How to Network When You Hate Leaving the House
Let’s face it, us introverts rather be in our pajamas
We’ve all been to the kind of events where fifty strangers are packed into a room with nothing but cheese, stale crackers, and dwindling hope. No, this isn’t a re-enactment of The Hunger Games — odds are this is an accurate description of your local networking event where Bob the Business Card works the room while you ask yourself, after a hard day of work, why you chose the stuffy room over your cozy couch. Even though the couch won’t generate new contacts or leads or will it?
If you own your own business or are a consultant, you know that your relationships are one of your most valuable assets. New clients and “door openers” (i.e., connected people who can make introductions) can elevate your business from good to great, but you can’t help declining networking invites to must-attend business events because the idea of working is on par with a root canal.
And you’re not alone. According to data provided by Professor Julia Hobsbawn of Editorial Intelligence, 1 in 4 business professionals don’t network at all and 41% would like to network more but they don’t have time.
Forming relationships and nurturing connections are critical to building leads and driving sales. According to a study by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, 78% of entrepreneurs believe that informal networking is vital to the success of their business. A recent study, in partnership with LinkedIn, reported that networking fills a whopping 85% of jobs — confirming the old adage that it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.
However, for an introvert like me who hates leaving the house, being crammed into a room while people are yelling their elevator pitches could be intimidating and suffocating. Introverts — like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook — prefer their solo time and they tend to network best in one-on-one situations. Does this mean you can’t make meaningful business connections? Of course not.
Here are six strategies to connect with people when you’d rather be at home parked in front of the TV.
Know when you’re at your best: Introverts can be “on” for crowds in small doses when events take place when their cognitive abilities (i.e. the best time of day when you’re able to think critically and rationally) are at their strongest. If you know you’re not a morning person, don’t accept invites to a breakfast. Seek out events that match when you’re at your peak so you can make the most out of an event.
Join a co-working space: From WeWork and Cohere to The Wing and Croissant, co-working spaces have become a haven for freelancers and small business owners in need of an office outside of their home. Being in the same physical space as like-minded freelancers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs allows you to connect on your own terms without a hidden agenda. You can compare notes about clients, projects, and colleagues and even trade business tips, tricks, and advice. Co-working fosters organic relationships and practically guarantees a built-in network.
Create your “tribe of five”: Remember, networking is about names, not numbers. You don’t need to work the room and collect a pile of business cards at an event. Forging relationships are never about what a person can do for you; it’s about connecting with people who inspire, motivate, and teach you. Obvious opportunists come and go but the real leaders are relationship builders. Focus on growing your in-person network by 5 people each year. Realize that you’re not only tapping into new five people but also their individual networks.
When attending in-person events, try to research and find out who will be in the room and who might be a strong connection for your business. This allows you to hone in on the people you want to meet instead of randomly circulating a room feeling like Willy Loman. Then, try to target 1–2 people with whom you can have a meaningful conversation. You’ll likely be remembered and you don’t have to deal with the room overwhelm. The conversations can be short, but impactful, and secure their contact information for a follow-up coffee. So instead of spending hours suffering at an event, you can hit and run after 45 minutes.
Build relationships online: It’s a lot easier developing relationships on-screen, especially if you live in a town where local networking events are sparse and the idea of traveling to conventions and events is challenging. From Facebook and LinkedIn groups to Reddit subgroups, Twitter tribes, and blogs and forums, you can network online from the comfort of your own home. Screens are less confrontational and introverts can control the level and intensity of interactions. Connect with people on like-minded interests and if you find someone who shares your vibe, you can invite them to chat on Skype or Face-time as a substitution for in-person events. Also, be a social sleuth. Feel free to check out your friends’ or colleagues’ LinkedIn and other social profiles and feel free to ask for introductions.
Bring a plus one: The hardest part of networking for introverts is the terror that ensues when you meet New People. New People are scary creatures or professional vampires that threaten to suck out all your energy. If you always find yourself huddled in a corner with your phone or a book, bring a buddy. Friends — especially those extraverts — lighten the mood and help steer you in the right professional direction.
Throw a +1 dinner party: Networking is also less painful for the introvert when it’s on familiar turf. Meeting strangers in a controlled setting — especially if it’s in your home or a friend’s home is comforting and powerful. Consider hosting (or co-hosting) a small gathering where every attendee is required to bring a colleague or friend. When you already have a connection with someone, it’s easier to feel comfortable and enjoy building the relationship. Even if the attendees can’t help you directly, your authentic relationship will help you tap into their network.
Keep up-to-date with your network with Skype, Zoom, or Facetime “dates” with your B and C network: Video catch-ups are perfect because you save commuting time and money. And if you live somewhere where networking is challenging, this can be the perfect solution to stay connected. I live in Los Angeles, where ghosting is a default setting, so I make a point of setting 30 minute-1 hour catch-up calls with people in my “B and C” network. My B and C network is comprised of LinkedIn acquaintances with whom I used to work or have encountered online.
Let’s be clear — this isn’t some smarmy strategy. I’m all about cultivating relationships where we mutually benefit, but there’s no agenda from the onset other than to chat about our careers, challenges, and trade stories and advice. Going into this with an ask is transparently transactional and unseemly and never works.
I often find that most of my leads come from these extension networks because you have access to a group of people you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. Now, I don’t reach out to randoms, rather I make a list of people whom I admire, peers who are putting out smart thought leadership or jive with me philosophically. I make an effort to read their feeds and keep up with the medium or blog posts. Do your due diligence. Make an effort to show that you’ve done your homework in establishing a peer friendship with someone you genuinely respect.
With my B and C contacts, all my previous encounters have been friendly, and we say that we need to catch up, yet we never do because life gets in the way.
Networking for the introvert is all about strategy — from determining the right time of day to tackle the crowds to finding ways to cultivate new connections online and off. We can say no to the events that stifling and unproductive and create a new way of networking based on our personality, industry, affection for technology, and sheer will to move our business forward.