The art of introverking (or, business networking for introverts)

Nick Fewings at Unsplash.com

You know that thing you really need to do, but you keep on putting it off? For some reason, you don’t deal with it there and then, you just let it fester as it morphs into a snarling, spitting monster that wraps your mind in its unwieldy tentacles, until escape seems completely impossible.

(Yes, that).

Well for me, that thing is business networking.

I started my freelance writing career two years ago, with just the one client on board. I knew that if I was ever going to get any more, I would have to go out and find them.

There was just one problem. I’ve never been a ‘natural networker’, so for a while I didn’t bother.

Why would I actively put myself in an uncomfortable position, and why would I want to talk to people I hadn’t already vetted for ‘safe’-ness?

To expand on my general networking rubbishness, not only am I terrible at ‘selling’ myself in person (I don’t want to sound too big-headed, so I go the other way instead, talking myself down so much that I effectively talk people out of working with me), but I will often ramble 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 endear myself so much that people are persuaded to spend their hard-earned money on my expertise.

So instead, I sought people out and messaged them personally, and I relied upon shot-in-the-dark marketing methods that involved leafleting rows upon rows of houses in the freezing cold.

(The fact that I actually prefer hours of leafleting in the cold to talking with strangers in a nice warm room for a few minutes definitely tells me, as if any further proof were needed, that I’m an introvert).

Inevitably though, I realised that my impersonal marketing methods could only get me so far. To survive in the business world, I was going to have to get out and meet people face to face — whether I liked it or not.

And survive I have, albeit with a few ‘networking tweaks’ that work very well for me, as an introvert whose social energy drains away far too irritatingly easily.

For posterity, these are a few of my favourite tweaks.

1. Join a dedicated networking group

(I know…am I mad, suggesting scary regular networking to other introverts?)

The thing is though, 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 and the traffic.

This will naturally result in better business, because over time you’ll get to understand people’s needs in more depth, so you’ll know exactly how you can help them. And hopefully, vice versa.

2. Weed out what doesn’t work for you, then avoid it

With so many networking opportunities available, it can be tempting to think you have to go along 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 favour and don’t go.

I keep things simple, by not going to networking events that are held before 7:30am, 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. 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 comes in will have to talk to you, like it or not.

(Ha!)

If you’re not the first one there, head straight for the coffee point. OK, 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.

The thing is, if you’re anything like me, listening can also be very draining if you’re doing it for a while — 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, clearly).

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…which is where listening really comes into its own.

Doing this will help you become nice and memorable — to the right kind of people. Who cares about the rest?

6. Give it time

Business networking is like fitness. 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 it. Because if you do keep on making the effort, the results become good and visible — and with no smelly gym changing rooms in sight.

So if you’re about to start introvert-networking (introverking?), then I hope these tips have helped you in some way, and I wish you the very best of British luck.