Since the start of the year, we’ve learned a lot from COVID-19 about how disease spreads. While it is hard to see beyond the toll that the pandemic is taking on our health and on our economy, I’ve been looking for the silver linings and the lessons we can learn. In the future, I’ll look back nostalgically on this time and remember the months I was able to have dinners with my three adult children who are all living with us.
I’ve also realized that the coronavirus has something to teach us about business development and the importance of building a network. In the case of the coronavirus, building that network is clearly a bad thing. In the case of business development, building a network is essential for success.
While COVID-19 spreads from individual to individual, we know that it can spread more quickly when groups of people come together; and it can spread exponentially faster when large groups of people are congregated indoors and near each other.
So how is this relevant to business development and business relationship building? The short answer is that it is better to know more people than fewer people. Your referrals will grow more quickly if you know more people and if you deepen your relationship with those people. Referrals will grow even faster if you spend more time with “super spreaders”, the people in your network who like to connect people and who will be ambassadors for your marketing message.
There is some nuance to this. Your contact with any one individual needs to be meaningful. While you may be able to contract the virus if you are in a packed arena and merely coming in contact with one or two infected individuals, spending time at large networking events alone won’t necessarily build your network. Follow up is critical. Getting to know a lot of people very superficially won’t necessarily help “spread” your marketing message. Going deeper is important. And since we really can’t attend large networking events right now, this is a good time to get to know people better.
That is another one of silver linings that I have found during this time. People are looking for ways to connect and are more open. I’m finding that I’m getting to know people on a more personal level (Jim plays guitar; Molly is a grandmother; Dan has a mother-in-law who just died of COVID-19 in an assisted living facility.) Zoom can give us a window into the lives of our colleagues, clients and professional contacts.
So look for the people who are ready willing and able to take your message and spread it “virally. Your reputation will grow more quickly. While networking is a volume business, it is only a volume business up to a point). There is no way to develop deep relationships with thousands of people.
The mantra of my business networking group ProVisors is Know, Like, Trust, Refer. If you want your business to grow, get to know a reasonable number of professionals who may be in the position to refer matters your way. Spend additional time cultivating relationships with the super spreaders (the people who will carry your message to others); and be careful about spending too much time at very large events where your interactions will at best be fleeting. Most importantly, be healthy and practice safe social distancing!