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Networking is one of the fastest ways to grow your business and further your position in life.
The benefits are numerous, and often manifest themselves in unexpected ways. At the same time, you’ll likely meet wonderful people that will become lifelong friends.
Yet unsurprisingly, few people are proactive about building their network.
One of the most common excuses I hear working with entrepreneurs is that they’re introverted. It may be shyness, social anxiety, or just not feeling comfortable approaching new people that may hamper their ability to network. I understand it, because I was very introverted for much of my life as well.
I’m not going to tell you to try and change who you are.
However, networking as an introvert is certainly possible, and in this article, I’m going to share my best possible tips.
Let’s get into it!
1. Start By Analyzing Yourself – Then Take Small Steps
Before you go any further, it’s important to take an honest look at yourself, and ask yourself some questions.
What specifically about networking causes you anxiety? Do your find yourself more comfortable talking with people one-on-one, or in groups? How have you formed the connections you already have? What would you have to do to get more opportunities like that?
The key to building your networking skills as an introvert is not by trying to be something you’re not. It’s by figuring out who you are, and taking small steps that are in line with that.
When you are just starting out, you do not want to push yourself too hard. People feel the most satisfied when building new skills, when they are working on something only slightly out of their comfort zone. It is by taking a series of small steps that push you slightly out of your comfort zone, that you are able to build real skill without feeling overwhelmed.
For example, you may find yourself uncomfortable with all of the focus being on you during a conversation. Therefore, you may wish to bring a friend with you to whatever event you’re attending, and allow them to step up when you find yourself without something meaningful to say.
Or, if you have trouble approaching people, you may take steps to put yourself in situations where people can approach you instead. Even something as simple as wearing a shirt related to your industry can spark questions and conversations with interested people.
2. Be Authentic – Accept That You Won’t Naturally Connect With Everyone
The beauty of putting yourself out there and trying to connect with a lot of people, is that those that are a natural fit remain with you, while those that aren’t a good match naturally drift apart.
The same can be said for branding and marketing as well.
This is as it should be. It’s a by-product of showing your true self. If you act bland or try to play a character rather than bring out who you truly are, not only will you fail to truly connect with anyone – you’ll also be forgotten by almost everyone.
And let’s be honest here, that’s probably the worst possible outcome.
Instead, you have to get over your fear of rejection, awkward moments, or conversations coming to standstills. Rehearse things in your mind to get you out of these situations, and move onto the next person.
If you were to meet with 10 different people – with half of the people failing to connect you, but the other half becoming meaningful connections, you’re ultimately still left with 5 more valuable people in your network than you would have if you would have done nothing.
When I was in high school, I used to wonder by some people had so many dates – even if others would say they weren’t very attractive, while others could never find anyone to be with. The answer was always the same – the people with dates asked more people, experienced more rejections, but ultimately, always ended up getting a ‘yes’ before too long.
The same concept applies to sales, and it applies to networking as well.
Once you can get over your fear of rejection and look at the bigger picture, it’s almost like gaining a superpower – networking becomes so much easier.
3. Practice Online
Networking online is not much different from networking in-person, really. Yet to an introvert, it may come across a lot easier.
You don’t have to worry about things like appearance or body language. You get to choose when to approach. Perhaps best of all, you’re given more time to think about exactly what you want to say before sending it.
This was a savior for me, as I used to be completely shy whenever I had to talk with someone new in person.
Fortunately, the skills you build networking online translate well to in-person events also. Not entirely of course, but enough to see noticeable improvement if you practice.
Ask yourself, who already exists in your network that you could follow-up with right now? Who haven’t you talked to in a while?
Like all skills, networking becomes much easier as you practice it.
If you’re looking for places to form new connections online, consider visiting a website like LinkedIn, online forums related to your industry, webinars, Facebook groups, and other forms of social media.
4. Systematize It
As you form connections with more and more people, you’ll become more in-tune with how the process goes.
You can save a lot of time – and develop more meaningful connections by building some sort of internal system, and targets to hit.
This doesn’t mean you do the same thing for every person, or lose the personal touch that’s so important to building meaningful connections. It simply means you develop some sort of framework that you work off of.
For example, when I look to build a new connection with an influencer online, my series of steps often goes something like this:
- I follow them on social media.
- I begin commenting on their blog and social posts.
- I send them an email and learn more about what they care about at the moment.
- I look for opportunities to provide value.
- I try to find an opportunity to collaborate on something together.
I do these things not as a means to an end, but because I’m genuinely interested in all of these things.
However, by realizing that this is the natural series of steps that seems to happen for me, I have a clear picture of what the next step probably is, and where I’m at in the process of each person. This also makes it easier for my networking efforts to scale.
5. Stick Close To Your Area Of Expertise
As an introvert, you are probably at your most comfortable when you are talking about something you already have a lot of interest or personal experience in.
Therefore, it can helpful to specifically seek out events that are related to your area of expertise, rather than attending more broad or generic ‘networking events.’
At more specific events, you’ll be surrounded by people who you already know are similar to you, with a similar set of interests. Two people can meet each other for the first time, and instantly have points in common they can talk about.
The other added benefit is you’re actually going to make connections that have real benefits – rather than only meeting people who are networking for networking’s sake.
In other words, collecting people’s business cards or email addressing, and never hearing from them again.
6. Ask Questions
This isn’t only good networking advice, it’s good advice for conversating period.
People are most comfortable talking about themselves. They know themselves, and they don’t really have to think too much about their answers.
More importantly, they will open up to you about they really care about, and you can patiently wait for an opportunity to jump in with an insight of your own.
The fact of the matter is, people love to talk about themselves. When you allow them to do so, you will be seen as a likeable person, a great listener, and if you wait until you have something truly valuable or meaningful to say rather than simply making small chit-chat – a great conversationalist as well.
Some great questions you may consider asking include…
- What brought you here?
- What projects are you working on at the moment?
- Questions involving things they’re proud of, accomplishments, etc.
- Questions about what brought them into this line of work
- What their goals for the near future are
Try it out! Remember the answers to these sort of questions, as they’ll provide the perfect topic to follow up about later on.
7. Act As A Matchmaker
If you’re struggling to provide value, one strategy you can always take is to act as a matchmaker.
You may not be able to directly help every person that you meet, and you shouldn’t try to. However, if you happen to know two people that should be introduced to each other, you would be providing a great service by connecting these two people.
As your network grows, look for opportunities to bring others together. These people will naturally reciprocate in time, introducing you to new people in their own networks as well.
Which hey, this is incredibly convenient – especially for an introvert.
Networking isn’t easy, but that’s okay. It is a skill, and like any other, must be built up over time.
If you have any questions or there’s anything you think that I can help with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Remember, if you don’t practice, it will not get easier. I urge you to reach out to at least one person today – even if it’s somebody you’ve already spoken with previously.
I believe in you!
To your success,
– James McAllister