Networking comes naturally for a lucky percentage of people, but for many it can be hard to display confidence in yourself and your business. Common reasons people feel uncomfortable networking is because they feel it’s hubristic; they feel too shy or that the amount of connections they need to make is overwhelming and don’t know where to begin.
If any of these reasons feel familiar to you, don’t worry, business is about identifying problems and coming up with solutions. All of these are solvable problems. Here are some tips to set you in the right direction.
Start Close to Home
Approaching strangers, whether its online or at a conference, can be an intimidating task. While it’s true that throwing yourself in at the deep end is a good way to learn, it carries some risk: if you get a poor response, it could damage your all-important self-confidence.
So, start close to home — network with your relatives and friends. Explain to them your problem or what you’re looking for and ask them if they know anybody who could help. Prepare to go down a lot of dead ends, but people will be especially willing to help if they were referred to you by family and friends.
Understand that Networking is Symbiotic
Even if you’re looking for pro-bono consultations, the fact that somebody would be open to network with you means there is something in it for them. They may be feeling good about themselves, or it could be that they see potential for your businesses to work together. Consequently, don’t view making connections as looking for favors — it isn’t. Don’t apologize for approaching people and understand that if they want to help you, they will have a reason that is better than simple pathos.
Work Smart, Not Hard
You are a complex individual and nobody can expect you to convey yourself fully when making introductions. Consequently, use all the resources at your disposal to get your message across in the limited time you have.
It can be helpful to sit down and work out a personal brand. Try looking through brand archetypes and picking one that is closest to you. Now convey that brand in every communication you have. You have very limited time to do this when you’re making introductions, so a handy tool that many people employ is to use customized business cards as a personal branding tool.
Make an Entrance
Making an entrance does not mean standing at the top of the staircase in a ballroom gown; it means observing the environment around the connection and using it to your advantage. If you’re networking at an event, don’t interrupt a lively conversation (unless you feel you can cut in with an informative point that draws on your own experience).
Take your time and wait for a few moments of silence to speak, introduce yourself and explain briefly why you are relevant to the conversation. Online is a lot harder, as you don’t know what somebody’s personal life entails. Use the information you can and only contact them when you feel you would want to be contacted, especially if you are cold-emailing or cold-calling them.
Observe national holidays and weekends and try to make your introduction fit into their daily routines as smoothly as possible (e.g. after lunch when people have less focus due to being full).