If you’re a raging introvert like me, then starting your own business and working on your own is a natural fit. The office environment was fine and I did it for 12 years: but for an introvert, interacting with people all day long whenever they feel like talking to you is as mentally draining as a 5km run is on my legs. So the idea of determining how to communicate, when and with whom is very appealing. I’m not a complete hermit; I like people, and I like finding out about people, but I find it daunting to enter a room full of them, introduce myself and what I do, and keep it all up for a couple of hours. I recharge and get my energy from being by myself – just as extroverts get it from being around others. So here’s my Introvert’s Guide to Networking – a few little hints and tips I’ve picked up that I’d like to share with my fellow recluses in business, to help you get started, get the most out of your time doing it, and – dare I say it – enjoy it too!
1 – Embrace the need
This is the dilemma for introverts. You need people to get new business– and to get people, you need to meet them. Which is a source of some anxiety and concern to those of us who don’t feel naturally gifted at striking up conversations – and even more so when you know how exhausting you find it all. But business is not going to come hammering down your door, and you need to go looking for it in person. You can’t rely on the beauty of your words, pictures, products and adverts to do it, however well you’ve crafted them. You need to sell You as well, and that’s got to be done by connecting directly with people, finding out about them, and building a relationship. Let me reassure you, too – if you get Step 2 right, you’ll find the whole thing a lot easier than you think.
2 – Pick the Right Networks
This is absolutely the most important tip I can give you. You’ve got to find the network that has the customers you want, and the atmosphere you want – otherwise there’s no point in going through with it all, and you’ll dread it for no good outcome. There is plenty of variety out there, and there really is something for everyone: there are fast-paced breakfast meetings with small, medium and large businesses who could be looking for anyone from an accountant to a project manager. There are business start-up groups, who can give you masterclasses in running your own business while also connecting you with your ideal customers, or showing you the best places to go to find them.
The networking groups I’ve found that fit my categories – my ideal customers, and the atmosphere I like – are the ones I’ve stuck with for nearly four years. I’ve done the calculations, and 90% of my new clients have come from connections I’ve made through Busy Women Networking and GoTo Network (formerly SJPoole), and referrals from those connections. These two networks attract the people I want to work with, and they both have the same core values – that there is enough success for everyone, and that connection and collaboration are the greatest sources of that success.
Find the place that’s going to bring you business, and put you among people who share your values – then the whole thing becomes a joy rather than a trial.
3 – Prepare some Things to Say
Not just your pitch, although that’s important too. Think of some questions to ask the new people you meet: what do they do? How long have they done it? What do they love about it? What are their plans for the future? If you’ve got a few of these in your back pocket, it’s much easier to keep the conversation going when you falter a bit.
4 – Your Pitch
I know, that bit at the start where everyone says who they are and what they do can be nerve-wracking – I think it even affects the extroverts! But with practice and planning, it does get better. Make sure you say what you do, the name of your business, your own name, and who you’re looking to meet (the number of times I’ve missed one of these things out!). I can’t emphasise enough the importance of a good strapline to help you here. I muddled through without one for a few years, and finally invested in an excellent session with a fabulous expert to get me sorted – and now it’s so much easier to get across what I do and be memorable. The difference between “I’m a copywriter through my business, RLC Words” and “My business is RLC Words – Refreshing Lively Content for your brand” gives me so much more confidence and structure for the rest of my pitch.
If you end up going regularly to the same meeting, don’t be afraid to mix up that pitch a bit too – introduce testimonials, focus on a different aspect of what you offer, tell a client story. As long as you get that overall message and what you’re after in there, get that variety going.
5 – Do it Online
One of my favourite things to come out of the pandemic is the rise of online networking. I get to stay in my favourite place – on my sofa in my house, where I gather much of my energy – to catch up with all these fabulous people and meet new ones. There are major time benefits for me as well, as I’ve got very confined working hours around the school schedule, so having that travel time back is perfect. If you feel more comfortable online, do it that way – or do a mix of in-person and online to get that deeper connection.
6 – One to Ones
This bit is magic – it’s where you make the real connections, and even better, it’s where us introverts often feel far more comfortable. One-to-one conversations, whether it’s during the formal session or afterwards, are your best bet for forging those relationships, building mutual trust and finding out more about those potential customers. The online world offers many more options for meeting up than it used to, so again if you’d prefer to keep it online, that works just as well in my experience.
7 – Believe
Believe in you and what you offer; believe that it’s all going to be lovely and much less difficult than you think; and believe that networking will work for you, because it’s all true.
When I first went to these meetings, I knew barely anyone. It was like being back in secondary school for the first time. But the difference was how welcome I was made by the hosts, and how they intentionally introduced me to people they thought would be good for me to connect with and chat to. Their welcome to me as a new member, belief in me as a business owner, and support for me as a member of their networking community has made every ounce of difference to my success in this whole copywriting enterprise.
You can do it. It really is who you know – find the best people to know, and you’re already winning.