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Small business networking – a guide for introverts
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who’s fairly new to networking about how he’s getting on with it. He told me that he really doesn’t look forward to going to events and he’s happy when they’re over. He admitted that, “Before a networking event I always feel apprehensive, nervous, and shy.”
I found this hard to relate to as I’m an extravert who loves people and feels energised from hanging around in groups. I really enjoy going networking because I can chat to new people, see familiar faces, and introduce people who would make helpful connections (business matchmaking, if you will). I find it fascinating to find out about people’s lives and businesses. It’s so much fun!
But apparently for a large percentage of the population networking is something they endure for the greater good. So, I thought I’d gather some helpful tips and see whether I can help the introverts to feel a bit happier and more confident about going along.
I covered what to do if you’re brand new to networking in my blog Networking for Newbies, but I thought it would be useful to include some advice specifically for introverts here.
And who better to ask than the members of our wonderfully helpful Facebook Group, Spaghetti Besties?!
Small business networking – a guide for introverts
Here’s what they said:
1) Before the event
Emily Taylor suggested taking a friend along with you, or making contact with someone in advance so it feels less like you’re ‘going in cold’. Perhaps you can chat to attendees beforehand on social media so you’re more likely to see a friendly face early on.
Rebecca Harrison suggested planning your 40/60 seconds, if you have the opportunity to speak. It’s better to read a prepared speech than mumble through your time and not get your message across.
Roisin Duffy recommends having your business cards easily accessible because scrabbling around for them when someone asks can add to the stress. To add to this, a cross-body handbag is useful if you want to keep both hands free for bits of paper, handshakes, and holding cups of tea. Fiona Lomas wears her business cards in a holder around her neck so they’re accessible and they help with brand visibility. (I’ve now copied her and bought one of my own!)
Kate Hunter said that her husband Ted wears something that could be a conversation starter, for example a blazer with a badge, a tie, or a T-Shirt with a specific emblem on it. She adds that the majority of the time people will ask him about it and it’s a good conversation starter.
Get there early:
Vicky Stanton says she always tries to get to a networking event early so she doesn’t have to walk into a room full of people, which can be more intimidating.
Heide Swift heads for coffee first so she can review the room and target a friendly face. It’s also great to hang around near the coffee so you have a reason to start chatting.
Laura Shuckburgh finds someone she knows and smiles a lot to project that she’s approachable.
Break the ice:
Tracy Richardson approaches people and asks them something random, or gives a genuine compliment, to break the ice.
Ian O’Donnell advises you to find a role to give you something to do and a reason to speak to people, especially if you struggle with joining conversations or walking up to people. This could be a role that includes meeting and greeting or taking the cash at the door, so you meet everyone as they arrive.
2) During the event
My advice here would be to simply be yourself and not pretend to be more formal or corporate if that’s not you. It’s said a lot, but not easily done when you feel stressed out. There’s nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable if networking isn’t your thing. Own it, and if you’re Ok with it, admit in a safe space that you’re feeling a bit shy. Who wouldn’t want to help? I personally feel that talking about the weather and how you got to the event is fine for the introduction, but small talk doesn’t interest me for long. Can you dig deeper and find out what makes people tick? Can you get to know people and show vulnerability at times? Can you get to the more profound subjects that people passionately care about or are affected by, that they won’t reach if you stick to safe topics like whether it’s going to snow this year?
Along the same lines, Craig Burgess’ number one tip is to get good at asking questions that light people on fire. He says, “You can make yourself memorable without needing to say much at all. When you get people yapping about their passions they associate the feel-good factor they gain from that experience back to you.” I’ve found some examples of interesting, thought-provoking questions here.
Angela Vossen argues that introverts can be great at networking because they tend to be interested in people and what makes them tick, less so than telling everyone about themselves. So, a big tip is to ask people questions about themselves, their opinions, and their needs, and genuinely listen to their responses. If you make the goal ‘being and making people feel like you’ve been genuinely interested in them’ rather than ‘selling yourself’ you’re off to a good start. I’ve found a simple guide to active listening at networking events here. Going along with a fellow introvert you know could also be a good idea, so long as you agree not to just stick together all the time – more to have someone to check in with if you feel you need to.
Similarly, according to Rebecca Pay, a good way of reframing your introversion is to use it as your strength. As an introvert, you can really get to know an individual and get deep into great conversation. Follow up with people afterwards rather than trying to talk to everyone in the room and becoming overwhelmed.
Gus Bhandal reminds us that networking is about building long term relationships, and that in small business it’s important for our connections to know, like, and trust us before they’ll buy from us. Being friendly, welcoming, helpful, and a good listener will help this to happen.
A great suggestion from Sian Smith is to look for anyone who looks lonely or uncomfortable so you can sidle over to make conversation. She’s an advocate for stepping out to take a break to get some air or going for an extended toilet break if you need to, then coming back and trying again.
Sue Tonks has a helpful phrase for when there’s an existing small group of people talking. She advises you simply approach them and ask, “Do you mind if I join you?”. With a bit of luck, someone will introduce you to the group – or at least let you know what they’re talking about.
Lisa-Marie Mallier has a strategic approach. She recommends you have one memorable thing to say that sums up your business and how you can help them. This is where consistent networking and being a good connector helps. You can simply ask them if they know someone who is like your ideal client. Don’t know much about your ideal client? I can help with that.
Lots of people worry about how to move on from a conversation when you’re done. So how do you move on? A kind way to do this is this is to warmly and genuinely say; “It’s been good to meet you. I better pop around and meet a few more people/get another drink/pop to the loo.” Try not to leave someone on their own when you do this.
3)After the event
So, you survived the whole ordeal! You got there early, smiled, chatted, and hopefully have gone away with some business cards to follow up with. You may want to arrange a phone chat or a coffee to cement the connection and help people remember more about you. Make sure you read our blog to understand why follow ups are so important.
There are so many people who store business cards in their desk drawer, but they won’t do much good in there, so do something with them. Find out why business networking works when the meeting ends, not during the meeting.
Now it’s time to collapse in a heap on the sofa.
Dave Kitchen acknowledges that networking is often exhausting so it’s good to set aside some time afterwards to decompress. Jo Happiness-Howarth agrees that you should rest up and give yourself space to recoup your energy.
You may need a nap, you may want to meditate (I love the mindfulness App, Calm), or you could watch a movie or have a bath. Turn your phone off while you do this so you have some time away from the world.
Jo Small recommends some useful resources on networking as an introvert, including the Ted talks by unapologetic introvert Brian Little as well as Susan Cain. I particularly like Susan’s take on not trying to do too
much: “If you’re just showing up at a conference, I always think of my goal as finding a few kindred spirits among my fellow attendees. Once I’ve met a few of those kindred spirits, then I feel like my job is done, and I can go and read a book. Then you keep in touch with those people, and if you do that enough times, you’ve suddenly got an amazing network… So if you’re not the person who loves working the entire room, I think it’s helpful to not think of that as being the goal. There are other ways to find success.”
Whether you love chatting to new faces or you really aren’t into Peopleing, you can build a unique network of friends, partners, and clients by networking.
Give it a go – put yourself out of your comfort zone and test out these suggestions. The more you do, the easier it gets, and the less bothered you’ll be about it. Soon you’ll work out what works best for you and you’ll be more comfortable meeting new people and making conversations.
Good luck. x
Tags associated with this articleBusiness Networking Guide Guide to introverts networking Small Business SME tips
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