There are three types of people in the world.
There are introverts, extroverts, and there are ambiverts. Every member of the human race primarily fits into one of those categories, and your positioning on this personality scale significantly impacts where your strengths as a business owner lie.
Contrary to popular belief, an introvert isn't necessarily shy or retiring; the main difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how they energise themselves. An introvert becomes exhausted by too much social contact whereas an extrovert thrives off the energy they get from the people around them.
As an introvert, you can genuinely love social situations and can be the life and soul of the party yet you get to a point where enough is enough. Your energy levels deplete and it's quite simply time to go home before your body and mind start shutting down to the people around you.
As a business owner, there's nothing an introvert can do better than an extrovert, or vice versa but there is one particular area that's viewed differently by the two personality types. And that's networking!
Traditionally, networking events are an extrovert's playground! An extrovert is never more comfortable than when they're working the room looking for new and exciting people to share their toys with. Then there's their polar opposite. The much-more-comfortable-with-people-they-know introvert. Those are the people who would do anything to get out of that networking function and, talking from experience; I mean anything!
But if it's not where your strengths lie, can you run a successful business and omit networking out of your agenda altogether?
Well, unfortunately, the answer to that is a resounding no!
We are privileged that in our online culture most networking can be conducted from behind a computer screen. You can hire freelancers online rather than attend a recruitment fair; you can market yourself through social media and blogs rather than conduct face-to-face visits, so there are options to an extent. If you're committed to the longevity of your business, however, you must lay solid foundations by networking in your local field with those peers in your niche.
While this might not be the news you'd hoped for, I'm a big introvert myself, and over the years I've got my networking strategy down to a fine art, and I want to share a few tips. The success of your business does depend on your ability to network, so it's time to pull on your grown-up pants and learn how to work that room with confidence and purpose!
1) Focus on your objectives.
As an introvert, when you hear the word ‘network', you conjure up the image of ‘crowds', the thought of which can leave you gasping for air and quivering in a corner! Try to reframe your mind to focus on your goals rather than all the people that will be there.
Your goal isn't to stand in a room full of people who are all vying for each other's attention; your goal for that particular event is much more specific than that. Do you want to engage with someone for a particular project? Do you want to seek expertise for a growth strategy you're about to implement? Are you looking to collaborate with another expert in your niche?
Once you define your reasons for being there, you can start to narrow down and hone in on those connections which you're looking to make individually.
2) Do your research.
Contact the event organiser beforehand and see if you can get a list of the attendees. With this information, you can look up potential contacts on social media and LinkedIn to get a comprehensive understanding of the professionals who will be in the room.
Forewarned is forearmed as they say, and performing this level of preparation will provide you with some comfort before the event that you can seek out the people that you're looking for. This will also give you some conversation starters for those moments when you're in a crowd, and all eyes are on you!
3) Contact people in advance.
Taking your research one step further, pick up the phone and introduce yourself to some attendees in advance. Tell them about your current goal and say you'd love to catch up with them at the event and discuss X, Y and Z. Not only will people appreciate the fact that you've gone above and beyond, but it'll also make your contacts at the event lukewarm rather than freezing cold!
4) Bring a partner.
There's safety in numbers and taking a guest with you is the obvious solution. Ideally, this will be someone with a vested interest in your company too, but not necessarily. Having a familiar face in the room will put you at ease for those moments when everyone around you disappears, and you're left standing on your own with no one to talk to.
5) Ask questions.
Ahh, the introvert's favourite tactic! Ask questions, ask more questions and then ask a few more! Put the attention onto the person you're talking to, take their business card and follow up with them after the event once you've had time to digest the information they gave you. Networking events are often the speed dating of the corporate world! People go in with the view to talk about themselves for five minutes, give out as many business cards as they can and then move onto the next person.
Gosh, how exhausting and what an unproductive use of time for the introverts in the room!
6) Get into the habit.
I'm sure you don't want to hear this either, but the more you network; the better you become at it. You will start to see the same faces which over time become familiar to you, and you are no longer the new kid on the block. Sign up to a series of events and get to know people, I PROMISE it gets easier!
Once you've achieved what you set out to, don't be afraid to go home. No rule says that you must stay until the last ones standing are being herded out of the front door! If you can only cope with an hour or two and if proceedings allow, allow yourself to make your polite exit. You can follow up with people over the phone once the event is over so don't worry about proper goodbyes for everyone.
8) Engage with a freelance business coach.
A freelance business coach can offer face-to-face networking tips from their remote location via video call at a time convenient to you. While you are highly skilled and capable of running a very successful business, if confidence in networking is an area that you're unable to excel at yourself, arrange a Skype call with a professional who will give you some practical tools and coach you to fake it until you make it!
There's no doubt that networking can be one of the bigger bones of contention for an introvert business owner. By implementing a few simple tactics, you can become good at it and get what you need. If you can't do it for yourself, at least do it for your business!