For many business owners, the disruptions to local commerce over the last year have meant that many routine practices have been put on pause. They’ve had to modify their spaces and storefronts to be safer for customers. They’ve rolled out new products and changed how they market their goods or services, all to help their communities. They’re hanging on, but the sad truth is, not all will make it – those that adapt have a far better chance.
Behind the scenes, the pandemic has changed how business owners can network to grow their customer base and sell their wares. Workshops and classes may have moved online, but the need for person-to-person connection can be hard to replicate through a device. Opportunities to develop interpersonal and professional connections are often found in public or private events, like coffee meetups or networking luncheons that present owners with the chance to interact with their peers.
While in-person activities have yet to resume, there are still ways business owners can connect with each other to learn, get inspired, and grow. Here are our recommendations for recreating the networking-inspired personal connections in an increasingly digital world.
Don’t fret, the hard part has already been done for you. In fact, there are dozens of organizations rooting for your business's success across Snohomish County, like local chambers of commerce. Many chambers are organizing digital networking events, which you can easily attend from the comfort of your home. By following these organizations, bookmarking their calendar pages, and adding events to your own calendar, you can create a steady flow of networking opportunities for yourself with little hassle and no travel time.
Some of the best sources for networking events come from your local Chambers of Commerce, and SnoCo has one for just about every community. These organizations are excellent sources for information about other digital events taking place, so be sure to monitor their website or sign up for their newsletters to receive updates when new opportunities are added.
The Economic Alliance of Snohomish County (EASC) is another excellent source for digital events. Every month, they have a series of community events and informational sessions hosted online that cover a variety of interesting topics. In addition, there are numerous organizations that support the different industries across SnoCo, including tourism organizations, trade groups, and ethnic business associations, just to name a few. Build your master calendar by looking to see what these groups offer, and you’ll have dozens of digital networking events to choose from!
Making a digital networking event both fun and productive can be challenging. After all, the personal connection you get from being face-to-face is hard to replicate through a screen. There are, however, some small steps you can take to get the most out of a digital coffee chat.
First, get comfortable on camera! Meetups and events are taking place all the time on popular video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Some of these programs are free, while others might require a subscription for more robust services, but you can easily create your account and get acquainted with the technology.
Set yourself up with a relaxing space at your home or in your office where you feel at ease meeting new people on camera. Finding a new corner of your regular office or a new seat in your home can help you step away from “work mode” and transition into “networking mode” for a little while. Since you’ll be on camera, check the lighting in the room you’re in, and test the sound quality, too.
Finally, consider adding something extra to show your appreciation to the person or people joining you. Since we can’t gather for coffee like we used to anymore, consider sending a gift certificate to a local coffee shop to your guest in advance. Small acts of kindness – the extra touches – can help build those connections that in-person meetups did so naturally.
Forgoing personal events, like birthday celebrations or retirement parties, has been one of the biggest challenges of this year. As we’ve adapted to these changes and bonded with our families in new ways, it’s become clear that routine networking events were an important part of our social and professional lives. They offered us the chance to meet new people, learn about new ideas, and discover new opportunities for ourselves and for business. If anything, their absence has highlighted the importance of person-to-person connection in business.
By inspiring new ideas, digital networking events are one type of connection that can do good things for us both personally and professionally. Through online events and videoconference coffee dates, we can continue to find inspiration in each other while at a safe distance that protects everyone.
It is an understatement to say that our routines have changed in ways big and small. For business owners who have spent the year transforming their stores to keep us safe, digital networking is an important tool – one that can lift and strengthen the entire region. The growth of these types of digital events offer further proof that the vibrant business community in SnoCo is adapting to create a strong and resilient economy.