Networking is a critical tool for any entrepreneur. This is especially true during the start-up phase, however making valuable connections with people will prove important throughout the lifecycle of your business.
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Networking doesn't come naturally to many of us. And, interestingly, while most people assume that to be a successful entrepreneur you need to be an extrovert, this isn't actually the case and many entrepreneurs who have created great businesses are not naturally out-going.
So, are there any tricks for avoiding painfully awkward networking moments and for getting the most out of networking opportunities?
Understand the kind of introvert you are
Executive and life coach Nikki Worlman explains the difference between thinking and feeling introverts.
Related: 8 Quick tips to maximise your networking skills
“Thinking introvertsare reflective and contemplate situations before they face them.” This does mean that they are very curious and they can use this to their advantage by preparing questions before an event where they’ll need to engage with strangers.
Worlman says: “They have a wonderful ability to listen to others and this can form a great level of connection because we all like to feel that we’re heard and that what we have to say is interesting."
Introverts with a feeling preference tend to not only be great listeners but are also able to display empathy. This means they have an ability to be attuned to the finer nuances of a social setting. Again, this is a real attribute as it enables a sense of calm and thoughtfulness – traits that are compelling to others.
Prepare to break the ice
Doing some preparation before a networking event can make a real difference to your experience. If you know who the other attendees or speakers are going to be, a great idea is to make contact with one or two of them that you’re particularly interested in, before the event takes place.
A quick intro email to say that you’re keen to hear more about their work, for example, can be a useful ice-breaker so that when you meet them face to face, you’ve already made their acquaintance. It also means that, worst case scenario, you’ll be connecting with at least one person and you won’t be faced with nothing to say.
Related: 3 Ways (and reasons) why you should be networking for business growth
Follow-up to further the conversation
Networking is a pretty pointless exercise if you don’t do follow-ups after the initial meeting. This could be a phone call, an email or better still a request to connect on LinkedIn using a personal message – not the standard auto message.
Again, this can work in your favour if you’ve recalled a conversation from your encounter with the person and can reference something that was said in your message. It feels personal and sincere.
It might look like everyone knows each other when you arrive at an event, but they really don't. If you leave having made two or three authentic connections that have planted the seeds of a potential relationship with someone – that is the desired outcome. It’s likely to materialise into far more value for you than having had meaningless conversations with tons of people.