Networking for People who Hate Networking
Extroverts of the world, you have a valuable gift. You have the ability to network day after day, evening after evening, and are invigorated by meeting new people, socializing, and nurturing connections. For an introverted person — the type who make up large swaths of technology workers — few things could be less enjoyable. Networking is about as enjoyable as scrubbing your bathroom floor, and about as exciting as doing laundry. In other words, it’s a chore, and it drains us terribly.
Even knowing that networking has a higher likelihood of returns than any other kind of marketing still doesn’t sway some quiet types. They simply refuse to network, turn down invitations, let opportunities pass by, and never leave their comfort zone. I believe it’s simply not fair to let all the economic success go solely to those gifted with gregariousness. Networking can be made more painless. Don’t say it’s not for you — it’s for everyone.
As an introverted person, I knew one of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship for me was going to be getting used to being the face of the company. With open-mindedness, effort, research, and time, I’ve gone from wallflower to… well, not social butterfly, but someone who you’re likely to find yourself in pleasant conversation with at a tech community gathering near you.
1) Do What you Likely Do Best — Read
There are books about networking. If you’re not ready to go out and do it, read about doing it. See if that gets you more comfortable with the idea, and helps dispels your fears.
2) Drop Preconceived Notions
Networking is simply the act of making friends with people whom you can help. It’s that simple. It is easier if you go in with the expectation of providing help, not gaining it. Generosity is the best testimonial to your good nature, and will outweigh the best resume or elevator pitch ten times over. In time, to pay back your kindness, people will be offering you favors without you even asking.
How might you show generosity? Act like you would toward any new friend. Offer to meet with someone and simply discuss a topic in which you have expertise, and they would like to learn about. Refer them to a book, website, event, or webinar you tried and think would help them. Inquire about what they’re up to, and listen with interest. Or, the most effective of all, connect them to someone else in their network who can also benefit from knowing them. Strengthening that web of interconnections is what really gets you the positive reputation you deserve.
Networking is not the act of trying to elbow up to rich, powerful and influential people and give them your sales pitch. People have had this done to them a million times, and are likely to walk away at the slightest whiff of a pitch. It’s about meeting other, normal people like yourself, and forming mutually beneficial relationships — sometimes that involves a sales pitch, but often it doesn’t, and it should never be the first thing out of your mouth regardless. If you ever do happen to meet someone of note, treat them as you would anyone else — courtesy, generosity, and an open ear. Though, some admiration of their work can’t hurt, if you take care not to act like a rabid fan. Chances are, it is rather refreshing for them not to be sucked up to.
3) Expand Your Horizons
Making your ambitions clear to your existing friends, colleagues and contacts is wise. However, depending on your industry, current position, and ambitions, the events that come to the top of your mind may not be the most useful. Don’t make the mistake of only going to events that simply gather together lots of people exactly like you, with the same roles, expertise, and industry. They’re great for learning and the exchange of ideas within your specialty, but it’s unlikely to land you a new client or a new job.
Diversity in networking is quite important. I mix it up — I attend talks that bring together different types of technologists; I do hack nights and demos to learn along with other developers; I go to startup gatherings to meet tech entrepreneurs; I go to events held by the Small Business Administration to meet non-tech, local small business owners; and I go to all-purpose networking events that bring together business people of all stripes. This not only ensures that I’m always meeting new people, but also seeing new perspectives and getting fresh new ideas that help me improve my offering.
4) Break The Ice
So, you’ve picked an event, you’ve dressed and left the house, you’re there picking out your hors d’oeuvres, now what? This is the key moment for going from lurker to participant, and is often the hardest hurdle to overcome. Luckily, the principle of generosity here makes this much easier: asking questions and listening means you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to talk about. Start with a question, do a lot of listening, and by the time your conversation partner turns around and asks you a question, you’ll feel more relaxed and able to answer naturally.
Some handy icebreaker questions include:
- Ask what their company (which is likely to be listed on their nametag) does, or what they do there.
- Ask what they thought of the presentation or talk.
- Ask what they’re hoping to learn or accomplish at the event, or in the near future.
- Listen in on an existing conversation, and ask a follow-up question (without asking the speaker to repeat themselves)
5) Be Memorable
When choosing what conversations to have, it’s better to have a few long, thorough ones than many short, shallow ones. You’ll talk to fewer people, but those few people are very likely to remember you. Spread yourself too thin, and nobody remembers you, or worse, they remember you as the schmooze who was “working the room.”
A key tool for being memorable? Business cards. It would be great if everyone could remember your name solely on the value of your charming face and witty banter. Unfortunately, our memories are quite short, and likely everyone at the event has met too many people to recall them individually. They have got to have a take-home. Don’t have business cards? Don’t want to represent the company you work for? No excuses — get them! Put the details of what you want to be seen as, not necessarily what you are currently. Go to Vistaprint or Moo.com and use a template if you have no design skills, or need them fast.
6) Nurture the Connection
Commonly known as, follow up. Now, this is a tough one — chatting with someone when you both happen to be at the same place at the same time is easier than trying to chat when they’re back at their home or office. It’s hard to know exactly what to do with that business card — how to not seem awkward when trying to warm up to someone you barely know. When it was obvious from the conversation that there’s a mutually beneficial relationship to be had, it’s easy to simply start the usual way — sending your resume, forwarding their resume along, sending the pricing for the service they were interested in, or scheduling a time for a consultation.
It’s the other folks, who perhaps you didn’t get to know that well, or whom you don’t anticipate making a deal with in the future, that tend to fall by the wayside. For those folks, take these steps, at a minimum. One, send an email letting them know that it was nice to meet them, that their company sounds interesting, and that you hope you meet again. Then, ask if you can add them on LinkedIn. If they accept, make a note of when you met, and at what event, in their contact details. Two, digitize the business card into a contacts database, taking the same notes as on LinkedIn, and file or tag as “acquaintances” with a few keywords as to their industry or role. These contacts have value as quantity rather than quality — you can reference them later by tag, say, if you want to ask all the CMOs who work in Hospitality Management that you ever met if they’re hiring, and if you can pass your friend’s resume along. Tagging contacts on LinkedIn is also quite easy.
7) Make it a Habit
Networking is, unfortunately for the introvert, work. It’s something we have to get used to. Do it frequently enough that it becomes natural. Whatever frequency works for you, but my advice is at least once a month. Work up to twice a month, once a week, or even multiple times a week, until you find what you can handle. Put them on your calendar so you don’t forget.
Pro Tip: Every Monday, I go to Meetup.com and see what’s going on in my groups, and in my suggested groups. That’s in addition to many other non-Meetup gatherings on which I receive e-mail updates.
Best of luck!
Originally published at www.remix.design.