Networking for the socially anxious
Here’s the deal. Whether you have social anxiety or not, networking is uncomfortable. You have to walk into a room full of people that you don’t know. They’re already talking to other people and you don’t want to interrupt them. You probably start to have thoughts like why am I here and who cares what I have to say.
When I started my business, I thought I could hide behind Instagram and post regularly and everyone would buy my services. I quickly came to the realization that I needed to get out and meet other local business owners to not only tell them about my business but to learn from them too.
When I first started going to networking events I would cry the whole way there. I was terrified and panicked. Somehow I forced myself to go anyway and it always ended up fine. I didn’t have any expectations going in and only wanted to talk to two people and then I let myself leave. The more I did that, the more people I would meet and the longer I would stay. I now go to networking events and know at least one other person but usually more as I’ve built up my crew of business relationships.
Benefits of networking
Sure, Instagram works for some businesses. Some people may even be lucky enough to do all of their business through Instagram. But I do believe that you will get further meeting others face-to-face. When you talk to someone, even socially, you generally know right away if you like the person. You either want to keep talking to them or move on. That is why networking is so powerful. I can tell right away if I like and trust them. And guess what? They are doing the same thing on their end. So now they’ve talked to me and they like me and want to know more about what I do. This connection increases my chances of them referring me over others because they’ve met me and trust me. People have recommended me without even seeing my work!
Now let’s say you meet someone who doesn't need your services. Do you walk away because it’s a waste of your time? NO. For two reasons. One, every person has other contacts in their network and the potential to refer you. Two, you can learn SO much from other entrepreneurs. I always ask questions like how do you find clients, who is your ideal client, what is your greatest piece of advice to other business owners. The amount that I have been able to learn in a short amount of time is invaluable.
Don’t be scared
Most of the time, people are nice. If they aren’t, walk away. But people go to networking events for the sole purpose of meeting others. They have their reputation and brand on the line so it’s in their best interest to be nice. They are also looking for you to refer them just like you want referrals. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. We all want to help each other.
Tips to get better at networking
This is what I have learned from about ten months of consistent networking.
The more you do it, the easier it gets. Being social is a muscle like anything else. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Like I said in the beginning, I used to cry before going to events. Now, I look forward to them and I can’t wait to meet other people. Of course I still get nerves, but they quickly dissipate when I start talking to someone.
If it’s an event that serves alcohol, stand by the bar. Even if you don’t drink, other people will be coming to the bar to get drinks. They are generally alone and a great way to start a conversation.
Go to groups that meet regularly. This way the group members will start to know you better and maybe even on a personal level. It will be easier for you because you’ll know everyone and feel comfortable. It will also help your business because now you’ve told the group multiple times about what you do (repetition helps people remember) and they know you personally so they are more likely to refer members they like.
Hopefully this will give you courage to get out there and meet new people! Eventbrite.com and Meetup.com are a great place to start when looking for events that will meet your needs. As always, if you have any questions or want to talk to someone more about it, let’s chat!