Secrets to Networking for Introverts
It’s Friday night, the end of a long week. You’ve been hustling and bustling all week and you can’t wait to par-tay!
If you’re an extrovert, that means hanging out with some friends at the bar. But for us introverts, the mere thought is draining.
Our idea of a par-tay is hanging out in bed alone with a good book and cocoa.
But this natural need many of us have to recharge in solitude comes at a cost. It is a hard world for introverts, in a society and business culture that prizes big and bright personalities. In fact, in a survey of 4,000 (scroll to the middle of the page) corporate leaders, it was revealed that managers, supervisors, and executives have far higher levels of extraversion than the general population.
Even though other research shows introverts make excellent leaders and successful entrepreneurs, there is still a perception of introversion that makes it far more difficult to compete, if not excluding you completely from the race.
This isn’t a completely baseless perception. Many skills integral to succeeding in business—selling, networking, presenting—are both more natural and more pleasant for the extroverted person.
Networking especially—that is, the act of creating a community of mutual support around you as an entrepreneur—requires an immense amount of going to crowded places and talking with many people for extended periods of time. That kind of thing will absolutely ruin an introvert’s weekday, or weekend for that matter.
What does this mean for us poor introverts? Are we to sit on the sidelines while our extroverted brethren build the changemaking (and moneymaking) businesses of the future?
Not in the least. Especially in the digital age, there are many avenues and methods to achieve networking success, even as the most introverted introvert.
This post will show you how.
Some Introverted Facts
Before diving in, here’s a quick reminder of what introversion means, because it’s often misunderstood. Introversion is a natural personality tendency that is prevalent in anywhere from 16-50 percent of the population. So generally, introverts are the minority personality tendency in the Western world, which is quite apparent judging from Western politicians, celebrities, and more.
Being introverted doesn’t mean that you cannot talk to people. It doesn’t mean that you are excessively shy or antisocial. Your ability to connect emotionally and mentally with other people is unrelated to your introverted tendency.
What it does mean is that, while extroverts are energized by interacting with others, introverts derive their energy from solitude and quiet. They thrive in spaces where internal self-reflection is possible, and avoid crowded and noisy places because these are a drain on energy. That means introverts are also often misperceived by extroverts as being at best shy and at worst stuck up.
The main challenge introverts need to overcome as they start networking is, how do they maximize their use of energy and play to their strengths in an environment that would usually tax them.
But fear not, there is a way forward.
In fact, many of the most well-known entrepreneurs and business leaders are either self-proclaimed introverts, or display a number of introverted qualities. You can count the names of Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer and Warren Buffet among them.
Like the rest of the business world, they too had to participate in the tedious chore (for introverts, at least) of networking to build up their contacts and support systems.
So don’t get discouraged.
Not only can you network properly as an introvert, you also have unique characteristics that even allow you to create deeper bonds with others. This increases the quality of your network and makes finding help and building connections much easier. That’s right—introversion can be a networking superpower.
Online Networking is your Greatest Ally
There has never been a better time to be alive as an introverted entrepreneur. The power of the internet has made it so that you can start, launch, and grow a business without ever changing out of your PJs.
With the rise of online business, there has also been a rise in online networking, which has the same advantages. As an online networker, you can build a strong and thriving network from the quiet and solitary comfort of your bedroom.
Online networking would be a post in and of itself, so all of the nooks and crannies of this topic will not be covered in this section. However, these broad strokes should get you well on your way.
Identify your targets
The best online networking efforts start with a plan.
Take some time to identify some influencers in your both your industry as well as your target market’s industry. If you are just starting out, you’ll want to steer away from the biggest and best influencers and focus in on people who are a bit more accessible. People who are a bit further down the line than you are perfect targets. Write these people down on a piece of paper and get ready to network.
Become a Social Media Maven
Once you’ve got your targets, pick the best channels to interact with them. This may be Twitter, their blog, Instagram or several of these. Your best bet is to focus in on one or two channels and perfect them.
Because your introvert’s tendency to only speak when you feel you’ve got something important to say, the rest is easy for you. Interact with your influencer online by commenting thoughtfully on the things that they put out. That means taking time to write down a great comment in their blog, or responding to their tweet with a value-adding question or follow-up.
You may think that these actions are no big deal. But in the noisy world of the internet, thoughtful comments come at a premium. You will definitely stick out among the crowd of people (or robots) commenting “nice”, “yes!”, “100%” that usually appear on social media accounts. Just take a look at the majority of comments in a randomly selected instagram post for Foundr’s Instagram account:
There’s nothing wrong with those comments—a quick cheer or thumbs up is great! But interacting in a more substantive way consistently will open doors for making a deeper connection and rapport, such as reaching out to have a chat, offering help, or proposing a mutually beneficial partnership.
Remember, when reaching out always come offering value, not by asking for something. When starting out, always seek to help and not drain the person of their time and resources.
Join groups and online communities
If you want to supercharge your online networking, there are few better ways to do this than by joining online entrepreneur/industry communities. When these groups are managed properly, you’ll find that relationships and valuable connections come nearly instantly. For example, our excellently managed Facebook group (if I do say so myself, I’m one of the community managers) has yielded Mastermind groups, in person meetups, and tons of help both requested and offered during its six months of existence. The community is often cited as the most valuable aspect of Foundr Club, our private club for entrepreneurs.
So if you are introverted and are looking to do some online networking, definitely check out some online communities. There are many out there, but the best will tend to be paid. It is a great investment that will pay off in terms of real money, and in the fact that you need never attend a mixer or luncheon to meet people.
Pick one that suits your industry and goals most closely. When you get in, here are a few tips to help you stick out and make valuable connections:
- Post valuable content, and avoid promoting your products and business as much as possible.
- Answer questions, and proactively reach out to people with resources you think they would appreciate.
- Suggest setting up a call to talk through challenges a person has posted about in the group.
- Be active in the group everyday; this shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.
Online Mastermind Groups
Masterminds are groups of entrepreneurs that meet on a regular basis during which they help each other out and get through challenges together. Out of the three options presented in this section, Mastermind groups are both the most expensive but the most effective way to network. There are a lot of Mastermind groups out there, and some of the higher quality ones can go for $10,000/year or more for bi-monthly or monthly meetings. But if you have the budget, get the best Mastermind you can afford. Through them, you’ll meet experienced and successful entrepreneurs who are coming to this Mastermind to give as much as to get. You’ll be able to have access not only to their experience and knowledge, but to their network.
Online networking is great, and it may get you the results you seek. However, as any experienced entrepreneur will tell you, no matter how powerful your online skills may be, nothing truly beats the in-person experience. And although introverts often enjoy meeting new people, the experience can be extremely draining, especially in large doses like events.
But there are ways of approaching in-person networking so that it is as painless as possible—even enjoyable!
Pick Your Events Carefully
Extroverts have the tendency to try to maximize the number of events they attend, because that’s what they were made to do. They live for the high energy of meet-ups and networking events, and the chance to talk to a whole gang of new people. As a result, the extrovert will accumulate a large number of connections due to the sheer volume of people that they are meeting. Over time, these connections will boil down to that person’s network.
But is this necessary the best way?
All of the groups for “networking” within 2 miles of Toronto – whoa!
Not all networking events are created equal. Some may be full of people who are not a helpful addition to your network, others are not well structured for networking. Some events are only useful to attend at certain stages of your business.
Let me give you an example. Say you are running a new SaaS business geared towards e-commerce business owners. It might make sense to attend a few networking events for SaaS entrepreneurs. But really, if you are looking to grow your business (who isn’t!) your best bet would be to attend networking events where you can mix and meet with potential clients, say, a networking event for e-commerce business owners or the like.
An extrovert’s eagerness to jump out into the social fray may lead them to lose a lot of time attending events that do not have much value. But you, as an introvert, enjoy quiet self-reflection before making decisions.
Use this characteristic to your advantage and carefully consider the array of networking events that are available to you. After this, you’ll be able to only attend the ones that are most valuable for your direct goals at the time. This is highly efficient and saves you from having to attend unnecessarily large numbers of draining events.
Get to the events early
You’ve pinned down the essential events you need to attend. The time has now arrived for you to attend them. Sadly, thinking about attending is not enough to help you build your network.
But fear not, there are ways to make the experience of attending events far less painful. One such method is to attend the event early.
Get there fashionably early before there are very big crowds. This will allow you to enjoy some relative peace and quiet, your natural introvert environment, and develop some connections before things get too hectic.
Arriving early will also help you get more comfortable with the space and strike up some rapport with a few people who will help carry you through the event.
Bring a friend
Being alone in a room full of strangers is the idea that keeps many introverts away from networking events. Instead, don’t be alone—bring a friend, preferably an extroverted one. This will help you in several ways:
- Your extroverted friend can be the one to break the ice with new people, and introduce you so you don’t have to do it yourself.
- Add one more person, and you’ve got a crowd! You and your friend can be the ones to create conversation circles and get things going at the event.
- Your friend can help boost your confidence when you are feeling low and reassure you when you are feeling uncertain.
Having some emotional support is very helpful for introverts during taxing networking events. If you have one handy, definitely bring them over to help things along.
Be the listener
Given that most of the population is generally extroverted, and given that entrepreneurs tend to be more extroverted than the general population, it stands to reason that you are going to be surrounded by many outgoing and chatty people at networking events.
As an introvert, you have the tendency to think over what you are going to say before saying it, and offer comments more sparingly than extroverts. That means that you are likely not in a position to compete with the fast-talking, gregarious extroverts around you.
So don’t compete—complement.
There are few things that people appreciate more than a careful listener who indulges them in hearing about everything that they do and like. Be that person.
Gear the conversation towards the other person and let them do most of the talking. Come prepared with some open-ended questions to prompt your conversation partner to get started. Usually people don’t need much to get started. Obviously, you should not stay mute and you must absolutely offer something to the conversation, and well as telling people about yourself.
But since you’ll be taking the role of the active listener in this situation, you’ll have more time to think through your comments and have better control over when to enter the conversation.
Don’t worry about ‘selling’ yourself
There’s always a handful of very smooth talkers that are incredibly talented at selling themselves and giving out a deck of business cards without breaking a sweat and making anyone uncomfortable. These are typically master networkers and an extroverted, confident personality type is a must. These networkers do tend to build quality networks quickly. Not to be mistaken with the “sleazy” networker, who is much more interested in selling you something than making a sincere connection.
As an introvert, you may find it painfully difficult to put yourself out there and sell what you’ve got. Don’t sweat it. Most people aren’t good at that anyways. Don’t worry about landing a client or striking up a partnership right at that networking event.
Instead, approach networking as a chance to make a new friend. If it feels right to exchange business cards, do it. If not, don’t feel like you need to force yourself. Even though this may be a slower route to building a network, you’ll make more genuine bonds with people and create relationships that go deeper than quick business connections.
Set a goal of meeting a handful of people in this way, and you may make a couple of friends. These friendships may bring further benefits down the line, such as warm introductions or special favors.
Take some time out
Introverts need their “me” time to recharge. If you’re feeling tired or spent from talking and mingling, then take 10 and go recharge somewhere. This could be grabbing a drink and sipping a bit of it at the bar, going to the restroom to freshen up, or even taking a quick walk around the building to “take a call.” This will help maintain your stamina throughout the event and keep you networking till the end!
Don’t overlook the follow-up
Extroverts, with their love of talking and getting to know people, will likely leave an event with a far higher volume of business cards and contacts than you as an introvert might. But this isn’t an entirely bad thing.
While the extrovert may have to spend a significant amount of time following up with people and trying to remember their details, you’ll have a much more manageable task at hand.
And since you likely spent a lot of the time listening to what others were saying about themselves, be sure to write some salient details down and include that in a friendly follow-up email.
Don’t just message the people you believe may result in a business deal or sale. Follow-up with everyone you took the time to speak to. Something like this note would work well:
It was great speaking with you yesterday! I really enjoyed hearing about your love for boating. Here is the blog that I mentioned, I hope you find it useful.
I’d love to stay in touch. Are you going to any other events coming up soon? Let’s also stay connected on LinkedIn.
Maintain these conversations if it makes sense to do so. If you are having a helpful back and forth about a topic, keep it going! Don’t let the conversation drop. This should be far more manageable for you, because you’ll have a smaller number and higher-quality group of connections to deal with. Remember, the fruits of a connection may not bear until later, so it’s always great to stay in touch with others, especially those you naturally get along with.
Challenge Yourself and Get Out There
Introverts may get stuck in the place of thinking things through, before and after a networking event. This can lead to the dreaded paralysis by analysis that introverts are especially susceptible to. The truth is that you may, in fact, look stupid, shy, or weird to some people—but who cares?
Very few people are universally likable. A lot of extroverts seem loud, rambunctious, and overbearing to others.
Be yourself and try to detach your anxieties from the event. Try not to overthink it before going, and after leaving. Let things be, and you may even find that networking is enjoyable!
Stay calm and introvert on.