Self-employed introverts are often faced with a tricky problem. To become successful in any line of freelance work – even classically solitary professions like writing and design, you are, at some point, going to have to step outside the lovely solitary cocoon that is your home in order to *shiver* talk to other people.
Even the most sociable of introverts can find the very idea of networking absolutely horrific. Not only are you walking into a room full of strangers, but you’re walking into a room full of strangers you’re supposed to impress. Someone in this room could be your next big client, your doorway to a world of opportunities; this could be The Big Life Changing Moment you describe one day in your TED talk.
No pressure then.
So there you are, in a room full of strangers with a glass of prosecco in your hand and a name badge on your tit. What is it you do again? You seem to have forgotten your own name. Besides, no one seems to want to talk to you. Are they all friends already?! This brings us onto tip number one.
Don’t rush to be Mr or Ms mingle
Dont feel silly or ashamed if you find yourself standing on your own without anyone to talk to. This isn’t the first day of school. You haven’t been socially ostracised. If you haven’t worked up the courage to barge your way clumsily into someone else’s conversation yet, just hold your own. Be the observer, look around, try to project friendly vibes, and if you meet someone’s eye, try not to dribble or drop your drink. At some point someone will leave a conversation and look for someone else to talk to – someone like you.
Put your investigator hat on
This is not a real hat, but if it was it would be a tan fedora. If it helps, imagine you are wearing a tan fedora.
Ask questions. A lot of people like to talk about themselves, thank goodness, because that means you don’t have to. If you’re not a natural talker, be the listener. Even if you don’t get a chance to sell your own products or services, you might learn something valuable from asking questions. Networking isn’t all about selling, it’s also about information gathering. Is the demand there for your business? What problems do other people come across? How did they overcome them? Use networking as a chance to learn something.
Rehearse your opening line
Going through life as an introvert, you’ve probably found yourself staring with awe and wonder at a person who seems utterly at home speaking in front of a group of people. They’re acerbic and witty, straight-up and eloquent. You immediately want to buy everything from them. When your turn comes to tell the group what you do, you emit a strange animal-like noise that may or may not be a real English word.
Prepare a few lines explaining exactly what your business is. As much as you know what it is you do, getting that across when you’re feeling nervous can be really hard. There’s no shame in practicing beforehand. You already know you’re a socially incompetent weirdo, but no one else has to.
Don’t be afraid of giving out your business card
It feels silly and formal to slip someone your business card, like you’re in New York in the ’80s, but it’s 100% OK to do. The more cards you give out, the higher the chances are that they won’t all end up in the bin.
Don’t worry if you come away without any leads
Don’t worry if you spent the entire evening talking to someone about something completely unrelated to your business. You won’t find a client at every networking event you go to, but you will get practice. You will become familiar with talking about yourself and what you do. The more you force yourself into these uncomfortable situations, the less uncomfortable they’ll feel. Be nice to yourself. You did it.
Chase up contacts afterwards
Drop an informal email to everyone you met. Remind them who you are (that awkward one in the imaginary fedora), allude to something you spoke about, and invite them to check out your website. Is there anything you can help them with? The simple act of meeting a person – even if you hardly even spoke about your business, instantly makes them more likely to engage with you at a later date, be that a social media follow, a newsletter subscribe, or an actual purchase.
And that concludes my tips on tackling networking when you’re a socially awkward introvert. It can be done! We can function in the outside world.
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