Many of you may be inundated with emails, articles, and headlines related to the impacts of COVID-19. Rather than provide speculative data or trends on how this impacts our federal contracting community, I want to share my insights on how we can continue to stay engaged with our clients and potential customers in a virtual world. Ideally, you can use some of these actionable steps to support your business development efforts and continue growing your business during this difficult time.
As everyone knows, the traditional avenues of networking and relationship development such as lunch meetings, grabbing coffee, and attending conferences have been put on pause for now. As the quarantine is slowly scaling back, the return to normal seems far away, and the comfort level of meeting in public will surely vary from person to person for quite some time. The below suggestions are a good interim way to continue your networking and relationship development, and fortunately, these tips can be implemented far past the quarantine.
1. Volunteer with industry groups.
Taking on a leadership position or volunteering on a committee for an industry organization is one of the best ways to stay involved. There are plenty of organizations out there targeted to different groups, but the prominent IT and professional service ones in government contracting are ACT-IAC, AFCEA, PSC, SECAF, AFFIRM, NCMA, APMP, and your local chambers of commerce. If you aren’t currently involved in these, then reach out to people in your network who may be involved to see if they can find a good entry point for you. This is, in my opinion, one of the top ways to stay engaged.
2. Attend virtual events.
My inbox has been flooded with different virtual events that are happening each week. If you’re looking for pure content, virtual events can be better than attending in person – you get the best seat in the house and it’s easier to ask questions. Even better, many virtual events are free! Seek out those events where your client is a speaker, or the topic is centered around an opportunity that you want to pursue. The downside to attending virtual events is that the networking is very limited, or in many cases, non-existent, which leads me to my next point.
3. Find creative ways to network.
Let’s face it, we haven’t found a way to make virtual networking “work.” Every virtual networking event I’ve attended has either been awkward or one person tends to dominate the conversation making natural conversations very difficult! Even when using breakout rooms in Zoom, it’s hard to meet the people that you want to meet. In real life networking, you are typically speaking with someone one-on-one or in small groups of 2-3, but breakout rooms in Zoom tend to be 5+ people. If you do join a virtual networking event, one positive is that you normally see their first and last name in the Zoom call, so you should absolutely add them on LinkedIn during the meeting. Then you can follow up afterwards and perhaps schedule a one on one call with that person.
PRO TIP: I’ve found that the introduction or ending of meetings tend to be the most valuable networking opportunities. This is obvious for client calls, but you should take the same opportunity on calls where you’re volunteering for an organization/committee. These are similar to the “hallway conversations” that we used to have at events. It’s the quick catchup, personal “get to know you” type of conversations that go a long way with building relationships. Waiting for someone to dial-in on a call is the perfect time for small talk to avoid the awkward silence of everyone sitting around patiently waiting.
4. Share valuable content.
Try to put yourself in your client’s shoes and send them content that they may find valuable. These could be articles you come across that may be relevant to your client or industry news that could impact their programs. Better yet, create content or publish articles that could be of value to a broader set of your clients and offer that up for free. It’s a great way to stay engaged and people may actually have the extra time these days to read it!
PRO TIP: If you do create your own content, make sure you read up on how to publish it on LinkedIn. There are numerous tips and tricks available on how to get the most views. If you’re taking the time to write your own articles, you might as well try to maximize the number of people who see it!
5. Find ways to safely interact with people outside of work.
Relationship building and networking is not just confined to professional settings. You should follow the same thought process for your personal life as well. Instead of going out to restaurants or bars to socialize, maybe go on a socially distanced bike ride with some friends, or have a bonfire outside (less than 10 people and at least 6 feet apart). I decided to get more serious about cooking elaborate meals with my free time and created an Instagram account to engage with my friends while I do so (shameless plug @chef.blizzy). My culinary-inspired Instagram account has resulted in reconnecting with friends from 10+ years ago – and this is during a socially distanced pandemic!
I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a member of an amazing church called CityLight that is staying active during the pandemic. We partner with Mark’s Pub in Falls Church to deliver meals to families in need every Wednesday night. This is a great opportunity to interact with friends from church while still maintaining social distancing and CDC guidelines. Staying engaged socially with friends will make sure that you keep your social skills sharp for when we inevitably return to life as normal.
Just because we’re physically distant from one another, there is no reason to be socially distant. We’re so fortunate to live in a time where we have other avenues to interact with one another – imagine going through a quarantine before the 1990’s without email, videoconferences, or Netflix! Hopefully some of these tips are useful enough to keep using when we return to life as normal.