When I started working remotely five years ago, I was excited to get my kids from the school bus stop while taking a video call, but lunch with coworkers and the occasional Friday evening laughs while we waited for the train disappeared. I learned that maintaining and growing my network while working remotely would take time and intentionality.
Fast forward to a couple of years, and I became a full-time consultant in the middle of the pandemic. Now the excitement of virtual meetings while wearing joggers turned into constant Zoom fatigue. I had built my network around my 9-5 role, and every month the opportunities to collaborate with others became less and less. Even social media and growing my brand online became a chore; I missed grabbing coffee with friends, exploring partnerships with other BIWOC, and sitting down to brainstorm ideas with other leaders.
Once I started talking to the leaders in my network about my concerns, they shared similar feelings. “How am I going to secure an informational interview when I haven’t spoken to my college roommate in years?” “Should I email, Zoom, or text?” Or “Am I the only one feeling this insecure?” No, you are not. After doing an intense calendar audit, and turning meetings into emails and Zoom calls into phone calls I created collaboration and communication goals to grow my network online.
You don’t have to spend any money to build your network of powerhouse leaders ready to support you in your career and business.
Here are five easy ways for you to build your professional network online:
1. National Associations:
If your focus is to grow as a leader and build a network of professionals, national associations are the perfect place to start. These associations have national and local chapters, host monthly professional development webinars and workshops, and engage their members through in-person and online networking events. These organizations also have volunteer opportunities that require minimal hours per month and expand your network even greater. I am involved with two associations: the Association of Latino Professionals of America (ALPFA) and the Latino Professional Network (LPN). You can also check out other associations like the Network for Executive Women, the Female Founders Collective, or Innovation Women.
Be aware that national associations have an annual membership fee to access their premium features like job boards, exclusive events, directories, discounts, etc. Still, their newsletters and free features are a great place to start. Talk to your manager, take advantage of your professional development funds to cover the cost of the premium membership if you benefit from it, and ask the member services coordinator to help you write a compelling funds request for your employer.
If you are a business owner, talk to your tax specialist to see if the membership fee is tax-deductible.
2. Online groups and communities:
Yes, people other than your parents still use their Facebook account. Don’t overestimate the power of a Facebook group. Statistics show that more than 1.4 billion people are using Facebook Groups every month, and 26% of Facebook Group users’ primary group is around a hobby or activity. If social media is not your thing, I recommend checking out online communities that use the Mighty Network platform for members to network, attend events, and share job opportunities. These communities are great for laid-back conversations and chatting about non-work-related topics too.
Suppose you are searching for affinity groups by field. In that case, a quick search on LinkedIn Groups or nonprofit organizations like Latinos for Education and their EdCentro platform, Amplify Latinx, or Latinas in Tech can also get you the right people. Love podcasts and audio? Download the Clubhouse app (Apple and Android) and join a discussion group or club.
3. Online Conferences and Events:
In-person speed networking might be a thing of the past, but conferences and events haven’t stopped. For many companies and organizations, going virtual means they can do more with less, and international events like Inbound to local open-mic nights are merging technology with community engagement like never before. Building your brand is essential during the job search or launching of a business. Your professional brand is also a priority when you attend online events.
Have a place to take notes, update your profile on the event directory, and have your scheduling link and LinkedIn URL ready to share during sessions. The chat is there to ask questions, respond to attendants, and engage with speakers. Don’t forget to check out the event website, join any event groups, and drop your links before they wrap up any sessions.
4. Join a book club:
Before you say, “Paulette, I don’t have time to read,” know that digital audiobooks continue to be the fastest-growing segment in publishing. In 2019 the Pew Research Center reported that 1 in 5 Americans listens to audiobooks. Your local library might be closed for visitors, but libraries and local book stores continue to host book club meetings, and apps like MeetUp and Clubhouse are taking book discussions to the next level.
You don’t have to wait to join another book club. Find a book from a BIWOC author like Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism or Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World and invite 5-6 friends to talk about the book.
5. Group Coaching or Fellowship Programs:
One of the things I love about my group coaching program, the Latina Leadership Mastery program, is the sisterhood that grows when Women of Color come together to empower each other. Some of the magic that happened (outside of sessions) were participants practicing for interviews, sharing job opportunities, proofreading bios, celebrating promotions, completing reading challenges, and texting each other almost every day. As a business owner, I spend a lot of my learning time with entrepreneurship cohorts like The Cru, Bank of America’s Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell, the LISC Business Accelerator, and Facebook’s Elevate program.
These group coaching or fellowship programs bring a mixture of learning, practice, creative problem solving, and networking that can rarely be replicated (except maybe a group project in college, but we all hated those). These programs usually have a cost, but most organizations and companies offer payment plans, discounts, scholarships, or templates to help you ask your manager to cover their fees.
The key to growing your network online is knowing what area of your life you want to prioritize, getting clear on how much time and energy you want to spend, and then starting. Stop waiting until the “stars align” or have the perfect website or LinkedIn profile to connect with others. Just bring your authentic self… and a scheduling link.