Back when I started my freelance writing business I knew clients weren’t going to show up unless I put myself out there. I had to start networking right away. The problem was I had no idea what I was doing. Much as I like people, I’m an introvert so I was never going to be good at throwing myself into the middle of conversations. Cue lots of standing around awkwardly holding a wine glass.
I have to hand it to myself. I tried it all. Local networking. BNI. Speed networking. Meetup. I went to all of them. I didn’t always get clients but I learned a lot about what to do (and not do) in networking situations.
When I first started out I thought networking was going to as many events as possible, giving people my elevator spiel, handing out lots of business cards and voila… people would call and hire me.
But that’s not how to network and it never felt right to me. Networking isn’t about selling yourself, it’s about building relationships.
It’s about being genuine in your interactions and asking people questions about what they do and what kind of challenges they’re facing. That’s how you find out useful information that will help your job (or client) search. Don’t forget, networking isn’t just something you do to find a job, it’s also hugely valuable when you’re making a career shift or making a decision on which career path is right for you.
Here are a couple of power tips to help you start networking even if you break out in hives just thinking about it.
1) Network in the groups you’re already in
I’m a great believer in pursuing the path of least resistance. Why make things hard on yourself? Start networking in the groups you’re already in, whether it’s your kids’ sports events, social outings or a hobby like a running group meet-up. Ask people about what they do, what they enjoy about their work and how they got their jobs.
2) Bring a wingman or woman
If you want to attend a networking event, bring along a wingman or woman. This is a particularly effective tactic if you’re an introvert because hopefully your more extroverted friend can introduce you to people and help you out if the conversation stalls. Your comfort levels will go up automatically when you know you’re not going to be left hanging in the corner like a wallflower.
3) Create small challenges
If you’re nervous about attending events like I used to be, give yourself small challenges and then reward yourself for a job well done. For example, stand up and ask the speaker a question if you’re attending a conference, or give yourself permission to go home after you’ve met and talked to two new people. Remember networking is more about sustained effort than pushing yourself to the max at one event.
4) Practice having conversations with strangers
Another issue I used to have with networking was making small talk. It only occurred to me later why this was. I hate small talk. I’ve never been good at it. But if you want to broaden your network you’re going to have to learn to get good at it. You can do this by practicing talking to strangers or people you interact with on a regular basis, like checkout people at the supermarket or the woman who works at the post office. Strike up conversations with people you don’t know. The more you do this, the more natural it will become and you will be a power networker in no time.
Keen to learn more about networking?
I’ll be running a Networking for Introverts workshop in Melbourne in April where I’ll be teaching powerful strategies for building your network, and I’d love to have you there. You will learn how to create a network even if you’re starting from scratch, how to approach people you want to meet both online and in person, how to network your way into a new job and how to build your confidence so that you can network with ease.