Business networking for introverts is a scary scenario. There you are, wanting desperately to promote your business yet not having the confidence to do so. Fear not Padawan, you are not alone. Many entrepreneurs just like you started their business either because they had a vision, or spotted a gap in the market not because they wanted to become salespeople.
Networking is a necessary evil for many businessmen and women. Events are frequently held all around the UK enabling representatives of small and medium-sized businesses to mingle. Each of these representatives has the same objective. To showcase their product or service to prospective new customers. Yet, the art of networking does not come easily to everyone.
The most confident networker will upon entering a room immediately make his/her way to the centre so that they are in full view of everybody. The introvert, on the other hand, will often sidle shyly along the sides of the room whilst maintaining an unhealthy fixation on the buffet table. How then do you as a small business owner transform yourself from a ‘sidler’ to being the centre of attraction?
Below I have listed a few tricks and tips to make the whole networking situation a little less scary. Hopefully, they may even make the process enjoyable.
You gotta have goals!
OK, so every business person knows all about goal setting. Attending networking events is no different. Set yourself a specific goal that you feel you need to achieve at the event. The most obvious goal (certainly in the beginning) is to meet just one potential contact.
Just one? Well, yes. More would be better, but if this happens to be your first networking event then it may pay to start with simple and achievable goals. If this type of event fills you with dread in the first place then speaking to multiple people will be a challenge. If on the other hand, you are able to identify someone who can benefit your business, start with them.
The fear of introduction
Although most networking events have the appearance of a formal gathering, they are usually fairly informal occasions. Do not be afraid to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself. Preparation is the key here. Have yourself a little pre-prepared opening gambit.
Brevity is always a good way to initiate a conversation. I like to walk up to someone and open with “I thought I would begin by introducing myself to the smartest looking person in the room. That appears to be you!” Invariably this type of compliment will be met with a self-deprecating response. Follow this up with a brief introduction and a handshake and you are up and running. Alternatively don’t be put off by keeping it simple. “Hello! My name is Marvin Marvelous, what do you do?”
It is important once the introductions have taken place to repeat the names straight back of anyone you are introduced to. It is polite and gives the impression that you are genuinely interested in them and are being attentive. This may seem a little unnatural at first but will get easier with practice.
- If there is a host at your event (there usually is) ask them to introduce you to someone with a similar background or a person who they think could be of interest.
- Try to avoid immediately stating what your business is such as “Hi, my name is Tom and I’m in banking/media/pest control.” Better to wait until they ask what it is you do.
- No matter how awkward you may be feeling at one of these events, you can guarantee that there will be another feeling just the same. Try to keep your eye out for another singleton.
- Keep business cards handy. I usually have my business card holder in my left hand so I can proffer one straight away. If you are carrying a drink try to ensure that business cards are easily accessible in your inside jacket pocket or breast pocket of your shirt.
- Repeat back the names of people you are introduced to as soon as they tell you. Try to call them by name when you are addressing someone as this helps you to remember.
- Smile! Be genuinely happy to meet everyone.
- Do not stare at the floor during any lull in the conversation. Look straight ahead but never down. Try to avoid glancing around the room when in a conversation. Nothing is ruder than giving the impression that you are on the lookout for better prospects.
- Do ask questions. Use every meeting as a fact-finding exercise. Use open-ended questions such as ‘why’ or ‘how’ or ‘could you tell me about…’ Try to get them to expand on their explanations as much as possible.
Exchanging of business cards early is a good strategy. If during the conversation you happen to forget the name of the person you are talking to you can discreetly refer to the card. By keeping some business cards in your left hand at all times you can put their card to the bottom of the pile with the person’s name facing outwards for reference.
How to address a group of strangers
Approaching a single person is one thing. Introducing yourself to a group is quite another. It is important to always remember that they are there for the same purpose. These people want to talk to you. Almost certainly they have some goods or service that they want to promote in the same way that you do.
In social situations what introverts find most scary is the fear of rejection. In a networking group, however, this almost never happens. You can confidently walk up to any group of people and introduce yourself knowing that nobody will ever ask you to go away. In fact, the reverse is quite probably true. Groups are more likely to be work colleagues. Their goal will be to get to speak to as many people as possible as they have the resources to do this. By approaching them you will help to break up that group which will mean that you will extract more value from the interaction.
Try to make eye contact with someone in the group before approaching. After that a simple “Do you mind if I join you?” is all you really need to get started. Introduce yourself early but do not hand out business cards at this point. If they are together it might only be necessary to give your card to one or two people in the group. Follow up by asking a question addressed to everyone. Something like “Are you guys all from the same company?” or “What is it that you guys do?” Once you have broken the ice be prepared to be the focal point of the group whilst they ask you the questions.
Useful tips for approaching a group:
- Look for any group standing in a semi-circle. They are generally more receptive to accepting a new person into their conversation.
- If possible listen out for the conversation before approaching. If they happen to be talking about a subject which is of interest to you or you feel you can contribute to that may be a good ‘in’ to the group.
- Try to make eye contact with someone in the group. When approaching keep your eyes on this person and always stand opposite them but not next to them.
Listen more and talk less
In order to speak, one must first learn to listen. I am not actually sure if Confucius said this but it certainly sounds like he might have. Either way, it is still solid advice for anyone wishing to engage with their peers in a networking environment.
Recently I attended an event in Birmingham. Now I must say that I used to be the type of person that would talk too much. I had a bad habit of trying to ‘oversell’ myself. In order to avoid this happening at this particular event, I figured a change of tactics was in order.
I was keen to come across as knowledgeable and articulate as I knew there would be many local business people and I did not want to appear overwhelmed. My strategy on this occasion was simple. I would listen carefully to everyone that I came into contact with and simply summarise what they had said. I would do this without once expressing an opinion. Trust me, I am an extremely opinionated guy, so this would not be easy.
Whilst in conversation I peppered my replies with short agreeable phrases such as “Let me see if I understand you correctly,” and “I tend to agree with what you are saying as that reflects my own experience.” In this way, I was able to limit my actual conversation yet seem to be knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects. Not only did this make me seem more agreeable, but it also allowed the person I was talking to, to open up freely. At no point during the day did I express an opinion or take a contrary position.
This strategy had quite an amazing effect. Once the event had finished and the guests were preparing to leave, the organiser of the event pulled me aside to tell me how erudite the other guests had found me. One had even called me ‘charismatic’. The truth was that I had probably spoken less than anybody else in the room and never once initiated a conversation.
I achieved this by simply listening and summarising. Paying attention to people and relating yourself to their personal experience is one of the biggest compliments you can pay. This strategy works every time.
Don’t try to be a salesman if you’re not
Don’t oversell yourself. As mentioned previously this used to be a habit of mine and it is a recipe for disaster. Talking too much about yourself or your own company or service may be viewed as being pushy. This is the quickest way to put people off. A much better strategy is to get others to talk about their business and their experiences. Certainly, when attending networking events for the first time try to use the experience to advance your knowledge about other local businesses.
Do not be that ‘bull in a china shop’. Your product or service is never going to be relevant to everyone in the room. However, the person that you are speaking to may know someone else for whom it will be relevant.
Quality is always better than quantity
Do not feel under pressure to speak with everybody in the room. There is usually limited time during networking events, with most being of around a 2-hour duration. Flitting around the room like a social butterfly collecting business cards is rarely productive.
Remember your goals. Try to find one or two people with whom there may be some synergy. Most networking events set aside a period for guests to introduce themselves and their business. Take this opportunity to identify a couple of people in the room that it would be valuable for you to approach.
Networking in the UK:
- For networking events taking place in your area search business networking on Eventbrite – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/
- With over 270000 members worldwide, Business Network International (BNI) is the world’s largest business networking and business referral organisation. https://www.bni.com/
- 4 Networking. UK-wide business networking. 5000+ fun, friendly meetings run each year. https://www.4networking.biz/
- The Business Network. 26 years on from its launch in the UK it is still one the most popular networking organisations. https://www.business-network.co.uk/
- Network B2B. Connecting business to business in Newcastle and across the UK. https://networkb2b.co.uk/
- The British Council. The international cultural relations organisation of the UK. Helping entrepreneurs become acquainted with professionals in different industry sectors. https://www.britishcouncil.org/active-citizens/what-we-do/partner-networking-events
- The British Chambers of Commerce works with various partners to deliver regional events across the UK. https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/
- Institute of Directors. This business networking organisation has the largest membership in Britain. https://www.iod.com/
- The Met Club is a leading provider of lunchtime business networking events. They specialise in serving like-minded, influential and senior decision-makers within the Property, Construction, Investment, Transport and Infrastructure sectors. https://www.themetclub.co.uk/
- The Forum of Private Businesses offers protection and support to small and medium-sized business enterprises in the UK. It also hosts free business networking events for its members. https://www.fpb.org/
- Federation of Small Businesses. With over 200,000 members the FSB is the biggest pressure group in the UK. https://www.fsb.org.uk/
- Acorn Networking is a not-for-profit Networking group. https://acornnetworking.co.uk/
- Connexions for Women in Business is a friendly all-female networking group. They aim to support, inspire and educate through networking. https://theconnexionfwib.co.uk/
- The Women in Business Network is a membership organisation for women who wish to gain new business opportunities through word of mouth. https://www.wibn.co.uk/
- Gain new clients, enquiries and contacts in London with London Professionals networking events. Established 2007, 20,000+ UK members. https://www.londonprofessionals.co.uk/
- Business for Breakfast is the hardest working business networking group in the UK, helping businesses of all sizes growth from strength to strength. https://www.bforb.co.uk/
- The Midlands Business Network is a Midlands-based business who provide professional business exhibitions and networking events to help you identify new customers, showcase your business and grow your market share. https://themidlandsbusinessnetwork.co.uk/
- Nat West Bank does a series of growth enablers at branches up and down the country. Contact your local branch for details. https://www.business.natwest.com/business/business-services/boost/business-growth-enablers.html
- Not exactly business networking but depending on what size and type of business you operate https://www.meetup.com/ offers you the opportunity to join or even set up your own local group to meet people, try something new, or simply do more of what you love.
- I also highly recommend The Introvert Entrepreneur by Beth Buelow – available to purchase at The Book Depository. This book is a valuable resource for introverts looking to start up their own business.
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