Yes, It Is Possible (And Necessary) to Network During COVID-19

In a world gone virtual, how can dance business owners make meaningful connections? We asked three entrepreneurs to share their best practices.

A computer screen shows a Zoom room full of smiling, laughing faces, mostly women.
From a recent More Than Just Great Dancing event. Photo courtesy Hernandez

In COVID times, handshake hellos and business card exchanges have swiftly gone the way of the Rolodex—not to mention the opportunity to network at in-person events and conferences. Yet the need for making and maintaining connections as a business owner hasn’t gone away; in fact, it may matter more than ever.

Luckily, many dance owners are making the current landscape work in their favor by finding new ways to work the proverbial room.

Don’t be afraid to go for it on social media.

Direct messaging has opened up a whole new world for Erica Hornthal of Chicago Dance Therapy. “Previously, I had only dabbled in social media, but during COVID-19, I took the opportunity to interact online and my business has flourished,” says Hornthal, whose cold outreach to companies like Capezio and psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt has resulted in fruitful collaborations and connections.

For the former, Hornthal led a mindful movement class on the company’s Instagram, while her correspondence with Lovatt, author of The Dance Cure, helped Hornthal get insight and inspiration for her own forthcoming book.

“Because everyone is networking in a virtual space, it can open doors to people you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise,” shares Hornthal, who has been in private practice as a dance therapist since 2011. She also believes the internet can be the great equalizer in terms of impostor syndrome: “Social media seems to level the playing field—we are all just people sitting behind our computers or devices looking for inspiration or connection.”

In terms of making the ask, Hornthal has found the most success via Instagram, as she believes there is a “lot of Facebook burnout.” Typically she opens her note with an endearing commonality, such as “I saw your post on…” or “I appreciated your opinion on….,” followed by an explanation of the proposed collaboration. “I tend to start with some way I was inspired by the individual, which helps open the lines of communication rather than asking for something right away,” says Hornthal.

Hornthal has also made her own opportunities for networking: Last year, she created and hosted the first-ever Dance Therapy Advocates Summit, after realizing there were only a handful of existing live events and conferences for dance therapists. The three-day virtual event featured 19 speakers and attracted 200 registrants from 12 countries. Not only did the summit help position Hornthal as a mover and shaker among her peers, but it also helped put the spotlight on the world of dance therapy. “Not a lot of people know about our field, so my hope was to create community and create visibility,” says Hornthal.

Tap into the power of online groups.

As the owner of Chula Vista, CA-based Neisha’s Dance & Music Academy, Neisha Hernandez believes there is strength in numbers. She’s experienced that firsthand as an affiliate of More Than Just Great Dancing, a membership organization for studio owners helmed by Misty Lown. Hernandez is an active member of the organization’s Facebook group, as well as some location-specific subgroups.

A computer shows a Zoom session with three windows and four participants (one window shows a couple.) There is a logo in the corner that says "Studio owner university"
From a recent More Than Just Great Dancing event. Photo courtesy Hernandez

According to Hernandez, members help each other navigate everything from pricing to COVID-19 policies to employee motivation via group calls, trainings, text threads, and online forums. She’s also been able to plug into grant money and other opportunities as a direct result of her involvement. But the biggest benefit? Camaraderie and community. “When someone opens up and is vulnerable about the truth of their struggle, it allows others to do the same and realize they are not alone,” says Hernandez, who has been in business for 25 years.

Hernandez has also found success at online networking mixers held by her local Chamber of Commerce. She says that her involvement has helped her stay on top of local COVID policies for businesses, learn about grant opportunities, and get face time with local movers and shakers.

“As dance owners and educators, we often just stick to our own ‘lane,’ but I have gained so much by belonging to the chamber,” says Hernandez. “I’ve been able to connect with the players in my town to help the business side of my studio.”

Make networking a priority.

Jen Ngozi knows the power of networking better than most—after all, she’s the founder of Netwerk, a global women’s organization specializing in hybrid networking/dance fitness events. Since founding the company in 2018, Ngozi has franchised the model and now has instructors in 20 cities, along with a newly launched paid membership community for leadership development.

A group of around 30 women, mostly women of color, pose together in a group. They are in a dance studio, and wear athleisure. They hold a sign but it's hard to read with the camera flash.
From a pre-pandemic Netwerk event. Photo courtesy Ngozi

In the spirit of leading by example, Ngozi says she blocks out at least two hours per week on her calendar specifically for networking purposes. During that time, Ngozi holds Zoom meetings with colleagues and potential collaborators, sends introductory emails and social media direct messages, and joins social media events. Ngozi also attends at least one online networking event every month (outside of Netwerk events), which she finds using Eventbrite, Meetup, industry newsletters, and LinkedIn and Facebook searches.

“No matter how busy I get, I schedule time for regular networking,” says Ngozi, who says she scored a “game-changing” brand partnership through active networking. “If you make networking a part of your lifestyle rather than treating it as yet another task to do, that makes it much easier.”

Her advice for making the most of it? Choose smaller, more intimate events, with the belief that less is more. “I don’t try to be everywhere all the time—instead, I ask, ‘Does this event make sense for me?’” says Ngozi. “It’s actually more effective if you attend less events but be very targeted by researching them ahead of time. When you show up active, engaged, and prepared, you’re more likely to be remembered and make meaningful connections.”

Jen Jones Donatelli is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, Dance Retailer News and she is the former managing editor of CheerProfessional magazine