Four Steps to Introvert-Friendly Networking
This is the second post in my series on business development. To read the first post, “How to Say No to Work,” click here.
If you are a creative entrepreneur, you can’t be successful in the long-term without a network of high-quality people. Period.
Unfortunately, strategic networking hardly ever makes it to the top of the priority list for entrepreneurs, who are already juggling to-do lists that only ever seem to get longer. On top of that, the whole idea doesn’t exactly have pleasant connotations. It calls to mind making awkward small talk with strangers, eating greasy appetizers, and getting your name tag stuck in your hair.
Oh, and did I mention that most introverts would rather fall down and die than walk into a group full of people that they don’t know?
Fortunately for introverts and non-introverts alike, networking isn’t about being the life of the party, endlessly pitching yourself to strangers, or trying to manipulate other people into helping you. On the contrary, the purpose of networking is to build meaningful relationships with people who can help you as you build your business.
4 Simple Steps to Build a Quality Network
Don’t know how to get started? Here are four simple steps to begin building your network.
1. Identify Who You Need to Know
There are a few categories of people that you need to have in your network.
Prospects: People who could become clients or customers, now or in the future.
Connectors: People that may be able to connect you with prospects, or people who can provide information, resources, or ongoing guidance.
Peers: People who are in your same discipline or field. (I have found that creatives are great at networking with their own kind.)
Notice that networking isn’t just about finding prospective clients or customers; it is about having relationships with a wide range of people that can help you in a variety of ways. You can’t build a business long-term if you only ever network with people that do the same thing as you (aka, your competitors).
2. Seek Out New People
You may not have enough relationships in all three categories to support your long-term success. If that’s the case, you need to put yourself in situations where you can meet new people. Some good places to start include:
Friends of Friends: Your friends, family, and other contacts might be the best place to start making new connections. The magic words for this are “I’m looking to connect with people who…” The more specific you can be in describing the kind of people you are looking for, the better connections you will from your existing network.
Referrals: If you do great work, you are going to get passive (aka “word-of-mouth”) referrals. But, referrals can also be pro-active. Ask your previous clients for introductions to their peers or others that could benefit from working with you.
Networking Events/Conferences: Attending events can be introvert-friendly if you have the right strategy. Before you attend an event, try to get the guest list in advance and identify a few people that you want to meet. Figure out how many people you need to connect with order to make attending the event worthwhile, and give yourself permission to leave once you have met that quota.
Online: Social media can be a good place to start building a list of people you would like to meet in real life. Once you have some specific people in mind, reach out and ask them to coffee (if you don’t have any shared connections) or try to find a relational path to get more contextualized introduction from a mutual friend or acquaintance.
3. Establish the Relationship
Once you have made initial contact with new people, your aim is to establish the relationship on solid footing. At this stage, your focus is not on pitching yourself but on building rapport with the person sitting across from you.
Find common ground. Do they have kids the same age as yours? Do you like the same coffee shop? Did you go to the same university? Finding common ground helps both of you to relax and remember that you are talking to a real person and not just a business contact.
Ask good questions. Learn as much as you can about the other person. What is their story? What projects are they excited about? What challenges are they experiencing? The more you know about them, the better sense you will have about how you might be able to help each other.
Offer help where you can. Is there a book, podcast, or blog that the person might enjoy? Is there an introduction you can make or a piece of advice you can give or an event you can invite them to? This establishes you as a helpful and authentic person, and it also gives you an opportunity to follow up later.
(Briefly) explain what you do. Even though this should not be your main focus with new relationships, you want the other person to accurately understand what you do. Be brief, engaging, and if possible, provide examples of how you have helped other clients with similar issues or challenges that they are facing. You should leave them curious and wanting to hear more about you (not wishing you would shut up).
4. Stay in Touch
You don’t just want names in a rolodex; you want real-life relationships with people that you are free to pick up the phone and call. That is to say, the quality and depth of your relationships matters just as much as the quantity. You want to look for opportunities to grow your level of trust and connectedness with others over time.
Staying in touch isn’t rocket science, but it does take intentionality. Check in with people every so often. Ask them to lunch or coffee. Pick up the phone and call, just to say hello. Send a hand-written note or small gift.
My Networking Guarantee
Networking is simple, but not easy, and it requires some discipline. But, I am consistently surprised at the payoff that comes through a little bit of relational intentionality. I am surprised by how genuine and approachable people are. I am surprised by how willing others are to help me, with no benefit to themselves. I am surprised when people lead me to clients that I wasn’t expecting. I am surprised when people accept me and my work without skepticism.
I guarantee that if you put yourself out there in networking that you also will be pleasantly surprised.
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