Networking is about meeting new people and discovering common connections. Networking can help you achieve business development goals. How do you start? Especially considering matters of health and limitations on social gatherings. Virtual networking events! Virtual networking events are a great way to meet many new people in a short period of time. To get the most benefit from these events, consider virtual networking events in a lifecycle made of three steps:
3. Follow up
Prepare for networking
Use the ‘BD 3’
Time at a virtual networking event is limited, so you’ll want to quickly share information about yourself. Before a networking event, prepare your answers to the following three statements: 1) who you are, 2) what you do, and 3) who you want to meet. I call this information the ‘BD 3. It’s a good formula to create a 30-second elevator speech.
The most important, and difficult, item is determining who you want to meet. You’ll want to network with referral partners, those performing services that compliment but don’t compete with yours, and your peer group, those that are of similar title and seniority and may directly or indirectly compete. Both parties can be a resource for market information. Referral sources are more likely to share clientele.
Get the List
Before a virtual networking event, request a list of registered attendees. Review the list of attendees for those identified in your ‘BD 3’. Some virtual networking event administrators can assign attendees to virtual rooms and can change the participants in each room throughout the event. Even so, you will not be able to control the pace at which you “move about” the room. The list can serve as a resource for attendee contact information, as virtual networking does not allow for the exchange of business cards. Further, you’ll have the contact information for those you met and those you didn’t!
Participate in networking
It can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Remind yourself that they may be just as nervous as you, that you might learn something new, and that there’s always the chance that you two will have business to share! Drinking water, tea, coffee, or decaf coffee for quick refreshment.
After exchanging ‘BD 3’s with a new contact, you have the opportunity to learn more about them to gauge the quality of the connection. Ask them about the types of industries and geographic locations they serve. How long has their firm or business been operating? If their answers mirror how you’d answer, you’ve likely got the potential for a strong connection.
Follow-up after networking
When is the best time to follow up? If a new contact has a specific opportunity for you, the answer is as soon as possible. Otherwise, do not follow-up with someone until you’re ready to commit specific dates to reconnect. I like to request reconnections by email because I can add my availability to meet and it allows the recipient to respond when they’re able.
Consider picking one or two weekday afternoons a month, or each quarter, to commit as specific dates you can meet. Providing specifics about when you can meet makes it easier for contacts to say “yes” to reconnecting with you. For example: “Bob, nice meeting you at the virtual event last night. Would you be open to reconnecting for a call on May 3rd, 4th, or 5th?” or “Bob, I’d really like to hear how your client deliverable went. Want to have a call on May 3rd?”
Follow-up with Missed Connections
Follow-up with the folks you didn’t get to meet at the networking event might look like: “Hi Cher, my name is Cristin Barry, a tax senior at 123 company. Though we didn’t get to meet at the virtual ABC networking event last night, I wanted to introduce myself because I’m looking to grow my network. Would you be open to introducing ourselves over a call on May 3rd, 4th, or 5th?”
A new year provides a clean start. We can find ways to better networking partners and to get more out of networking opportunities. By thinking about virtual networking events as a lifecycle of preparation, participation, and follow-up, I hope you can do just that!
Happy virtual networking!
Cristin is interested in reconnecting professional service providers to the practice of networking and business development. She originally presented this topic online via the TXCPA Dallas‘ Young Professionals Group. Calvetti Ferguson is happy to support its team members in activities such as this to teach others and improve our communities. This is why we offer open PTO. We believe in supporting our team members and encouraging them to give back and take time off as it’s needed. Are you interested in joining our firm? Visit our careers page to learn about the opportunities we have available.