As a small business owner, you need to make connections and build a network* to grow your company. And that can be a challenge when you tend to have an introverted personality type. Many people (especially gregarious extroverts) think introverts are extremely shy or hate people – but it is false! Introverts enjoy socializing but not with a large group of people at the same time. If you identify as an introvert but know you need to develop a strategy for creating and maintaining connections, here are my tips for networking introvert style.
Build an Online Network
The whole idea behind the world-wide-web was to connect people who couldn’t meet in person and share their ideas. Reaching out online is a great way to build connections. Follow people who share your interests or industry and in adjacent industries. For example, military members might wish to connect with those in international affairs. As a virtual assistant, I follow some SEO experts and IT specialists.
Start some positive online interactions with these people – and don’t just click “like” on their posts. Make thoughtful comments and ask relevant questions about them and their work. Don’t make it about YOU. Appreciate them for what they are posting. If you want to refute their statements, do it by private message. Remember that old saying, “Reprove your friend in secret and praise them in public.” (Maybe Leonardo da Vinci?)
Many introverts prefer writing online when they have the option to think and edit. It is much less stressful than impromptu face-to-face dialogue (like table topics). You have the time to build the relationship slowly and see if you’re a good fit – which is generally important for introverts. You may never meet in person, but that’s okay – a connection is a connection, and a network is a network.
Networking introvert style includes double dates. It’s a strategy I quite enjoy. Here’s how it works: you and someone in your network agree to meet, and you each invite someone the other person doesn’t know (or doesn’t know very well). With only four of you, it is easier to have deeper conversations which can lead to stronger connections. Introverts tend to like fewer yet more robust relationships.
Like any double date, preparation makes for success. Determine why you’re meeting. What is the goal? Is it to get to know someone socially or professionally? Whatever the reason, you should be able to articulate what you do/what you’re about clearly and succinctly – your “elevator pitch.”
Prepare some open-ended, relevant questions to discuss. For example, in a professional setting, ask your ‘dates’ to describe their ideal client, employee, or office space. What are their recent successes? What is their biggest pain point? In a social setting, perhaps inquire about what they enjoy most/least about their hobbies, sports, or vacations.
Extraverts love networking events, but introverts can find them challenging. With networking introvert style, you can use large conventions to build your network and strengthen your connections. Here’s how:
- Research attendees and make a list of people you want to connect with.
- Connect online (via email, social media, etc.) and arrange to meet during the conference.
- If you already know people there, book double dates.
Because conventions can be overwhelming, plan your meetings and double dates in quieter areas or a short distance from the venue. Ahead of time, scope out local restaurants, cafés, parks, gardens, museums, or galleries.
Follow Up for Success
Following up with your connections is essential to build a strong network. Within a day or two of your meeting, send a “nice meeting you” message. Keep it brief but make it personal. Mention a specific detail from your conversation. If they provided advice or recommendations, say thanks, and tell them your action/implementation plan. Later, connect again and let them know the results you achieved. Everyone appreciates closure. Finally, keep a log in your contacts list of who you connected with and when.
Whether you’re connecting online, through double dates or networking events, I have one final Networking: Introvert Style tip. Browse through your connections list regularly (monthly is good) and (from that 1970s telephone commercial), “Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Reach out, call up and just say hi.”
*This blog post was originally a speech in my Toastmasters Pathway, Visionary Communication Level 3, Make Connections Through Networking. Thank you to my fellow Toastmasters at WestWinners in Winnipeg for their support and encouragement!