Fewer than 10 days ago in North America, we worked from our offices, travelled to meet face-to-face with our clients and continued to network with our peers. This week, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the majority of us to work from home in isolation. 

Prior to borders closing and flights being cancelled, I had scheduled calls for Monday, March 16, to virtually introduce two Canadian exporters to one of our international mining clients in South America. I woke up on Monday morning and assumed the calls wouldn’t happen. I reached out to each participant and asked if they would like to cancel, but, to my surprise, both parties said no, they were looking forward to the call. 

This got me thinking: Many business development professionals establish leads at conferences and trade shows. These events are being cancelled all over the world, requiring exporters to be even more creative in their efforts to maintain their businesses. So how do we do this in a world of remote offices and social distancing? 

My job, as a Global Trade Director for Export Development Canada, is to connect global mining companies with Canadian mining suppliers and service providers. I identify business opportunities for companies across Canada, so it’s important for me to stay connected to my industry and network by any means possible. 

It’s long been clear that the best way to make a business connection is face-to-face—without the perceived awkwardness of technology, without accidentally talking over one another and without the worry that you’re going to be disconnected without warning—but that’s not an option at the moment. To that end, I’ve come up with a list of seven tips for making virtual business connections in a global health crisis.

1. Empower your team

 If you’re a business owner and you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about business development. Everyone knows that every single company’s focus should be on ensuring that they have enough capital to survive the coming months. I don’t disagree, but as you and your executive team navigate these unfamiliar times, you should also empower your employees to push forward. We are seeing creative minds from across the country propose innovative solutions to help us survive this crisis and whether it is a team of one or 20, you likely have a business development team that can help you to sustain your business in the coming months. 

2. Stay connected to your network

For me, work feels like one of the few things I can currently control. The ability to talk about something I know very well is kind of a relief from the chaos that is outside right now and, after connecting with many professionals in my network over past couple of days, I think many of you will agree. Touch base with your clients, peers and contacts to see how they’re doing, talk business and simply connect. In a time where social interactions are limited, a phone call or email is often welcome. 

3. Be respectful of those who need distance

As I continue to reach out to my network, I’ve found many are overwhelmed with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. Whether dealing with personal matters, the economic impact to their business or something else, everyone has unique obstacles that they are trying to overcome. I encourage everyone to be aware and respectful of this.  

4. Make friends with technology

It’s a new world in the absence of face-to-face meetings. People used to get irritated and annoyed by delays in voice calls or disruptions in web conferences, but they’re much more understanding now. They’re embracing the technology—warts and all—or, they’re at least more patient with its foibles. When it’s the only choice, it becomes much more palatable. Also, when people think of technology for business development they think of LinkedIn and the many video conference technologies that are available, but don’t stop there. Consider offering online demos, webinars and offer interactive means of showcasing the value you can bring to your clients. 

5. Now may not be the time for your clients, but stay positive

Many of your prospective clients will not be prioritizing signing new purchase orders, trialing new technologies or taking calls from vendors and suppliers. Even if you’ve had significant contact in the past, we’re in a crisis and everyone has priorities one which they need to be laser-focused. No response doesn’t mean they don’t want to do business with you, so be respectful and accept that radio silence is completely acceptable right now. Don’t take it personally, your clients will likely be more receptive to your outreach in the coming weeks.

6. Rethink your business development strategy

If I’ve learned anything in the past week, it’s that we need to be able to adapt quickly. While themes such as innovation and digitization were popular a week ago, today your clients are likely focused on the well-being of their workforce, maintaining their supply chain and reducing their costs. Can your solution be repositioned to meet your client’s immediate needs? If it can, you might have an opportunity that you may not have recognized in the past.  

7. Leverage your professional community

If your professional network is anything like the mining industry, it really is a community that is ready and willing to help one another. In addition to connecting with your peers, remember you have government partners that are here for you as well. Whether it is EDC, the Trade Commissioner Service, BDC or are another group, make sure you leverage every resource available to you to overcome these challenging times. Whether it’s business development or one of the many other challenges you are facing, we are here and more than willing to help.