Networking for people who hate networking

Cringe when you have to tell people about what you do? Does the thought of attending events fill you with dread?

The good news is, you don’t have to sell your soul. You don’t have to become someone you’re not. If you absolutely despise chatting to people in person — and look, it’s not for everyone, that’s for sure — it just means you need a different approach that’ll work for you and play to your strengths.

Here’s how to further your career without selling your soul.

Get familiar with the C word.

Instead of ‘networking’ think ‘contacting’. Contacting people who might dig, understand / relate to what you do. You’re not selling anything so no reason to feel weird.

No sales, no schmoozing, no fakery — just talking to people who have similar stuff in connection with you. (Just like the people you stalk on Twitter. Same thing, different terminology.)

When you contact people in a work / creative sense, you’re essentially telling them about stuff they might like / benefit from, right? As Susan Cain says ‘don’t think of it as networking. Think of it as seeking out kindred spirits.’

Research, find common ground — then approach

You don’t need to be at networking events that suck your energy to meet people who are going to inspire you. That’s what stalking online is for.

Create a list of people / companies / brands you’d like to meet and what you think they’ll teach you or you’d get out of an interaction. (The good news is, the more precise you are with who you approach, the less you’ll have to do it.

Check them out online, follow their work, ask your network / friends / colleagues what they know about the person / company / brand (sometimes you can be a coffee chat away from someone who works for / with them). Ask them what they’re like to work with, how they approach work (the informal info is always the most reliable).

Sounds nerdy, but even a checklist tucked away in a notebook / on your phone is a great reference point when you’re looking for inspiration in your lunch break.) Here’s an example:

  • Column 1 — brand, person or company
  • Column 2: What inspires me about what they do / their work approach? What do I genuinely dig about them (eg cool culture, ace people, rad projects, or maybe, I have no idea I’ve just got a good feeling about this…); Would I be able to assist, help them out in any way? What can I do / offer that might help them do more of what they do?

When you’ve got a good case, flick them an email. Here’s an example:

Hi X,

My name is X, and I’ve been following your work for some time now, especially the [campaign / project / thing they’ve done you genuinely dig].

I thought I’d reach out as I [here’s where you put in the value you could give them — or perhaps the lessons they could teach you].

I’d love to [learn more about said cool thing / help out on said cool thing] if that would be of interest to you. I [add a little note of relevant projects you’ve worked on or things you’ve created that are relevant].

Remember — no value to add to recipient — ABORT EMAIL!

Recruit an event handbag.

If meeting and talking to people sucks your energy (and for a lot of people it really, really does), you can totally make it work for you by being yourself and refining interactions to smaller groups of people. Which means you might benefit from a handbag.

A handbag is your reliable, energetic, fun and charismatic BFF. Someone who knows you well who feels comfortable talking to complete strangers. Let the handbag take the lead and your brilliance can shine when you feel like contributing to the conversation. (If you’re introverted, it’s likely you’ll get the best value out of 1:1 conversations anyways).

The handbag is:

  • professional and puts other people at ease
  • loves to talk to random strangers
  • often works in communications, sales, new business or hospitality
  • not your partner, a date, or romantically linked to you in any way
  • not an alcoholic, can handle a drink and doesn’t go crazy over the word ‘free’

If you’ve not got any buddies who fit the bill — you definitely have them at work. You know them — they’re often in the communication or new business department of your agency. If you’re in a trade or hospitality, they’re the customer service and front of house people. They’re used to talking and warming up complete strangers while still being themselves.

Drop the C word. Ask them (DM / IM / email them if that’s your style) if they’d like to come to an event you’re going to (not ‘thinking of going to’ — create FOMO) as there’ll be heaps of CONTACTS there they might benefit meeting. New business, sales and communications people live through contacts — that’s connections to you.

They get free drinks and you get a conversation opener.

See also:

How to survive ‘networking’ events

Effective marketing for introverts (tip: schedule your bravery)

Networking for Introverts (prioritise time to re-energise after an event)

How Introverts Shine on the Job

Why networking makes you feel physically ill (tip: selfish networking = makes you feel like you need a bath afterwards).

How to Break The Ice (ask for an introduction from the event host)

LifeHacker Networking Tips (ask for an introduction; give before you receive)

How to have an awesome coffee meeting (don’t be late, know what you’re asking for; you’ve got 30 mins tops).