For many women, the lockdown has impacted the way we work and the way we network. With fewer in-person interactions comes the challenge of staying connected with current professional contacts and building and growing new relationships. It may seem overwhelming, but it's possible to build new virtual habits that can help you accomplish both networking goals from the comfort of home.
Why networking is critical
A professional network adds value to your career in various ways.
Under normal circumstances, having a solid professional network can provide support when you have role- or industry-specific questions or help you gather advice and information from other women in your field about how they have successfully risen through the ranks. It can also be a terrific way to spread the word when looking for a new job.
When you're working from home or are unemployed and feel isolated, a virtual network will help you feel more connected. It can offer a lifeline of support during stressful times like, say, a global pandemic.
Developing relationships and connections — even virtual ones — with several key contacts creates a community with a wealth of information and resources that will be accessible to you when you need it.
It will also allow you to share your knowledge with your professional community, which is a critical part of networking. Going into a networking situation with the expectation of offering a quid pro quo is crucial to the symbiotic relationship necessary for a successful network.
Build a niche network
When asked how women can build a professional network remotely, business strategist and professional development consultant DaKenya Douglas recommends building a niche network.
A niche is a targeted group of people who share the same interests, and networking by niche allows you to connect in conversations related to specific needs. One example might be joining, say, a social media marketing group on LinkedIn. The people you'd find there will likely come from various industries but share one specific interest: becoming more successful social media marketers.
If you drill down even further, you might find a group specifically for women interested in social media marketing. Here, women would engage with other like-minded women who share similar career challenges and goals. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of niche groups you can join on LinkedIn to expand your network.
Douglas says the key to successful networking is connecting within a specific industry or group that will be engaging, relevant, and expand your network.
5 tips for building a professional network from home
1. Establish your goal
Start by setting up a goal of what you want to get out of networking. Establishing your goal will help you narrow down your niche for a targeted network. This way, you can join groups dedicated to specific topics.
Join a group that provides genuine conversations and virtual events specific to the area where you most need support.
2. Join a professional women's group
Being part of a women's network provides women with organic relationships based on shared experiences, such as women who understand the challenges of working while parenting or those looking to become entrepreneurs. If you can't find a group that meets your needs, consider starting your own.
3. Extend a helping hand
Once you select the network that you would like to join, be empowering to others. Share ideas and concepts that can contribute to the community's career success. Research and share valuable information about opportunities and offer advice or emotional support.
One way we can start connecting and boosting other women is by becoming mentors. Even if you are unemployed, the experience and insight you have can be helpful for those starting out.
4. Be active
Before sending a connection invite to anyone, make sure your own social media profile is professional and up-to-date. Optimize your profile by adding a professional photo and relevant content. Include statistics and helpful information about your industry.
Be proactive in the groups you join. Being part of a network means that you are there to bond and grow. Engage by posting content and talking to industry influencers. It can be as simple as checking in with people and asking how they're doing. Participate and leave insightful comments on their posts. Show that you care by asking them what they need and how you can support them.
5. Meetup in real life or online
Plan on building a virtual professional network outside of your daily meetings. Introduce yourself, ask questions, and share your contact information with the other participants.
Creating opportunities to gather virtually with events is perfect for connecting with local communities that represent your interests. It's a great way to share your experiences and express your appreciation for the members' content. Remember: You are laying the groundwork for an "in-real-life" relationship where eventually you'll be able to meet your virtual network at conferences, happy hours, or for lunch to catch up.