I heard on the grapevine, OK it was someone posting on LinkedIn, that business networking is meant to be dead in the wake of COVID-19 and I was actually stunned that they thought the world had stopped networking.

As many of us rapidly find ourselves and our businesses forced to close doors, hibernate or adapt it is understandable that in the face of these kinds of restrictions be it trading or simply an inability to gather in groups of more than two, that you could be forgiven for thinking that networking as we know it is in hibernation too.

Turns out nothing could be further from the truth and I think that there are a number of things driving us to reinvent what networking is in the modern age.

As business owners we are scared.

The truth is the rules are changing on a daily basis. Had you told me three weeks ago that I would have had to close the doors to my pub and stand down my 18 staff I would have laughed a lot but as Australia is grappling with the best way to flatten the curve my pub has been one of the many casualties now attempting to reinvent itself. Likewise, the direct impact to the hospitality and tourism sector meant that my social media agency took a 20% revenue hit literally overnight.

As an executive director for BNI Adelaide North I am speaking to my members, some 160 of them on a weekly basis and there is one common thread and it’s a really simple one “How the hell was I meant to plan for this? What the hell do I do now?”

Those kinds of questions and the plethora of other things keeping business owners awake at night mean that a robust network is now more important than ever. Many of us are turning to our business friends much more regularly than we were a month ago but instead of it being over lunch its over Zoom or via Google Hangouts. People are working hard to adapt to the situations they find themselves in. They are working even harder to try and keep their staff on the payroll, after all we know the trickle-down effect that has on everyone’s well being.

Successful business owners have a growth mindset even when we don’t know what the rules are.

Take a look at your successful friends in business, how many blanket fort days did they take with a decent whiskey and some Netflix before they were looking to try and do something new or differently?

You can’t sit still and all the organisations that we look at to help us to grow and to make new connections know that to be true because they can’t sit still either.

There has been a veritable avalanche of “virtual” or “online” networking opportunities become available in the last couple of weeks as people start to come up for air.

Globally BNI flicked the switch overnight four weeks ago, migrating some 270 thousand members and 9466 weekly networking events across to an online format. Those 9466 weekly chapter meetings have seen a significant increase in visitors as business owners look to a new way of doing business in a trusted environment. Can you imagine the manpower required to make that leap.

Likewise, I have seen all of my key industry associations that I am a member of embrace Zoom with gusto. There has never been a better opportunity or as many choices to brunch & lunch at your desk whilst forming relationships and growing your business.

The way we do business was already changing but now the dinosaurs are coming to play.

Let’s be honest, just about all of us know someone who can barely use email let alone manage a LinkedIn account or a Zoom call. Right now though with work from home the current “normal” even those of us who are terrified of getting the tech wrong have had to embrace it. Funnily enough, when they did, the sky did not fall and in mastering a new skill they started to embrace the opportunity.

Agencies like mine that service the entire country as well as global markets are suddenly enjoying engaging with clients in a virtual format that previously insisted that you get on a plane. The longer this new normal continues the less travel that is going to be required on the other side.

Likewise, as business owners find themselves with more time up their sleeve thanks to the absence of a daily commute we are starting to evaluate our wider networks and to engage with them more time effectively.

So what should you do if this all seems too scary and you don’t know where to start?

Start working your network the easy way and level up as your confidence grows.

  1. Reach out to some of your LinkedIn connections and set up an online catch up to see how they are traveling. (note it is relationship building time not selling time)
  2. Check out Eventbrite & Meet Up to see what networking is happening in your local area (we may have moved online but we are still using the same platforms for ticketing)
  3. Invite some of your business associates to “join” you for lunch on a Google hangout or Zoom call.
  4. Reach out to your clients and catch up with them online to see how they are doing.

Now is the time to care more about the people than the dollars, trust me the dollars will come, but right now you are building networks to last you a lifetime.