If your palms get sweaty just thinking about a cocktail mixer, or if you feel drained after going to one, you’re not alone. Here are some things you can do if you’re uncomfortable networking:
1. ‘Know Thyself’
Some people feel uncomfortable networking because they’re introverted, and it takes a lot of energy for them to be in big groups of people. Others are shy or have social anxiety, which means they feel various levels of fear and discomfort around talking to others. The first thing you need to do is figure out which of these situations apply to you and find a strategy that will help you be more comfortable. If you’re introverted, then limiting the number of networking events you attend to the potentially most rewarding ones, finding smaller groups within the larger group at the event, and scheduling downtime alone afterwards may help.
If you feel like your shyness is holding you and your business back, you might want to look into ways to become more comfortable socially. You could go to workshops aimed at helping business people get better at networking, or check out, “Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl’s Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life,” or “Networking for People Who Hate Networking.”
2. Create a Strategy.
You don’t have to do a lot of networking, you just have to be strategic about it. Drill down to the kinds of connections that you want to make so that you can think about the best places to make those connections. Then prioritize going only to events where you think you’ll have a high likelihood of meeting new customers.
For example, if you run a wedding photo booth business, only go to events focused on planning weddings or connecting with brides and grooms. By focusing your networking, you can be more effective while investing less time and stress into the process.
3. Redefine Networking.
People think that the only way to network is to go to an industry event and make small talk. But there are other ways to build your network. Consider hosting an event at your company’s headquarters so potential clients can come to you, or invite someone you want to connect with out for coffee or lunch. If you want to meet new clients, you might ask an industry contact for e-mail introductions to people they know. Social media can also allow you to build a robust network without having to attend mixers. Consider using platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to find new customers and contacts. You might also want to try digital networking apps like About.me and CityHour that help you connect with new potential clients.
4. Get a Networking Buddy.
If you’re introverted, find a friend in your industry to be your “networking wing-person.” You can attend events together and hype up each other’s work. You’ll feel more comfortable since you won’t be alone and you’ll have someone else to help you give your elevator pitch to potential clients. If your wing-person struggles with social situations too, you can give each other pep talks and provide understanding and support. If they’re more outgoing than you, they may help open doors for you.
5. Ask For Referrals.
If you don’t like to network, why not leverage other people’s networks to work for you? Many businesses ask their customers for referrals and offer discounts to incentivize these referrals.
For example, if you’re an optometrist looking to expand your practice, you could offer a 10% discount on future exams for every new client a person refers to you. Or you could provide a set dollar discount off a service for every referral. Giving a discount to the referred client as well is also motivates them to choose you over another optometrist.
With this strategy, people open up their networks to you and you both benefit.
Networking Doesn’t Have to be Scary
Because so many people think of networking in a very narrow sense, it can often cause introverted people feel as if they have to work a crowded room; however, there are all sorts of way to network — many where you don’t have to talk to strangers over cocktails. With these suggestions, you can find your own way to feel more comfortable networking, while making important new business connections.
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