If you look up the definition of networking you’ll find it described as ‘the process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.’
In the world of business, it is a vital tool. Vital to keep a company profile raised, to meet like-minded business people, to scope out a new deal or to seal one that’s already in the pipeline over a handshake.
Then came the covid-19 lockdown and it forced a massive shift in the way we conduct business. But networking has managed to remain a vital part of commerce – albeit in a new virtual way.
“Everything has always been face to face in terms of networking, the value really is the events, meeting people, networking,” said Emily Bentley, from networking organisation Tees Valley Business Club.
“When lockdown happened it was about trying to make sure we replicated that value at our first virtual event. We had no idea how many people would be there, we were really humbled by the attendance, it was fantastic.
“It felt like a situation that could have been so bad was made a lot better.
“It’s the same but different and the way people have grasped it has been amazing.”
Emily joined Sharon Hutchinson, formerly of Darlington Business Club, and Russ Sawdon of Business Network International Durham and Teesside, to discuss the changing face of networking events for the 12th Tees Business Leaders Facebook Live event.
There has been a boom in the likes of Zoom, Teams and online ways of staying in touch amongst the business community which won’t go away anytime soon, said the panel.
As lockdown eases, there will be an eventual return to face to face events but the future of networking, they said, will be a mix of both physical and online meetings.
BNI found lots of its regular attendees initially used their immediate post lockdown networking events to offer help to each other.
“That sense of care really epitomises our region, that’s what we are all about,” said Russ.
“Now we are more likely to be getting people who are coming out the other side. The ones that are able to find a way of networking, they are the ones that aren’t at the starting line, they’re at the first bend.”
Walking into a room and seeing people face to face takes some beating, said Sharon. But she believes going forward, an online presence will remain.
“I think that some things have changed for good, networking is a part of that,” she said.
“I welcome the day when I can go to an actual event to have that face to face contact. Once we are back in that environment, I think that the follow up side of things is where it is going to become an option. It will add into the options we have, become part of a mix. It won’t replace face to face networking.”
- Tees Business Leaders is run by Tees Business in association with FW Capital. FW Capital are now offering funding to Tees Valley SME businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans scheme. Through the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, they can help with CBILS loans between £100,000 and £750,000 to businesses affected by the Covid pandemic. For more information, visit their website at fwcapital.co.uk