Confession: I’m an introvert, which means I really hate business networking.
And that would be absolutely fine, except I’ve also got a freelance writing career to maintain.
After a long and uninspiring career in Human Resources, I started out as a freelance writer three years ago, with just one client on board. I knew that if I was ever going to get any more, I would have to go and find them myself.
There was just one problem. As an introvert who loves nothing more than working from home in complete silence (with just two standoffish cats for company), I am the opposite of a natural networker. I find casual conversations with people I don’t know pretty pointless. I don’t like walking up to strangers just to ask them what they do, because it feels cynical and false.
Plus — if I’m being honest — I’m terrified of talking to people I haven’t already vetted for “safe”-ness. I’m also really bad at “selling” myself in person (I don’t want to sound too boastful, so I go the other way instead, effectively talking people out of working with me). And as if that wasn’t enough, I will often chatter on and on out of sheer nervousness, saying things I think are funny, but others don’t.
As you might imagine, these traits aren’t particularly helpful when the aim is to persuade others to spend their hard-earned cash on my expertise. So for a while, I would rely on random marketing methods that involved things like leafleting rows upon rows of houses in the freezing cold. (The fact that I actually prefer hours of leafleting in the freezing cold to talking with people in a nice warm room for a few minutes tells me, as if any further proof were needed, that I am definitely an introvert).
Inevitably though, I realized that my impersonal marketing plan was only going to get me so far. If I wanted to survive in the business world, I was going to have to get out and meet new people face-to-face — whether I liked it or not.
The great news is that I have survived. This is mainly because I’ve added some “networking tweaks” that work very well for me, as somebody whose social energy drains away far too irritatingly easily. So if you’re struggling with meeting potential clients too, I hear you. To help you out, here are my tips on becoming an effective introvert-networker (otherwise known as an introverker).
6 Tips for Introverts to Be an Effective Networker
1. Join a dedicated networking group.
I know… am I mad, suggesting scary regular networking to other introverts?!
But joining a dedicated group that meets regularly means you’ll build introvert-friendly relationships. Those that have the potential to evolve into something more meaningful than chats about the weather. This will naturally result in better business, because over time, you’ll get to understand people’s needs in more detail, so you’ll know exactly how you can help them.
And hopefully, vice versa.
Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our newsletter. One email, every Friday. Sign up here.
2. Find out what doesn’t work for you, then have no shame about avoiding it.
With so many networking opportunities available, it can be tempting to think you have to go to every event, just in case. But if a particular networking group or meeting makes your insides shrivel up for reasons other than boring old nerves, do yourself a favor and don’t go.
I keep things simple, by not going to networking events that are held before 7:30 a.m., and by not joining any group that tells me I must refer business to its members (or else). Those conditions don’t work for me personally, so I avoid them altogether. Shamelessly. So far, I’m still in business.
3. Get to networking events early.
Are you worried about being ignored? Be the first to arrive at an event, so the next person who walks in will have to come over and talk to you.
If you’re not the first one there, head straight for the coffee point. Okay, so your first chat will start with a dreary line about you or them really needing a coffee, especially if it’s a morning meeting. Just remind yourself that this is business networking, where small talk reigns supreme.
Sometimes, you just have to grin and dive in.
4. Listen rather than talk (with one important caveat).
Listening comes naturally to most introverts, so you could say this is a ridiculously easy bit of advice. But if you’re anything like me, listening can also be very draining — with the effect that you leave the room feeling both mentally exhausted, and supremely disappointed in yourself.
So I go to every networking event with the aim of having two interesting conversations, which is around my personal limit before I start to flag. Then I’ll politely leave.
I don’t worry about whether or not the conversations I’ve had will lead to immediate business, and I don’t worry about all those people I didn’t get to meet. I’ll meet them another time instead.
5. Follow up with the best people in writing.
You meet a lot of people at networking events, so it’ll be easy for people to forget about you afterwards (and you them!). But if I hit it off with someone at an event, I’ll often send them a follow-up email asking if they’d like to meet for coffee later on, or enclosing some information I think might be helpful to them. That’s where all that listening really comes into its own.
Doing this will help you become good and memorable — to the right kind of people.
6. Give it time.
Business networking is like fitness. To get the very best results, you have to work on building it up, then keep on making an effort to maintain it.
Just like the process of getting fit, you’ll probably start out absolutely hating the whole thing.
But as you persist, you’ll start to feel a begrudging sort of affection for networking.
Because if you do keep on making the effort, you’ll make some of those meaningful connections you crave, and you’ll do better business…
…with no smelly gym changing rooms in sight.