The Love / Hate Relationship Between Introverts and Networking
As a freelancer or consultant, it’s almost impossible to find success without networking – meeting new people who might interested, or know someone interested, in your services. But networking for introverts? That just sounds like a huge ball of stress.
Networking is a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. This sounds pretty good in principal. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I decided to start my own consulting business almost a year ago. I would argue that I’m one of the world’s biggest introverts. I’m certainly not shy, but I have a fairly large disdain for anything that remotely feels like socializing with a group of people that I don’t know.
However, networking is a critical part of getting the word out about any new business, gain clients, and keep up to date on new methods and technologies in your areas of focus.
Why Introverts Hate Networking (or Why We Think We Hate It)
As an introvert, I recently realized that I don’t actually hate networking, I just don’t like the way it’s usually done. Even though at least 30-40% of people in the world would be classified as introverts (data is varied on this stat), most of us would agree that we live in an extroverted world. Networking is no different. While most networking events might not be intentionally geared towards extroverts, they certainly tend to be organized in a way that’s more comfortable for an extrovert. Here’s what I mean:
Many networking events start with a social component, a time to mingle and exchange business cards. An extrovert’s only thought about this might be “I hope I have enough business cards”. However, for an introvert like me, this part of the agenda alone will make me second guess even attending the event. The idea of walking around, speaking to people that I don’t know, and talking about myself in a generic way is kind of like living a nightmare. Most introverts will try to arrive just in time to skip the mingling and hear the rest of the meeting and speakers, but run the risk of missing out on meeting key individuals that could help grow our career or kick start our business.
Another example of what usually happens, even in small groups or at the start of meetings is this dreaded phrase:
Let’s go around the room and share some information about yourself
Many extroverts can’t wait to start this off as they usually love talking about themselves, want everyone in the room to know who they are, what they do, and why their business is great. Meanwhile, as soon as an introvert hears this, we are more likely to think “No thanks I’d rather die”. Again, at the very start, the introvert will be thinking about leaving and be stressed out before the event even begins.
Here are some common things that some introverts aren’t comfortable with that can be a reason why many introverts are turned off by traditional networking events:
- Unstructured anything.
- Vague and/or open ended questions.
- Talking about themselves in front of strangers.
- Attending events with large numbers of people.
Many of the observations discussed here relate to networking events. Certainly, networking also includes simply staying in touch with classmates and former coworkers by using social media tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Introverts are generally very comfortable with social media. The challenge lies in initiating conversations, asking for an introduction, and seeking out guidance or advice. This part is not usually natural for introverts which is why there is a tendency to seek out networking events that have a bit of structure.
Why Introverts Should Love Networking (or Why We Should Embrace It, Love is A Strong Word)
So after thinking about this for months, then spending another few weeks researching, because that’s what we introverts do, I came up with this epiphany. I just needed to find networking events that focus on creating a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. Sound familiar?
Instead of focusing on finding individuals or groups in my industry or similar business, I just started focusing on finding other introverted entrepreneurs. The key to networking is simply to expand your circle – there is no hard fast rule on how you do it. To my surprise, there are quite a few Facebook groups, local meetups, and local events that are small get togethers where introverted souls like myself can discuss entrepreneurship and other like-minded things.
By participating in these, I feel more comfortable because most attendees and participants have a very similar personality trait to mine, but also run a small business like I do. I’ve now found several groups where I can learn and expand my circle but do it in a way that doesn’t add stress or make me feel uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, taking a few steps outside of your comfort zone is needed, but it’s also nice to achieve your goals in comfortable settings.
Some of the goals of networking include expanding our circle, advertising your business or consulting skill set, and learning from others. For most of my adult life, I thought that to achieve these goals, I needed to do things that I knew would make me uncomfortable and therefore didn’t do it. I would always say that I wasn’t very good at networking, I need learn how to network better and things like that. What I realized most recently is that just like many things, I can tailor networking for me and make it work for my business.
Making networking work for you
There are a few tips I have to finding like-minded individuals and groups to network with.
Find small groups to join based on your interests. Networking doesn’t always have to start out professionally. Check out Facebook groups or meetups that are focused on things you are interested in. For example, I’m a fan of yoga and zumba. Initially, you might not think of these activities being related to networking, but the reality is that business people and entrepreneurs have a wide variety of hobbies. Getting to know others while doing something you find enjoyable can help you expand your network.
Look for groups focused on introverts. I found several groups in the area that clearly state they are run by introverts and are for introverts. Many focus on motivation, networking, and entrepreneurship. The environment tends to be designed with the introvert in mind, so many of the things that typically stress an introvert out will not be a part of these groups.
Start your own group. This might sound a little scary, but if you have a particular interest and you can’t find a group in your local area that fits your personality, it’s almost a guarantee that others are looking for the same. What’s great is that you only need a handful of people to start your own group. While this is one of those activities that might stretch you out of your comfort zone, the benefits will be vast and you’ll be helping others in need of finding a group that fits them.
Work from a co-working space. Many freelance introverts work from home – it’s comfortable and productive. However, finding a convenient co-working space can actually help you expand your circle. By taking advantage of these sometimes free spaces, even just once a week to change things up, you may find that some interaction takes place and you meet new people to chat with about business and life. There are no requirements here, you may never see these people again, but it’s an opportunity to get your name and face out among others and you just don’t know what type of connections might occur.
Use networking apps. In this day and age, there really is an app for everything. Introverts tend to really enjoy social media, partly because of the anonymity and partly because it can be done from anywhere you choose and whenever you choose. Networking apps have the same premise. Here are three to check out.
As an introvert and entrepreneur, I’m learning to embrace networking a little bit more. It won’t ever be my favorite thing to do, but since it’s necessary, finding the best methods is something I’ll continue to explore.