Over a third of the world’s population is currently on lockdown and we look set to be observing social distancing rules for months to come. Right now, the idea of business networking might feel like an impossible, even ridiculous task. However, as the global economy weakens, the most proactive, resilient and resourceful businesses will be more likely to emerge stronger.

Major industry conferences and events have been postponed or cancelled altogether. Meeting new people for a drink or at a reception is off the cards, and even bumping into an acquaintance in the office has been ruled out for a while. But there are ways you can use this lockdown period to strengthen and expand your professional network.

Maintaining relationships

You’ve worked hard to build up your business network to where it is today – don’t let all of your efforts go to waste!

Social connections need to be continually reinforced if they’re to be long-lasting, so commit to spending a certain amount of time each day (for example, 30 minutes every lunchtime) nurturing your network. Scroll through your newsfeeds to stay abreast of updates and opinions.

At the start of each week, think about which contacts you’ll reach out to and plan how you’re going to do it. Email, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn are all good platforms for communication, but don’t underestimate the power of a phone call for enabling more productive and meaningful conversations. And as we’re all so used to Zoom now, why not suggest a video call?

We’re all in the same boat, juggling similar issues – it’s a very unifying situation. Kick things off by checking in with how they, their families and their colleagues are coping with the situation. You can move on to discuss how they’re adapting from a professional perspective, and how you might be able to support or learn from their practice.

Make new connections

Social media allows us to reach out to new people while sticking to social distancing restrictions. It’s the perfect time for these platforms to really come into their element. Your first move should be to check that your own personal and business profiles are up to date and professional in appearance. Get into the habit of monitoring these daily so you can be prompt with replying to messages and sharing relevant news stories or opinions.

Comment, like and tag across your own network to make sure you’re up to speed with what’s going on and that you’re seen by your connections and beyond. With more of us online than ever before (and for longer), if you’re not there, you’ll miss out.

Search Facebook and LinkedIn for any industry relevant groups or online forums which may be useful to your area of business. Commit to checking these and interacting frequently – being visible is particularly important right now as markets toughen. Find people you want to build a relationship with and interact with their posts. This will establish you in their network – making a DM more likely to be responded to.

Try to produce and share your own relevant content. This will improve your social media profile and encourage others to reach out and interact with you, saving you some of the work. Write slightly longer, informed posts on LinkedIn, or consider starting a blog on your website.

Keep meeting, but make it virtual

Did you have a new potential client meeting planned for this month? A drinks event or business lunch? Don’t just cancel it – take it online.

There are numerous platforms – old and new – soaring in popularity among professionals, yourself probably included, looking to recreate physical meet-ups. Forget worries about booking venues or the last train home – the ease and effectiveness of virtual networking means it may remain a popular choice even after the pandemic subsides. Get to grips with the best ways you can use these platforms now.

Be sensitive to the situation

Finally, it should go without saying that, on account of the challenges we’re currently facing in many aspects of our lives, sensitivity should be at the forefront of your mind. Remember that business might be the last thing your contact’s thinking about, and they may be facing redundancy, financial problems or family health concerns.

If you reach out to someone, always check in with them first before moving into business discussions. If you feel like it might not be appropriate to discuss professional matters, then offer a sympathetic and supportive ear instead. We’re living through times where business is getting more personal coming from our own homes. Some professional codes are being rewritten.

Personal connections are incredibly valuable during difficult times, so keep on reaching out and you may reap the rewards – both now and in the future.

Head to our COVID-19 Impact Support Hub for more articles, guides, videos and resources to help your business not only survive, but thrive.