the Month, and more. At the end of the newsletter, FreeU co-founders, Craig and Kelly Cannings, invite further interaction by saying, “If you have any questions or thoughts, please post in the Facebook community here or drop us a note.” This is an opportunity to build deeper relationships with readers.
In the Digital Content Manager certification, Craig explores why email newsletters still work, and one of the reasons is because they maximize client or customer retention through building an ongoing relationship. So, definitely consider your newsletter as a valuable networking tool.
And last but not least, LinkedIn ranked as another one of the top networking tools being used right now. Like Facebook, LinkedIn offers professional groups you can join around common interests and around your niche. It’s an important way to share your expertise and build connections with others in your industry.
In his article, “Networking is still important. Here’s how to do it while you’re stuck inside,” Andrew Seaman says, “Fortunately, you can build relationships and activate your network without ever having an in-person meeting. In other words, don’t use self-isolation as an excuse not to network.”
He recommends making people come to you by showing your knowledge of your profession or industry through your articles, content, and social media posts. By writing LinkedIn articles, you can invite further discussion with potential clients or colleagues who may refer you to potential freelance opportunities.
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
This is a year like no other. We’re traveling through uncharted waters and discovering new ways to network as we go along. The five methods above are ones we may have used before, but they take on an added significance in a time when many of us are socially isolated.
They show that professional relationships can and must continue. They show the courage and determination of us all to stay connected. And they show hope. We must remain hopeful and look forward to a time when we can meet in person again. And next time we do, we’ll remember that there’s more than one way to connect.
How are you networking during this time of social isolation? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share your advice and recommendations in the comments below!