The Second Best Networking Tip I Ever Heard. (And The Best)
Originally published at seesomethingshiny.com
I’m a writer and photographer.
Not only does this make me fantastically interesting and mysteriously sexy, it also means I can legitimately self-identify as an introvert — unlike other people who claim to be introverted in an attempt to sound more sexy, interesting and mysterious.
Creatives are often introverted, which can be troublesome if being creative is your business.
We have the same need to earn money as do extroverts, but fewer tools in the bag to connect with people who might give us said money.
Maybe even greater need.
One extrovert-owned dog costs less to keep than twelve introvert-owned cats.
So, how does your genuine reclusive creative go about directly promoting themselves to clients who have no idea they exist?
The path of least resistance, the one frequented by all introverts, is obviously email. Scrape LinkedIn for names and addresses and bombard likely targets with a cold sales pitch — then just sit back and brace yourself for the stampede.
If there’s one flaw in that system (and there is), it’s that it doesn’t work (and it doesn’t). The chance of your unsolicited email making it past the average spam filter these days is remote, and even if it does and your prospect actually opens it, it’s even more unlikely that they’ll want your services there and then, if at all. So, at best, they’ll file you away for future reference. And then forget about you.
So if email isn’t going to work for us, what else could we use to try and publicise ourselves?
I suppose we could try cold calling those prospects by phone. Or, I could open up my desk drawer here, dangle my balls in and slam it shut, which I’d find far more enjoyable.
I don’t do phones. In fact, I can’t overemphasise how much I don’t do them.
I hate phones. I’ve had too many bad experiences on the end of phone lines to view them with anything other than abject horror. It’s a phobia, and not one I’m going to conquer so cold calling, for me, is out.
Admittedly that’s a shame, because cold calling does work apparently. Because there’s so many people out there just like me, the ones who do have the godless ability to call complete strangers out of the blue and sell themselves are few and far between, and therefore memorable. If that’s you, more power to you. You have my admiration, envy and scorn.
What does that leave us with? What can an introverted freelancer use to flaunt his or her services effectively?
The counter intuitive answer is networking.
Yes, I know it doesn’t make sense. Being thrown into a room with a bunch of people you don’t know to try and make small talk is the literal definition of introvert hell, and a while ago I would’ve agreed with you. But since I started pushing myself into it, not only has it done wonders for my business, I’ve actually started to enjoy it.
It helps that I live in a relatively small city these days, so I tend to see a smattering of familiar faces at different events. Networking isn’t about constantly meeting new people and flinging business cards at them — it’s about building relationships.
The people you meet at one event probably won’t need you at that precise moment. Probably not the second time you meet them either, or the third.
But at some point they are going to want the skills you offer, either for themselves or one of their clients, and if you’ve built up a rapport with them over time, your name will pop up automatically.
So, while that’s not the best networking tip I’ve ever heard, it’s still a good one:
Don’t go to events looking to sell yourself. Go with the view to meeting people and talking.
This is actually where introverts have an advantage. If there’s one thing an introvert can feel comfortable talking about, it’s their profession.
Creative freelancers have a passion for their job, and there’s nothing better than listening to someone talk about something they have a genuine enthusiasm for.
It doesn’t even have to be a creative profession. One of the most interesting people I’ve met had me hanging on every word about the intricacies of being a salesman. His love for the techniques and psychology of his job shone through and I listened to him for ages.
There’s another advantage to going to networking events and actually getting to know people as, well, people.
Sooner or later, you’ll meet someone who needs the services of one of your contacts and will ask you for a recommendation. Being able to drop a name straight away will almost certainly get that person at least an inquiry, and you a hatful of goodwill. Your name is then very much front of mind for any reciprocal deal.
People helping people is how businesses grow.
Ok, so let’s call that the second best tip I ever heard. I’ll stop dicking around and get to the crux of the click-bait title and tell you the best one.
I haven’t read about this tip anywhere else and I can absolutely attest to its effectiveness because it’s used, and was possibly invented, by a good friend of mine. He used it to get his name and business known all over my town and it’s now almost a standing joke that everybody knows who he is and what he does for a living, including people who’ve never met him.
I’m going to change his name and occupation to protect his modesty.
My friend — let’s call him Matt (although his name’s Phil) is an architect (actually, a web designer). He’s built a thriving freelance practice, partly because he’s an outstanding architect (web designer) but mostly because he’s an amazing networker. He goes to one, maybe two events every week.
Just putting in that much effort would’ve been enough to get his face known eventually, but it’s very possible to go to a hundred events and still not stand out if you’re a bit of a wallflower. In fact, you’d probably come off as somewhat weird if you were that guy who always hangs around but doesn’t talk to anyone.
Now, Matt (Phil) isn’t an introvert, but he’s not Mr Bouncy-Centre-of-Attention guy either. He’s just a genuine person who likes talking to people and finding out about them. He’s interested in other people’s stories and it shows.
The first time I met him was at an event where someone was giving a talk on email marketing or something. We chatted for about 15 minutes beforehand and he never once told me what he did for a living. He just asked questions about me and listened to what I said.
It only struck me as odd a little while later while the presentation was going on, but it wasn’t an accident. That’s what he does. It was flattering and I lapped it up.
I’ve been married for a while now, so the concept of me talking and having someone actually pay attention was like bathing in a clear mountain stream.
I would’ve remembered him for that alone, but I hadn’t even seen his party piece yet.
When the person giving the talk finished, as always happens, they asked for questions from the audience. Bam! Matt’s hand shoots up with a speed not seen since Nuremberg.
“Hi, I’m Matt from On Point Web Design, we provide web design services for small businesses and I’d just like to ask…”
I don’t remember what the question was now, but it was a good one because he’d been listening to the talk. But more importantly it was…
…The First Question.
One of the laws of learning is the law of primacy. As humans, we’re programmed to most clearly remember the first thing we hear.
Matt got in his name, the name of his business and what he did before anything else. He said it so naturally and so quickly, it was the verbal equivalent of clearing his throat.
Everyone now knew who he was and what he did without him having to ‘work’ the room, and they all remembered it. It meant he’d been able to chat to me and a few other people before the talk began and not even think about telling us about himself, because he was going to do it all at once afterwards. It freed him up to focus all his attention on us, and make us feel important and interesting.
Other people asked questions during the session. But they just asked questions. Didn’t introduce themselves or say anything about what they did. Then they presumably went home and I still don’t know anything about them. At the end of the session, Matt had a fistful of contact details from people who needed websites built and logos designed.
He does this at. Every. Single. Event. And it works. Even that one I didn’t go to and have kicked myself for ever since where he forgot his question.
(As he told me later, people were laughing, and not with him!)
The old days of networking events are pretty much over, thank god. Chintzy hotel conference rooms crammed with pale middle management swapping business cards and elevator pitches with disinterested peers.
The new way, the events that bring people and their skills together in an effort to form genuine alliances and relationships, are the most effective way I know of promoting and growing your business.
You can read all sorts of other great tips on networking — set yourself a target of handing out 50 business cards, make spreadsheets of contacts and rate their importance, wear bright yellow shoes (fuck’s sake) but doesn’t that all seem a bit disingenuous?
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive and I’ve never claimed to be much of a businessman, but I do enjoy sleeping at night. If I went to networking events with the sole intention of self-promotion, I’d struggle.
I enjoy listening to people talk about their passions and I can’t do that if I’m constantly waiting for an opening to tell them all about the unique snowflake that is me. By not worrying about telling people what I do, because I know I’ll get the opportunity later, I can concentrate on what they’re saying. That’s how real connections are made.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous the first time I decided to try out Matt’s trick, but I did it anyway. Sure enough, the response was excellent. People were comfortable coming up to introduce themselves afterwards because they felt we’d already been introduced.
You can fall into the trap, if you’re introverted, of imagining that everyone else around you is completely at ease at all times. But even the most gregarious showmen prefer to know what they’re letting themselves in for before they engage you in conversation.
By asking a reasonably well thought-out, not entirely unintelligent question, I’d identified myself as one of the normals. By asking it first and including the two-second bio, I’d made myself memorable. If nothing else, I’d explained that copywriting and copyrighting are very different things.
So, those are my two best networking tips and the ones that have worked for me. Try them for yourself, but don’t just do it once. Networking is very much a slow burn. You won’t see results from the get go, but you will meet a large number of interesting people.
Just don’t forget your question.
Originally published at seesomethingshiny.com