It is not a secret that in the last 12 months, connecting with new people has been more challenging than ever. Probably connecting even with our own inner circle of family and friends has been tough. Platforms like MeetUp, Facebook Events or other local activities that had a long track-record of successful gatherings for years in a row, have reduced their activities on average up to 83% in 2020. 

Expanding your network is however, perhaps one of the single most impactful activities you could decide to invest your time in. It will not only multiply your chances of naturally “offering” your product or service to someone, when you first meet them by simply presenting you, but it could also turn out to be incredibly valuable for your overall career health.

It could turn out to be a fantastic way also to provide active support and help to your own network of peers, as the more people you know, the more you can also suggest a potential client, future employee or employer, a mentor, a service provider, to whoever might need contacting that trustworthy person you happen to know.

Even in your own career, perhaps your future step in your career is just one or two connections away, recent studies show that 72% of all job vacancies is actually filled first within the internal circle of the company, and the preferred channel is always to ask for a referred contact to the existing employees. 

But what about now? Maybe you were a super-connector in the past, perhaps you know hundreds or thousands of relevant professionals in your city, but how can we nurture or expand our network now, without attending a virtual cocktail in yet another Zoom meeting?

In this article we suggest 5 powerful and practical ways to start off by actually revisiting your large existing network, and ‘refreshing’ those positive contacts that can be revisited. People now are actually more open to connect and have meaningful conversations that don’t start with “I need a job” or “I am selling such and such”.

Having met someone in the past, it means that their door is almost half-open to reconnecting with you already. So, let’s go on and see how you could decide to capitalize on your existing contacts. 

1. Start with the ‘Fresher’ contacts first

At the beginning, it just makes sense to start with the most recent contacts that you met most recently. Often you can return to the attendee list of an event online, and look for the familiar faces you connected with, in case the names don’t just pop up to you. Scrolling through your contact phone list could be useful or the more analogic list of business cards in your last drawer. If you are so lucky to have noted down some information on their business cards that will of course solve many issues, otherwise I suggest to Google their name and last name followed by the word LinkedIn, seeing their face might remind you of the interaction you had with them.

Engaging with a casual conversation, preferably via email, if not using the LinkedIn messaging platform, can kick off the right scenario to then follow-up with a call perhaps. Make sure you remind when and how you met them, and hold your fire a bit, offer your help or simply showing your will to ‘re-connect’. Do not be too blunt and ask them for something too quickly, be natural, be genuinely interested in active listening, and do not see them as resources, be human.

2. Keep it simple, we still connect in the same ways.

Good networking will work even in these strange pandemic times. You should always focus on cultivating mutual relationships with the contacts you want to approach again. Humans interact in the same basic ways, whether it is the year 1000 or 2021 behind a monitor.

Nobody should start a networking conversation with “I have this to sell” or “I am looking for a new professional opportunity”. Successful networking is about building relationships. A nice way is by starting with a list of the possible things you can do for people in your network. Maybe you could create a connection to an important partner in someone’s field, or point to a little-noticed but significant article or blog post. Even a small gesture, if it is done genuinely and naturally with meaning to the other person, can jump-start your networking.

3. Be wary of the moment we are living in.

Usually, we would all start off a casual conversation with someone we have met already, with a cheerful tone and by simply asking how everything has been. Unfortunately, during these months, none of us has really been doing “amazing”, even if I truly hope you are the exception that confirms the rule.

So try to find a balance between being a little bit more delicate when asking “how has everything been” and also not going the opposite way and starting off with an essay on COVID complaints. Keep it simple and be natural, but also delicate.

4. Video calls are actually appreciated lately.

We are all mostly craving more social interaction these days, and often a video call is the easiest most natural substitute when we are not able to grab coffee together. After a few exchanges, offer to have a short video call rather than a normal call, when they are a bit more informal, people actually enjoy them more. Mention that it doesn’t have to be long and offer their video platform or choice or even a simple WhatsApp video call. 

5. Expand from their network and offer your contacts as well.

Unless you are very young and only have just started, it should be very unlikely that once you listen to what your newly “refreshed” contact is great at, you cannot connect her/him further to another contact from your own network that she/he might benefit from knowing. So be generous and suggest a few valuable contacts that you might be able to share. At the end of the call, you could also do the same, and gently ask if your contact has other interesting profiles you might want to connect with. Be open and indicate openly which type of profiles you would be most interested in meeting, you have nothing to lose. 

Once again, the secret here is to simply be yourself, start off by being generous first and authentic. There is so much you can do simply navigating through your current LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends, phonebook numbers and business cards. We might sometimes be after novelty rather than a true connection.