Lockdown networking: It sounds like an oxymoron, but the reality is that it’s never been easier (or more beneficial!) to join a networking group and build positive business contacts from the comfort and security of your own home.

If you’ve ever been to an in-person networking meeting, I’m sure you’ll have experienced that moment of trepidation before you enter the room… What is it going to be like? Will it be formal or relaxed? Will it be clique-y or welcoming? Will it be full of people who don’t want or need your specific service (and don’t know anyone who is), or will you somehow end up partnered with the one person in the entire room who does the same thing as you? No matter how confident you are, and how eloquently you can describe who you are and what you do in a minute, you never quite know what it’s going to be like.

I’ve been to formal networking events in private clubs, black tie networking events, female-only groups, speed networking, networking whilst walking… you name it, I’ve tried it. Some experiences have been good, some terrible, but I recognise the importance of building positive connections with fellow business owners – not just to sell to them but to find people who could help me too – and as a result, I persevere. However, after months locked away from the world, I have to admit to longing for a bit of face to face interaction with other humans so much, that even the worst networking event sounds appealing; A terrible ‘ice-breaker’ game (a networking prospect that previously sent shivers down my spine!) at a stuffy networking meeting with poor coffee in a dodgy hotel function room? Yes. Please. Where do I sign up?

The last year has been incredibly challenging, but I’m sure you’ve realised that we can’t just rest on our laurels when it comes to finding new customers any more. Things can, as we have seen, change incredibly quickly, so we need to be prepared. Networking allows us to build positive relationships with fellow business owners, some of whom may need assistance now, whereas some may require our help in the future, or know a fellow business owner who could do with some support. As I mentioned earlier, networking also gives us the opportunity to find people who can help us to further develop our own businesses, which can help to keep us relevant and competitive in a changing marketplace. But there’s one benefit that far outstrips all of these things at the moment – social contact.

Many of us have family and friends that we can keep in touch with virtually, but sometimes it’s nice to interact with someone different – someone who understands the unique pressures of running or managing a small business in these challenging times, and is in exactly the same boat as you. It can be really comforting chatting with your peers!

Meeting real people, face-to-face over a real cup of coffee may seem like a long way away at the moment, but there are plenty of physical networking groups that have moved online temporarily during lockdown. Many of these groups have a fairly significant membership fee associated with them, but may have reduced this whilst meetings are held remotely (another plus!). It does take a while to get used to networking via video call, but there are a number of positives:

1.) Your own, non-terrible tea/coffee

2.) The ability to network in comfortable trousers and socks

3.) The chance to see and interact with some new faces

4.) The chance to practice those social skills that may be getting a little rusty (particularly if you’ve been talking predominantly to pets/small children for the last 12 months).

5.) The opportunity to build business contacts

And in the event that it really is a terrible, terrible meeting, you can always feign internet issues and slip away… not that we would ever recommend that, of course!

So why not look out for an online networking event this week? It could be a really positive activity for you and your business, and even if it isn’t, at least you are in the comfort of your own home and doing something slightly different to break the lockdown monotony!