As an introvert, networking — or any function where there are a lot of people present — can feel quite overwhelming, even downright exhausting. At its core, networking is walking up to strangers, introducing yourself, and engaging in a conversation about your respective professions. Oy vey! It sounds more like a nightmare than meeting your ideal client!
But as a solopreneur, face-to-face networking is a fundamental part of getting your business up and running. You don’t have that team of amazing sales people… yet. And even if you did, it’s still your “job” to get yourself out there and get to know other industry leaders and the customers you plan to serve.
I know, I know. Not every networking situation includes a room full of people with awkward face-to-face chit-chat. You have social media and email, which make connecting with other professionals easier than ever, especially for an introvert. Still, you shouldn’t rely solely on these methods to build your business. You don’t live in a bubble. Those digital introductions and conversations, they eventually lead to coffee meetings or “let’s get down to business” meetings. So it’s a good idea to be prepared and plan your networking strategy in advance.As a solopreneur, face-to-face networking is a fundamental part of getting your business up and running. #Networking Click To Tweet
And don’t let the loud extroverts scare you out of the room either. You have this gift called “listening skills”. It makes you naturally more interested in listening to others rather than talking about yourself. What a great way to make a connection. People love talking about themselves and what they do, and you love to listen. Sounds like a win-win, right? And you’ll know when it’s your turn to speak up. Don’t worry. It’ll be a great conversation.
So let’s get started. How does an introvert get the most out of networking?
1. Have reasonable expectations.
You don’t need to make 20 or 30 or 100 contacts to have success with a networking event. It’s better to have one or two quality conversations with one or two people than a whole bunch of superficial ones. Quality is far better… and more memorable.. than quantity.
2. Do your homework.
Preparing ahead of an upcoming networking event is a great way to start. Find out who’ll be there and research the people you want to meet by looking them up on LinkedIn or Google. You may even want to send them a message and request an introduction while you’re at it. Then you can prepare a few questions in advance to use as ice breakers at your event.
Also prepare a few open-ended questions that you can pretty much ask anyone you meet. Having handy go-to questions on general topics like food and travel is a good idea. Most people love to eat… or travel… or eat and travel, right? So there’s a start. You can also ask how long they’ve been with their organization or what their favorite part of their work is. Or even ask about what their interest is in the event you’re attending. Whatever you feel most comfortable talking about.
3. Set a time limit.
Establish a time limit for how long you’ll stay at the event. This takes the pressure off of yourself, so all you need to do is just show up. Stay for an hour or whatever amount of time you feel comfortable with. Just make sure you show up. Remember, you never know who you’ll run into and how they can help you with your professional or personal life.
Give yourself permission in advance to have time-outs, too, so that you can recuperate and rejuvenate. You can simply excuse yourself and head to the hallway for about 10 minutes or so to take a breather. Don’t worry. It’s not rude.
4. Get there early.
It’s a good idea to be one of the first people to show up. It’s not as intimidating as walking into a networking function that’s well under way. At that point, groups have already formed and you’ll feel too much like you’re interrupting (even though you’re not).
If you end up getting there a little later than expected, look for small groups or pairs with open, welcoming body language. Think of it as engaging in a “net-friending” as opposed to a networking event. Identify the one or two people who you think would make good friend material and walk up to introduce yourself. That’s how it starts. And if you leave the event with a new friend or two, that just may lead to business benefits later on down the road. You never know.
5. Ask for an introduction.
Now that you’ve arrived early and have an idea of who you want to meet, find someone who can introduce you. (This is a good tip even for extroverts.) An introduction by someone else carries a lot more weight than introducing yourself on your own, especially if the one doing the introduction is someone of importance or authority. Find someone who knows everyone or find the event host and ask, “Would you mind introducing me to ________?” They’d be happy to do it for you.
6. Listen with empathy.
Now that you’re introduced and you ask your ice-breaking question, all you need to do is listen. You do this quite naturally already. This part of networking is definitely a piece of cake for you. Plus you’ll stand out from the crowd as someone who values others because you take the time to listen.
7. Share personal stories.
Networking is not just about business. It’s also about bringing things to a human level and sharing who you are as a person. After all, we are people, right? So as your having a conversation with the person in front of you, make sure to challenge yourself to tell your personal story, too. Because if you’re shooting questions at someone one right after the other without sharing information about yourself in return, it’ll feel more like a police interrogation than a conversation. You want to participate with your personal story so the conversation flows naturally.
8. Remember to move on.
Conversations don’t last forever. They do end. And being a successful networker is also about knowing when it’s time to move on. If you feel an awkward moment, excuse yourself politely by saying you need to use the restroom or to get another drink. Make sure you smile and let them know it was nice meeting and talking with them – because it was, right? Don’t forget to exchange business cards before moving on. Take a few moments to breathe. Remember that it’s important to take a moment to reflect and reassess things to keep on track. Step out into the hallway if you need to. When you do, jot down a few notes on the business card to help you remember something about the person and/or conversation. Because then you’ll need to…
9. Follow up, follow up, follow up.
After you’ve met someone and you’ve got their valuable information in your hand (their business card), it is vital that you follow up. I cannot stress this enough. A lot of people forget (neglect) this point, and it makes no sense at all. It’s ludicrous! Why go through the trouble of attending an event if you’re not going to follow up with the people you meet to build your business? Following up is what helps your business grow and flourish, and brings your networking efforts full circle.
It’s your “thank you.” Send an email to let your new connection know it was nice meeting and talking with them. Include a point or two that was part of your conversation as a way to remind them who you are. Let them know you’re available for any questions they might have or help they might need. Make sure you connect with them on your social media networks, too. It’s all about building your community.
Better still, connect with them on LinkedIn. Not all people are there yet, but still make that connection if you can. LinkedIn has a great built-in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Take advantage of it. Set reminders to follow up with your new connection and keep your community thriving.
And then go for that appointment to meet for lunch or coffee. It’s best to set this appointment by picking up the phone and making that call. Be sure to do it within a couple of days to a week after your event while you’re still both fresh in each other’s mind,
10. Take baby steps.
The more you network, the easier it gets. Make sure you make the commitment to yourself to keep doing it.
Make it a habit to take advantage of everyday networking opportunities, too. If being a solopreneur is your side hustle, that means you have opportunities to network at your day job. Take a break and walk around to casually socialize with your colleagues. Take a minute to say, “How’s your day going?” “How was your weekend?” And once a week, invite a colleague to join you for lunch or coffee to practice and hone your networking skills. As a bonus, it makes for great relationships. And who knows? It might even open a new window of opportunity for you.
Finally, be clear about why you’re networking and why others are doing it, as well. It’s to make connections and build relationships, not to hard-sell. It’s the conversation that’s the beginning of a relationship to build upon as all of you move forward into the future.
Good luck with your networking endeavors! Connect with me and let me know how you make out!
P.S.: If you have any favorite tips that you’d like to share, feel free to let us know in the comment section below.