I have a bold personality and play myself on television, so many people find it hard to believe I am truly an introvert. I would much prefer to stay home by myself than to socialize. In fact, my biggest nightmare is a huge convention setting.
I find that the whole concept of establishing any relationship with total strangers and converting them into treasured resources can be overwhelming. But, I am also a public speaker and I know how important a strong network is for an entrepreneur, so networking has to be part of the business plan.
So, what do you do when you would rather hide in a corner than make small talk?
With a clear understanding of what networking is really all about, anyone — from the life of the party to the shyest wallflower — can develop a great business network.
Here are four of my best tips introverts can use to develop the valuable business relationships that they need.
1. Have a plan for events.
If you are like me, the thought of facing countless strangers seems about as pleasing as sticking a fork into your eye, but a little advanced planning can improve things. When you find an event that you believe may benefit you, start by contacting the organizer at least a few days prior. Ask him or her who you need to know based on your objectives and see if the organizer can make introductions to those people for you ahead of time through email or social media.
Then, on the day of the event, while you may enter a room with hundreds of people, you know specifically which people to seek out (and why you are connecting with them). This takes the pressure off a cold introduction and you can dive more deeply into shared interests.
2. Cull your current network.
If you have family and friends, you already have a network. But, you probably don’t recognize that these people can help with your business issues and connections. If you need assistance solving a specific problem or finding new customers, talk to the people you know who like and trust you and have connections you don’t already know. A simple introduction is all you need to grow your own network.
Don’t discount the value of someone else’s network. One of my most valuable connections came via a friend in a different industry, and I would never have guessed in a million years they would be able to help in the industry I was looking for a contact in. The connection happened to be a family friend. If I had not been willing to ask all of my friends and family — and did my own segmenting of who would likely be helpful — I would never have made the connection.
Also, don’t stop with your closest contacts. You probably interact with many people every day and you know them well enough to ask for help. One person tI know has been going to a particular spa for years. On one of her visits, she brought some business brochures and asked if she could place them on the reception counter next to other promotional items that they already had on display. With their permission, she got some calls from people already primed to purchase her services while avoiding the pain of cold-calling.
3. Aim for quality over quantity.
For some people, collecting as many business cards as possible is the definition of networking. Not only is that a nightmare for an introvert, but it rarely yields results. It is better to find a few people with whom you can develop a deep mutually-beneficial relationship than to have the business cards of thousands of people you will never speak with again. So, even if you are at a conference with thousands of attendees, find ways to do your networking in small chunks.
For example, most people need to eat, so ask a few people sitting near you in a late-morning session to get together for lunch. Instantly, you create a small group of people who share your interests without the embarrassment of trying to ask a single person to go out with you. You may or may not become lifelong friends with your new lunch buddies, but you will know that each business card has real meaning for you.
4. Leverage social media.
Social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have blurred the lines between real relationships and virtual connections. But, these tools eliminate the need for face-to-face or phone contact as a preamble to establishing business contacts.
If you pay regular attention to your social media accounts, you will get to know quite a bit about your new friends, followers and connections. Then, when you find someone with mutual interests and concerns, consider making your conversations more private to find out if you can help each other in your networking efforts.
I have also found great success by putting out questions when I am seeking help for myself or someone else to my social networks. Almost every time I have sought a business contact with a particular skill or otherwise, my social network has come through.
Even introverts need a network to increase their success. Hopefully, the tips above will make the process a little less painful.