by Phyllis Sa
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar to you: Hot, sweaty palms. Your heart hammering fast. A growing sense of dread and being overwhelmed. Thoughts running through your head at double, no, triple time. Please don’t walk toward me. Please don’t talk to me. Oh no…
If you’re an introvert like me, this might be how your body and brain reacts to networking – (Tell me I’m not the only one!).
Yes, I am an introvert. Stand out in a crowd? No, thank you! Drop me in the middle of a large group of people and you’re likely to see me making a beeline for the darkest, quietest corner. So this? Networking and putting a big smile on my face and making small talk with strangers? This is not what I do. In fact, I’ve been freelancing and working for myself as a graphic designer for eight years without networking.
Networking is something I’ve only gotten around to doing this year.
I’ve had a lot of good and not-so-good excuses to avoid it: Other creatives are cooler and intimidating, and I’d rather not put myself in a position to be compared. I have kids and thus, no extra time to spend on meeting people who weren’t also parents. These people are my competition, so why would I make friends with the competition? So on and so forth. But as I’ve learned over the years, building your own business is tough, grueling, lonely work. And as much as it’s easier to avoid it, you need people on your side to continue to flourish and grow.
I’m proof of this: my business has grown more in the past 4 months than it has in the past 4 YEARS. I don’t want to mislead: I’m not talking about hard numbers here (though there’s a small element of that in play). But I’ve never felt more confident or ready to take charge of my own destiny than I do at this moment. These are not feelings that come naturally to me AT ALL but that’s where I find myself. I’m still the quiet creative, an introvert preferring to stay behind the scenes. But I’m finding a way to be purposeful and intentional in how I communicate and connect to others, and I can do that while being true to myself.
So enough about me!
Networking–or as I like to call it, seeking out authentic connections–provides a straightforward context for reaching out to a lot of like-minded people at the one time. We even have options (thanks Internet!), whether it’s in-person at organized events or online through social media and group communities. Now it’s a matter of finding the right way to cut through the noise and straight to the connections that are going matter. Consider the following points a way to help get your thoughts together before you tackle your next “networking” event.
- There is no right way for everyone. I enjoy reading my fair share of articles, top ten lists, and as my husband will tell you, sold on a lot of things based on the power of good marketing. But guess what? You know yourself the best! Don’t overlook your own strengths just to play to someone else’s prescription of how to do things. When it comes to building authentic relationships with people in your industry, you need to embrace the fact there’s no right way to do it. What works for the high profile lifestyle blogger you follow on Instagram might not work for you, nor should it! Present yourself as your own authentic person and try to toss any preconceived notions of how it’s supposed to be right out the window!
- Make a list. Does the mere idea of networking seem overwhelming? Break it down! Listen, becoming good at making connections does not come with a prerequisite of being a social media whiz or pro-blogger or pro-ANYTHING. But it doesn’t hurt to go into it with some preparation (I’m not good with winging things myself!). So crack open the notepad on your iPhone or take out an actual notepad, and make a list of the things you want to do. Talk to four different people at a local freelancers event. Check. Start an interesting conversation in your favorite Facebook community. Check. Send a tweet to someone you admire during a Twitter chat. Check. You get the picture. The fact is, you can do this! Reframe these networking moments as goals you can check off your list. You’ll feel pretty darn accomplished when you do–and seeing genuine connections being created will be the icing on the cake.
- Speak through your passions. If you’re an introvert, I can make an assumption you’re probably on the shy side: Self-conscious having to talk about yourself or your business, and tend to feel put on the spot when you need to talk to people you don’t know. I’m still freaked out by the notion of having to go up to someone, completely cold, and strike up engaging conversation. But if you get me going about things I’m passionate about, it’s like night and day, and people connect in a whole different way. So what gets you excited? What’s the one thing you can’t stop talking about? Use your passion as a bridge into deeper conversation. Let your excitement be a positive look into the deeper aspects of how you work and run your business. People will appreciate it, and best of all, it won’t have been the “look at me!” sales pitch you thought it needed to be.
- Focus on the people + quality over quantity. Traditional networking has always felt like a game of numbers: meet as many people as possible –> make your network is as big as possible –> create as many potential opportunities as possible! But the chances you’ve filled your network with THAT many quality connections is hard to believe (maybe some of you have, but I’d like to think of that as the exception rather than the rule!). Why bother connecting with 1000 people when all you need is to connect to the right 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 people who make the journey a little easier? It will be that smaller group of quality connections who bring collaboration and growth opportunities to your door, who push you and allow you to push them.
These are just a few tips of many I wanted to share, and I hope this is the kick of encouragement you needed to put yourself out there! If I’m even tangentially connected to you in some way locally or online, read up and (hint, hint!) I can’t wait to meet you!