Sunday, September 20, 2020

C-Suite Advisory

3 ways to strengthen your professional network during COVID

I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire career and have found that sometimes it’s the loneliest place to be. There are benefits to being a disruptor, to seeing the world in a way that others don’t, to finding a solution and bringing it to fruition—but none of these things quite carry the same weight as having a network of equals that you can commiserate with. Starting and leading a thriving business is always the goal, don’t get me wrong, but much of my career left me searching for a better way to network with peers.

Half of all executives and almost two-thirds of CEOs report that they do not receive any coaching or leadership advice. Those making the decisions at the top often don’t have the relationships that could provide the conversation and advice that could take them to the next level.

Relationships are what lives are built on—professional and personal. They determine how happy you are, how healthy you are, how much money you’ll make, how much success you’ll have—how you’ll even measure all of these things. When it comes to our professional lives; however, it gets a bit trickier to find and maintain valuable relationships. A study released in July 2020 found that more than half of the world now uses social media. With a growing number of platforms—from Facebook, to Twitter, to LinkedIn—how do you manage them all and what are the best ways to use them? It can all start to seem a bit convoluted.

Here are three ways to strengthen your network—during COVID-19 and after:

  1. Know your platforms and keep them separate.
    Understanding the difference between social media and social networking can radically change the way you approach networking. Social media feeds you entertainment but social networking is truly a tool to help you maintain your existing network while making and growing new relationships—keeping the two separate is key. We’ve all experienced the social awkwardness of getting a request from a colleague or an assistant on Facebook, or a distant relative on LinkedIn. Instead of keeping the distinct relationships separate, we’ll allow the lines to cross. But sites like Webtalk make it easier to keep personal and professional networks siloed, until you want them to cross. By easily choosing between social media channels and the type of relationships you want to share with, you can better utilize the platforms for growing your personal network and brand.
  2. Grow your network with referrals and then—most importantly—follow-up.
    Everyone is spending more time on their computers these days. Your captive audience has never been bigger. From handshakes to events, the secret to networking has always been who you know. Our online social networks now allow us to know more people—but it’s not just about knowing them. It’s about the relationship you curate, especially now. Since we’re all online more now take the time to build these connections and reach out to more. The key is to connect with successful people in the areas where you want to grow and nurture those relationships. We naturally turn to the advice of others to help guide us, and if we don’t have that, we count on online reviews from others to make up our decisions, ultimately taking advice from strangers. In executive positions, we may not have someone in our network to help, but you can change that with referrals. Find out how you can bring value to the person you want to connect with, and then offer that value with no strings attached. In the digital era, providing proof of value is the factor that drives success. When you’re not seeing the same people at work events or society meetings, connecting with a ton of people online but not taking the time to reach out defeats the purpose.
  3. Give more than you get.
    Sharing helpful tips, motivational content, and even job opportunities, is a great way to build up your engagement and personal brand. Sharing videos highlighting your team or yourself helping your community and helping those in need through these trying times will go a long way to build your social credibility and brand. Your social presence is free advertising. The way to build an online presence is to truly connect with those you interact with. Don’t forget that just like when you’re not behind a screen, we want to connect and help those that connect and help others. If you see someone in your network looking for a freelancer that matches someone that you know, take the time and make the introduction. We’re all dealing with the pandemic the best we can, but some have faced unemployment, and any way that you can use your own network to help allay that situation is good branding—online and off.

Relationships and our interconnectedness have changed over the past six months, but it’s been changing for decades, we were just able to ignore it more successfully. My goal when creating Webtalk was to create something I needed but couldn’t find—something to make peer relationships easier to find. Finding, facilitating, and growing professional networks will help create more opportunities that help our members maintain and grow relationships in a way that mimics real life—until we can meet physically again.

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RJ Garbowicz
RJ Garbowicz is the founder, CEO and Chairman of Webtalk, which he founded in 2011. RJ is responsible for setting the product strategy and overall direction for the company. He leads the design and development of Webtalk's products and services. RJ is a serial entrepreneur having launched four previous tech companies with two exits. He studied web design at St Petersburg College and served his country as an avionic radar technician for the IL Army National Guard. RJ Garbowicz is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.