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Hello, virtual networking

How to excel at creating new business relationships online

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Author photo: Katrina Oko-Odoi

Katrina Oko-Odoi

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Virtual networking isn’t a totally novel concept. We’ve been online networking since the days of AIM and early internet forums. But today, virtual networking has gone from an extra credit activity to a must-master task.

There’s no denying that professional networking has changed, so networking online has become necessary for staying ahead. Thankfully, with the right tools and some best practices, you can start online networking like a pro in no time.

Even if you’re an entrepreneur or small biz owner who’s built your whole business around in-person interactions, adapting to our new online-first environment is entirely doable. It’s all about staying agile and prioritizing relationships to expand your personal network.

To excel at virtual networking, look to those who do it best: Gen Z

Born between 1996 and 2015, Generation Z has always existed online. For them, there’s little distinction between their online and offline life, and moving between the digital and analog world is just another part of their day.

It’s not just about being online. Gen Z has learned how to form genuine friendships and connections in the virtual world. 56% of Gen Z have friends who they only know online, proving that meaningful online networking is possible.

So, what do Gen Z-ers have that older generations don’t? Well, for one, tech literacy. They’ve been using technology and the internet for their entire lives, so they don’t have as steep of a learning curve when it comes to using online communication tools.

But the most important thing that distinguishes Gen Z from older generations is the lack of mental barriers. For older generations (millennials included), there’s a real separation between in-person connections and online ones. This distinction isn’t important to Generation Z.

To succeed in online networking, you can simply start giving your online connections and events as much reverence as you do your in-person ones. In other words, treat people on the other end of the computer or phone like people, not like digital assets.

This small shift will be a huge difference-maker as you move forward. Before every email, phone call or social post, ask yourself if you’d do or say the same thing in real life. If not, it’s probably a good idea to change your strategy or tone.

When in doubt, think like a Gen Z-er. But that’s not the only way to spruce up your virtual networking skills.

7 tips for excelling at virtual networking

Here are some of the top ways to grow your business by expanding your virtual connections.

1. Improve your email approach

Say goodbye to cold emails and canned email subject lines. To take your online networking to the next level, you have to get really good at emails. Be intentional about who and what you email, and make sure what you’re sending is absolutely necessary.

Our inboxes are flooded with random networking requests, so it’s important to reach out to people in engaging and thoughtful ways. A cold pitch isn’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, stick to emailing people you know, and only email them if you have something important to say.

2. Connect with other business owners

Focus on networking with other business owners and entrepreneurs in your area. This works especially well if you have similar target demographics. They can refer clients to you, and you can refer clients to them and really help each other grow.

Working with other entrepreneurs is also helpful because you can learn from each other, inspire each other, and keep each other up to date with market trends. Of course, you can connect with multiple business owners, too. Just be sure not to partner with multiple businesses that compete with each other.

3. Join relevant online groups

There are numerous online communities where your target demographic congregates. From subreddits to Facebook groups to LinkedIn groups and more, there’s no shortage of online networking groups for you to join.

Get creative with the groups you join, and make sure to participate. Also, don’t spam group members and be sure to follow any group rules. Focus on posting helpful and relevant content in the groups, and the leads will flow to you over time.

4. Focus on warm connections

Cold messages and calls are faux pas these days. In the digital-first environment, warm connections are crucial. It’s essential to focus on your existing connections and grow your network organically. Don’t let real connections fall through the cracks.

Make it a priority to reach out to your customers and connections regularly, not just when you need something from them. The same goes for prospecting. When you’re prospecting, it’s important to focus on connection and value and build the relationships slowly.

5. Make online events count

From webinars to online expos, we’ve all probably attended an online event or two at this point. The key to these online events is making them count. Too many people attend but then don’t network while they’re there.

When you go to an online event, be sure to publicize your attendance on your social networks before and after you go and use hashtags when relevant. This will help you reach people who also went to the event. When you’re “at” the event, participate in discussions, questions and activities. If the event uses an app or platform with networking capabilities, be active on there — and make sure to connect with anyone you meet on LinkedIn and other social platforms. Then, be sure to follow up with anyone you chatted with in a timely manner after the event.

6. Go analog when possible

Just because you can video call doesn’t mean you should. Video calls are stressful for our brains, and everyone is suffering from a bit of Zoom fatigue these days. So, when possible, opt for a phone call instead. Phone calls can often feel less stressful while still giving you time to connect.

Going analog isn’t just about phone calls, though. Take time to meet people in person and send thank you letters and gifts via snail mail. In a digital world, these human touches matter more than ever.

7. Use a CRM to streamline your networking efforts

It’s important to have a single place to manage your virtual networking activities. You’re going to be getting leads from all over the place, so you need to have one place to manage these relationships, especially as your network grows.

CRMs often have extra features that make online networking easier, too. For instance, Copper has a LinkedIn integration which makes it easy to add your LinkedIn connections and interactions to your CRM, and a Google Calendar integration to keep all your events straight.

Stay agile by knowing how to network online

As long as you can open your mind up to the possibility of creating strong connections online, you can start online networking like a Gen Z-er.

To succeed at virtual networking, you have to know how to build meaningful business relationships, which is all about focusing on the connection, providing value, and being proactive.

If you’re ready to start growing your network, you’re going to need a CRM to keep track of everything. Copper is the relationship-centric CRM that integrates seamlessly with Google Workspace. Try us free for 14 days.

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