Does the word networking fill you with dread? It’s not just you! Entering a room full of complete strangers on your own and talking about yourself and your business to lots of people – it’s every introvert’s worst nightmare!
But you know that you need to make connections and raise your profile in order to build your business. Introverts aren’t anti social people – we are often great at making connections, and developing meaningful relationships with others. Our networking challenge often isn’t other people – it’s handling lots of other people in one go. So what are some tried and tested strategies for introverts to network without making you want to run and hide?
Maximise the social
Firstly, consider all the networking options that don’t involve going into a room! If you think of networking as making connections with people, you already have a network through your social media channels. Maximise your social media engagement with the right people. Engage on LinkedIn with people you’ve already met. Explore relevant Twitter hours, and ensure you raise your profile on Facebook groups, where your expertise is helpful to other members of the group. My local business network runs an hour on a Monday evening, where I can network while cooking my tea! And I’m a member of several Facebook communities where I can share my knowledge and raise my profile from my sofa.
Take a business friend
When you are looking at actual real life networking events, there are several strategies you can adopt. If the thought of going into a room where you know no-one is too much, arrange to take a business friend. Do try not to spend the whole event with them because the aim for both of you is to get to know other people. But arriving or meeting up with a friendly face can be reassuring if you are out of your comfort zone. It also has the advantage that if one of you meets someone of interest to your friend, you can make a quick introduction.
Arrange a meeting
Alternatively arrange to meet up with someone you don’t know at the event. Ask the organiser if they can put you in touch with someone in advance – ideally someone who has a business that aligns with yours. Arranging to meet ensures that you have at least one relevant conversation in the course of the event.
If your networking event requires you to do a minute of 30 second introduction, practice it. Try not to be too clever, but ensure your business name, what you do and who you do it for is made very clear. If you need to hold a paper with your words on it, go ahead and do that. You aren’t at the Oscars, having a written prompt is perfectly acceptable!
Have an answer
Even if your face to face event doesn’t require that formal introduction, you will need to answer the question “what do you do?” Practice answering this in one or two lines, with an emphasis on how you help your customers. And don’t just be thinking about finding potential customers for your business. Be open to conversations with business owners who may be in a complementary field, or whose customers may be a very similar profile to yours, as well as people who offer products and services you want to buy. If you meet the perfect VA at a networking event who can free you up to focus on your business, arguably that is even more productive than meeting a new potential customer.
Co-working can be a really good way to get to meet other business owners. It has the advantage of no formal structure, and certainly no 30 second pitches! It can be very hit and miss who you may meet, although in my first foray into co-working recently I randomly found myself sat between two business owners whose expertise complemented mine. It has the obvious advantage of allowing you to get on with some work, with wifi and coffee, which is always a win!
You are always networking
It seems an obvious thing to say, but as a business owner you are always networking. Introverts are good listeners and make good 1-1 connections with people in many situations. I have had conversations about my business at the school gate, in the pub and in the hairdressers. Sometimes this has lead to a serious business enquiry, sometimes not. But when you are your business, you never know which conversion will be useful and which won’t. So don’t be afraid to talk about your business in those unexpected places. I find these are the moments to be generous with your expertise and give helpful advice if you can.
Don’t forget that the key to good networking is to follow up effectively. Arrange to have longer conversations with anyone who seemed to be a good fit or who was interested in your business. Follow them on social media and engage with their content to build meaningful long term relationships.
In summary, introverts are excellent at all the networking essentials and love building connections, so take the above approach and learn to enjoy (rather than dread!) the process.
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