For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing a series called Meet the Teamlancers, where we’ve been getting an up-close and personal look at individuals working together in teams. An element they’ve been universally sharing with the rest of us is the way they manage and structure their businesses along with the team dynamic.

For me, at least, one of the fascinating takeaways in interviewing people is hearing the discussion that happens after the stories run. When I follow the trajectory of shares or social media-inspired conversations, I often happen into discussions about teamlancing where people realize that they are, in fact, teamlancers and, in many cases, have been for years without actually putting a name to it.

This time around, we’re going to meet up with individuals who have created extended networking groups online and often run them in a Teamlancing™ collaboration. It’s a topic dear to my heart since, unlike most people who gripe about networking, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Not in the cheesy way portrayed in film or complained about on social media, but instead in a way that allows me to connect with people I might never have encountered and learn and share and find ways to grow our business reach and networks.

It takes all kinds (of networking)

After 9/11, I created and launched an entrepreneurial network in association with the NYC Department of Small Business Services. At that point, we were a city battered and bewildered, and our small and resilient group allowed us to connect and help each other rebuild our businesses while sharing our skills with others gratis. To this day, that’s one of my proudest professional accomplishments. But networking ventures come in different forms with different functions.

Some years ago, I helped launch an international networking venture that was more of a posh dinner club than an aggressive networking venture. What was interesting about that group was that core group members traveled to different countries, and socializing took precedence over business talk. There was a rule that you couldn’t even ask your dinner mate what their line of business was until after the entrée had been cleared. Make no mistake about it, deals were eventually made, but the group’s ethos seemed more focused on fun than finance.

The socially distanced networker

When life is predictable, so is networking. You find a group that serves your industry, join, connect, and interact. Some come for the cocktails while others for the speeches. Still, others are on the hunt for contacts to sell their services to or for someone to hire them. We all have our reasons for networking, along with our different plans of attack.

Of course, life during a pandemic means that in-person networking is off the table, and instead, we have to either revisit our online groups and hangouts or find new ways to get together online to share ideas and more.

2 tips for successful networking:

  1. Don’t overdo it, don’t overthink it. There’s nothing worse than someone who heads to even a virtual networking event with stacks of notes and an aggressive plan. It’s important to realize that the ultimate goal of networking is to meet, interact with, and hopefully lay the grounds for a relationship with someone not already in your network. That’s it, and nothing more.
  2. Try the one-person rule. Along with the aggressive attempt to meet as many people as possible, you’ll often see people who act like they’re being graded on the number of connections they make. For me, it’s just the opposite. Whenever I teach marketing and promotions classes or lecture on the topic of networking, I tell people to give themselves a single goal — to meet and connect with a single person worth knowing. Did you share a business tip that made the event worthwhile? Excellent! You did it. Do you commiserate about a pain point you hope to help each other through? Even better. Networking isn’t a popularity contest or a party; meeting one person worth knowing is worth more than powering through a list of people only to come back with nothing worth following upon.

The solopreneur turned connector

Karen Swim, president of Solo PR Pro, founded her network of solo PR practitioners “to create a space specifically dedicated to the needs of independents in public relations, communication, and related fields.”

By creating the group, Swim “gave people an opportunity to share insights and ideas with people who understood their daily challenges in addition to having access to resources designed for the way they work.”

And in an exciting turn of events, sometimes that means that even though members “work in the profession as an independent, micro agency or function as a single PR practitioner in an organization,” they sometimes team up on larger projects or to help promote each other’s ventures.

While the group has welcomed new members over the past year, Swim said they’ve also “seen some attrition as people have taken a budget hit with loss of work or pivoted to a different phase of their career.”

How does she keep the group feeling going when all work distanced and on different projects?

“I think it is important to stay connected and listen to the needs of members. We are not perfect, but we try to meet our members where they are,” Swim said.

Since members are “scattered across the country,” Swim said that she’s always used virtual tools to keep everyone connected. And yet, with almost all members connecting and working virtually, she still had to figure out different methods of catering to member’s needs.

As she explains it, “It was a matter of adapting how much we offered and shifting some of our content to be more interactive and casual so that members could simply connect and support one another.”

Thinking of creating a virtual network either of teamlancers or those sharing your profession? Swim’s advice is to “Focus on the members. When you genuinely care about their needs, you will take the right actions to create and maintain a community that they are excited about. Our members are the best people around, and because they care so much about one another, it has truly made us more than community but family.”

Even if you’re not sure that networking is something you need for your own career, you might want to consider it to boost someone else’s. In early January, CNN reported some depressing labor statistics.

While there are many gender gaps in the work world, the pandemic has hit women harder professionally than men. According to the article, employers cut 140,000 jobs in December, but wait; it only gets worse. The article revealed that “digging deeper into the data also reveals a shocking gender gap: Women accounted for all the job losses, losing 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000.”

You may not even know that your former colleague is out of work. What networking does in the here and now is allow people who perhaps are out of work to find a way to meet again on common ground. And who knows? You might be able to connect someone searching for work with someone else who could use a break.

And even if you can’t afford to join a networking group right now, there are so many free professional associations with substantial social media membership. For instance, Sisters in SEO is a skill-sharing and networking group on Facebook that’s over 9 thousand members strong and offers tips on everything from honing your skills to growing your business.

Find ways that networking doesn’t feel like networking:

  • The internet is a beautiful mess of subcultures and quirky interest groups. Two great examples of social media accounts run by teamlancers are @Motherfocloir, an Irish language account managed by an evolving group who each bring their particular flair. Also notable is one of my favorite accounts, @FolkloreThursday, which every Thursday chooses a different folklore theme and has different hosts throughout the day. It also provides me a way of connecting with others and sharing my deep love of folklore and mythology, something I don’t get to talk about much in my life as a journalist and marketing strategist. Sometimes networking is just about sharing another side of yourself.
  • For some more social media fun, do something for others. I noticed that there are often journalist pitches on Twitter promoted almost exclusively in the U.K. without a way of amplifying requests for U.S. sources. I started a small account called @Sources_Needed  as a quick and dirty way of sharing journalist requests with others. Recently, I was unexpectedly able to connect an editor with a writer friend with a particular niche. I’m still unsure what I plan to do with the account, but it’s an excellent way to help fellow writers and PR friends connect with zero ulterior motives.

It’s not one-size-fits-all.

When I started working on this article, I realized that I belong to many different networking groups that touch on the other parts of my professional life. I also realized that I tend to act accordingly in each. That might mean that I take one tone on my writers’ message boards and quite another when I’m connecting with those in the beauty industry. As much as networking used to be a handshake and cocktail party sort of thing, the past year has created an incredible array of opportunities to connect with people you may never have previously met. Then again, for some, it’s finding a way of using your existing networks to actually network.

About a decade ago, publicist Zlata Faerman created a group on Facebook because she “felt there was a huge need to connect publicists with media and other marketing professionals, from graphic designers to website developers.”

Over the years, Faerman “developed a lot of professional contacts” and ended up becoming a go-to person who knew someone. As she describes it, she was already the person everyone else asked for help finding the right person for the right job; why not gather them all in one place?

While Faerman initially wanted to create a database and separate website to house her new extended  and now shared   network, she said, “that proved to be difficult and a full-time job for someone with time I didn’t have.”

Faerman ended up creating connections, a ‘by invitation only’ group. She’s also incredibly picky about members. “I accept people only if they were invited by someone else.” And she keeps her group intentionally manageable in size with about 2,000 members. “Over the years, other groups have come about,” Faerman said, “but I’m not in competition to see who the best or biggest group can be. I just want to be able to help connect people who need others.”

Over the past year, Faerman noticed an uptick in requests to join her group either due to the gig economy or the general work-from-home direction most of us have taken.

“I do see many more requests to join coming in, and a lot more people posting about what their qualifications are, should anyone be looking for help in that area.” Faerman has changed her role as well, “I’ve also tried to be more engaging as an admin, something I hadn’t done previously.”

Like most things online, it can sometimes be challenging to keep things civil, especially when some are aggressively seeking new clients.

“I don’t like for people in the group to be obnoxious about the way they self-promote,” Faerman said. “So, if someone is incessantly posting about themselves, I’ll delete it and remind the user. If it continues, I boot.”

And while she isn’t overly strict about rules for the group, she does like to keep content consistent. “I also don’t allow for people to simply share a post from somewhere else without an upfront comment explaining what the post is about. Other than that, things have always been civil.”

Are you already part of a networking group without realizing it?

There is no longer one way of defining networking, so you may be already part of a networking group without knowing it.

  • Do you belong to a neighborhood association that discusses issues in your building or neighborhood? You could try to expand on this by discussing your career and seeing anyone else who wants to shift directions.
  • Does your house of worship offer some sort of online meeting spot? Consider taking yourself off mute the next time you connect and sharing information about yourself.
  • Do you belong to an alumni group? You don’t have to be Ivy League-educated to take advantage of your alma mater. Start scanning group events and consider popping in from time to time.