Networking isn’t about meeting someone on LinkedIn, having a good discussion, and promising to follow up at a later date and time. It goes far beyond that, especially today. Here are a few timely tips.

In the real estate industry, it’s not what you know, but who you know. And if you want to expand the “who” in this equation, you need to get serious about networking. But as a young real estate professional without a ton of existing connections, where do you start? And how does networking look different in a COVID and (eventually) post-COVID world?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a real estate agent, investor or wholesaler, the best networkers in our industry also tend to build the strongest and most lucrative businesses. That’s just how it goes. And if you want to begin building your own network, you need a plan that accounts for the current landscape of social distancing and virtual engagement.

Although the core principles of networking will always remain the same, how you execute them looks a little different in 2020 and beyond. Here are a few timely tips.

1. Create a professional online image

It used to be that people treated their online presence as secondary to their “real life” presence. But in today’s world, the lines have been blurred.

It’s hard to be a successful real estate professional — or at least a well-connected one — without having a professional online presence. This includes a website, an optimized LinkedIn profile, and clean, crisp branding that’s reflective of your personality and professional goals.

2. Put yourself in (socially distanced) proximity to the right people

Networking doesn’t happen when you’re idle. It happens when you put yourself in proximity to the right people — even when you’d rather be doing something else.

Always be thinking about ways you can put yourself around the right people — whether virtually or at a small in-person event. Real estate networking events are great, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one in the coming months. Instead, you’ll discover virtual summits, webinars, live chats and even social media feeds ripe for networking.

Check out Inman Connect, with two virtual Connect Now events scheduled for Nov. 12 and Dec. 17 and a larger event slated for January. You can also access replays from previous sessions and other related sources on demand.

3. Establish rapport through bonding experiences

The best networking happens when there are experiences that force you to bond with other people. Once you’ve built up a solid network of people, look for ways to solidify your relationship with them. Traditionally, this has been called “entertaining,” but there’s no need to slap a formal word on it.

Although social distancing restrictions have relaxed in many parts of the country, large groups are still considered unsafe. If you’re going to do in-person networking, try small intimate groups (meaning just two or three people). 

Try doing things that allow you to be outside and maintain a safe distance. And as a general rule of thumb, anything you can do to put people slightly out of their comfort zone will make for a more memorable experience after the fact.

For example, you can go golfing. It doesn’t matter if you typically play golf or if you’re fairly new. Golf is popular among real estate professionals, and you can do a lot of bonding (and laughing) over four hours on a golf course.

In today’s day and age, there’s also something to be said for building rapport online. And while it might seem different the first time you participate in one of these experiences, it’s highly beneficial.

One idea is to pick two or three people in your network and hire an online cooking instructor. Work with the cooking instructor to coordinate delivery of wine and ingredients to each residence. Then, you schedule a time where you all get on a Zoom call with the instructor, and cook together (while still being separated in your spaces).

4. Give more than you get

Most people approach networking from the wrong angle. They go into the process thinking about how much they can get from other people. And guess what? Other people sniff them out from across the room. Don’t be that guy or gal.

The key to successful networking is to give way more than you get. In fact, you should make a habit out of giving as much as you can to as many people as possible without ever asking for anything in return. 

For example, you might offer to be a free resource to someone who is interested in getting into the real estate field. Let them pick your brain, offer advice, send them a book in the mail and more. Eventually, people will notice your generosity. You’ll have made a positive impression on so many people that they’ll begin willingly giving to you and bringing you in on opportunities.

Plant your seeds today

Networking is a lot like gardening. You have to begin by tilling up the land and mixing soil — so much so that you end up with a sore back at the end of a long day. Then comes the planting of seeds. Unfortunately, this is where most young real estate professionals leave it. (They meet someone and then wait for the other person to follow up.) But what they don’t realize is there’s still plenty of work to be done.

You can’t just plant a seed and wait for it to grow into a healthy plant that produces nutritious food. No, there’s a lot that has to take place between planting and harvesting.

You have to provide consistent water, pull the weeds that threaten to choke the plant out and possibly add other nutrients to the soil in an effort to encourage healthy growth. There’s a lot of work to be done — even in today’s unique circumstances.

Remember that networking doesn’t happen in a bottle. It’s not about meeting someone on LinkedIn, having a good discussion, and promising to follow up at a later date and time. It goes far beyond that. You have to nurture these relationships so they can flourish from tiny seeds into lucrative crops.

Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher and business consultant specializing in entrepreneurship, technology and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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