Remember networking in 2019? I do.

There were fun networking events held any time you wanted-—breakfasts, lunches, or after hours. I remember chatting up new acquaintances over a steaming cup of coffee, sans mask, and sitting at linen-covered round tables in elegant banquet halls, opposite the podium, ready to hear an enjoyable, yet informative speaker. I had my business card holder full and was dressed to impress.

It’s a far cry from watching someone on Zoom in my comfy clothes, trying to connect in a meaningful way with others in the “room.” And I’ll admit that the lackluster difference is partially to blame for grinding my networking to a near halt since the pandemic started.

In terms of surviving the pandemic, I’ve been lucky. Work is good, and the several clients who stepped back from their investment with me have returned to their content marketing programs. Others were able to juggle resources enough to keep me on. Some even took time during the pandemic to step up projects that they had been thinking about (writing or finishing that book!) and I’ve been able to help them make great progress.

But I know others who have not been so lucky and who have reached out to me, looking for new positions. My heart goes out to all who have been affected by the pandemic economically and struggle with uncertainty right now.

As I reflected on the entire situation, I was reminded of a great book I worked on with Fig Factor Media. It was completed long before the pandemic hit, but in a sense, was ahead of its time. It’s called The NCG Factor: A Formula for Building Life-Changing Relationships from College to Retirement from author Larry Kaufman. I was impressed with the book then, by Larry, and his depth of experience that he shares within the pages of the easy-to-read, non-assuming book. He is a LinkedIn expert and has addressed thousands of people as a keynote speaker about how to use LinkedIn in their job search in any stage of the game…college, transition, and retirement.

Besides reviewing the mechanics of LinkedIn, he espouses the power of making connections..TRUE connections… through LinkedIn. In the book, he talks about our inner and outer circles in which we network. In LinkedIn terms, our inner circle is comprised of our first-degree connections, especially those who you invited or that invited you. These are the people you know, like, and trust. Second-degree connections form your outer circle, but have shared connections and can “warm them up” for you to connect with, depending on their relationships. The stronger your first-degree connections, the more pathways you will have to their connections. Both are instrumental to igniting our career.

In the olden days, it was natural to build up your LinkedIn network with the business cards you’d organically collect at in-person events or sales calls. We’re able to do it virtually through Zoom chat boxes and participation lists these days. But Larry warns against having “sagging circles,” which occurs when we become comfortable in our position (or perhaps lose our old ways of networking via the pandemic) and stop intentionally building our network. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that life is unpredictable, and nobody is immune from “business loss.” Having a healthy network of people to help get you through the hard times is something not only to be cultivated, but also continuously maintained, no matter how solid your position at a company.

So what do we do if our circles begin to sag? In his book, Larry offers a list of fixes for inflating our “sagging circles,” that work as well virtually as they do in person. They include:

CHANGING UP YOUR LINKEDIN. Change the headline on your profile to let your network know what you need and what you’re looking for. People like to help!

ATTEND EVENTS. Thanks, Zoom. We can still do this, although we have to exchange the pleasure of coffee and donuts for the privilege off wearing comfy clothes from the waist down.

VOLUNTEER. This is a great option if you find yourself with more time, especially with so many group meetings online.

ASSOCIATIONS AND MEMBERSHIP GROUPS. When our time is limited, we may have to skip a meeting or two; now might be a good time to catch up with what’s happening in your groups and register for a few online meetings.

ALUMNI. These associations are always active and welcoming to new members.

FAMILY MEMBERS. We don’t always think of them first, but relatives can be helpful!

PROFESSIONAL SERVICE PEOPLE. Everyone has an accountant, hairdresser, printer, vendor, etc. who could know someone who knows someone that can help you. Find out!

FORMER WORK COLLEAGUES. People move on and continue to expand their networks with people who may be of interest to you. LinkedIn is a great way to keep track of those you’ve worked well within the past and may even be able to work with again in the future.

PEOPLE IN YOUR ROLE. See who can connect you to others who do the same work as you. They may have valuable connections to recruiters or past HR managers.

INNER AND OUTER CIRCLES. Glean your existing network for those who might be able to help you. Personally, I believe in the general good of people and their desire to help others.

Larry’s little book on my shelf reminds me that LinkedIn is a powerful tool today, just as it was pre-pandemic. Use it, work it, and grow it. The pay-off can be extraordinary!