Whether you like it or not, networking is a fundamental part of running a business – especially if you are a freelancer, entrepreneur, solopreneur or similar.
But what if you’re a natural introvert, like me? Should you miss out on potential business opportunities and potentially limit the growth of your company just because you’re not a huge fan of social gatherings?
When I started running my own business, I was terrified of networking. I had this predetermined idea of what it involved – men in suits coming together to talk business, mostly finance, investment, you know, big heavy corporate stuff. I was terrified of entering a room full of strangers and not knowing how to start a conversation with anyone or what to talk about.
Luckily, I learnt fairly quickly that true networking isn’t like that – far from it, in fact!
The good news for us introverts is that there are lots of different networking styles. You should explore a few of them to find out which one suits you the best.
Types of Networking Events
Networking events incorporate everything from informal coffee mornings to mastermind-style events and everything in between.
There are events that feature one speaker, a panel of different speakers or simply a gathering of like-minded business professionals to discuss what’s going on with their companies (both good and bad) at that point in time. While formal networking events follow a set structure, with breaks for tea and biscuits, informal events might be conducted over beer and pizza, with no set agenda.
With the right group of people, networking can be a lot of fun; a far cry from the vision of networking events that I had before I attended one.
Here are just some types of networking events:
- Informal Chat (coffee morning, pizza and beer evening) – exactly as its name suggests.
- Mastermind – a gathering of like-minded business owners designed to solve challenges through brainstorming, education and support.
- Presentation – a presentation by an industry influencer, thought leader, business owner or educator.
- Panel Discussion – a public exchange of ideas where audience members can interact with a panel of experts on a particular topic.
- Structured networking (Speed Networking or Safari style) – Safari style networking sees attendees moving around different tables taking a short time to each.
Offline vs. Online Networking
Some people do offline networking; some people do online networking; some do both. It all depends on your preference, availability and what’s on near you.
Oftentimes, people go to networking events, collect lots of business cards, but never engage with their new connections online. On the other hand, there are more and more people who regularly network online and spend lots of time on Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms that facilitate networking, but they never actually meet people in real life.
To get the best results from networking (fastest results, as well as a higher number of leads), you should think of integrating both approaches.
Online Networking – Twitter
Take Twitter. Sometimes it might feel too noisy and loud, but if you understand why and how to use the platform, it can be really simple and efficient.
The best way to meet like-minded people on Twitter is by joining Twitter chats. If you don’t know what Twitter chats are and how they can benefit your business, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Chats.
Online Networking – LinkedIn
I’ve recently started using LinkedIn more and more and I even use the mobile app instead of my business card. Since they launched the QR code feature, it’s easier than ever to find people and connect with them.
Online platforms are also great for following-up on leads you’ve obtained from offline networking events. What I quite often do is make notes in a spreadsheet which I then transfer to my CRM. Depending on the nature of the lead I sometimes send out a follow-up email or look to engage with them online.
Email is a great medium because of its direct nature, but emailing can consume a fair amount of time and many people get frustrated with email overload. A simple tweet tagging the person or a DM on LinkedIn after the event can often be just as effective.
The thing I love the most about social media is the authenticity and, especially on Twitter, the need to get straight to the point. No fluff! Just the raw message that you want to get across.
Networking isn’t just about doing business
You don’t need to go to a networking event just to talk business. I’ve often got the best results when I just went to meet some new people and had a chat with them. You would be surprised how much business you can get over time if you make others your number one priority.
Listen to other people, learn about their businesses and find out what their needs might be. It could just so happen that you can help fulfil their needs with your products and services. But you won’t ever know that unless you get to know their business and understand its pain points in the first instance.
In short, be interested to be interesting.
Also, you don’t need to talk business. Remember that people buy from people. But more importantly, people buy from people they know, like and trust. Or as I like to say, you’ll trust people that you know, love and can relate to. And trust is a valuable currency in business!
Being relatable is becoming more and more important in business, especially for entrepreneurs. Don’t try to pretend you’re someone else, just be yourself, be honest, be authentic and be friendly.
Plan your networking time
You only need to spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn or relevant business support Facebook groups to see just how popular and pervasive networking is today.
The bottom line is that networking has never been more important in business than it is right now. By getting out and meeting people face-to-face, you can strengthen the existing ties you’ve made online. Local networking groups potentially hold an abundance of opportunities – you just need to talk yourself into attending them.
Don’t worry if you’re a little nervous, that’s natural. Take a friend with you if you want. Once there, look for a friendly face and spark up a conversation – although chances are someone will just start talking to you anyway.
Forge relationships online, develop them further offline and establish long-term, mutually beneficial rapport.
How about you? Do you like or hate networking? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @lenkakopp.
Extra Relevant Resources
The two links below are definitely worth some of your time if you haven’t read them already:
Want to Become a More Efficient Networker? Start by Asking These 5 Questions
An Introvert’s Survival Guide To Networking At Marketing Events