True life: I am not a big fan of traditional networking. I'm introverted and generally overwhelmed by new social situations – especially with large groups of people that I don't really know. I used to dread going to events but personally, I don't think that networking is optional if you're trying to grow a business. So like it or not, I've developed a system for networking that makes it WAYYY easier for me to feel comfortable connecting with new people!
So figure out why you want to network in the first place. Are you trying to find potential clients? People you want to collaborate with? Influencers in your industry? All of the above? Great! Make a list of these people because you'll want to keep track of them. (pssst: you can also get my template at the end of this post!)
Step 1: Step Up Your Social
- FACT: Connecting with people on social media is less scary than in real life. Also, a lot of other introverts are on social media and they want to connect with you as much as you want to connect with them! Someone just has to take the first step…
- Assuming you've identified some of the people you'd like to connect with, start following them on social media. For my businesses, I find that instagram and twitter are the 2 platforms that are easiest to connect with people in my target audience, but it could be that your potential clients are on other networks.
- Once you've figured out what networks they are active on, ENGAGE with them! On instagram, engaging with people means liking their photos, leaving thoughtful comments (not mindless “love this!” or spammy “follow me!” comments – genuine comments that show you are actually interested in the content they are posting). On twitter, linking to other people's content (if they have a blog or website) or sharing their tweets using the “quote” option with a related comment are easy, non-scary ways to start interacting. Pick one or two networks that you are really going to be active on and be consistent.
- PRO TIP: Optimize your social profiles to appeal to your target audience. If you are effectively interacting with new people, they will want to check out you out! Make sure your bio clearly states who you are, what you do, and why they should follow you!
Step 2: Connect In Person
- FACT: It is easier to introduce yourself to a person in real life if you have already “met” them on social media.
- Let's pretend you are attending an event and some of the people you have been connecting with on social will be there. For most introverts, the hardest part is actually walking up to someone and saying hello, so try to change your mindset and think about the encounter not as “meeting someone for the first time,” but as “continuing the conversation you already started.”
- Lead with a simple introduction followed by a genuine compliment of their work. For example, recently I ran into the founder of a website that I admire at a yappy hour event (yes #yappyhour, it's a crazy dog people thing) and simply opened with – “Hi Suzanne, I'm Elle from Bitches' Guide NYC, and I really loved that video interview you did with Joe Zee and his dogs!” (Seriously I love Joe Zee and puppies so the video was so fun to watch!) Even if they don't recognize you or remember that you've interacted with them before (not everyone will, and that's ok!), a flattering comment will set the tone and is an easy segue into further conversation!
- If you're anxious about going to an event alone, ask a more extroverted friend to come along as your wingman/woman!
- PRO TIP: Before an event, think of three topics you can chat about with anyone that you aren't “prepared” to talk to – 1 personal (gone on any trips lately?), 1 professional (any fun projects in the works?), and 1 topical (what brings you to the event?).
FACT: It is easier to introduce yourself to a person in real life if you have already “met” them on social media.Click To Tweet
STEP 3: Follow Up
- FACT: Meeting people is not networking without followup.
- People are busy. Even if you meet someone and have a great conversation with them, don't assume they will keep in touch!
- My general rule is: within 24 hours of meeting someone, send a followup email that offers something of value to them, THEN has a specific “ask.” For example, last week I was at an event with a online boutique owner who expressed interest in an accessory brand that I have a relationship with. The following day I emailed her to put her in touch with my contact at the brand regarding wholesale buying, THEN I asked if she'd like to meet for coffee in the next week to discuss working together on an upcoming event.
- PRO TIP: Make sure your “ask” is time sensitive. Even better if it is specific AND time sensitive. “I'd love to collaborate” is meh but “I'd love to collaborate on a webinar that I am planning to launch in September” is much better.
Ultimately, steps 1-3 don't work unless you've done some homework and identified the people who you want to network with! As an introvert, I hate the idea of trying to start conversations with just anyone, so doing some advanced
stalking research is the key to getting started.