Building up connections with new clients, suppliers and collaborators is an important part of running your own business. But feeling forced to socialise can create a lot of anxiety and worry, especially if you’ve started working for yourself to concentrate on work rather than dealing with other people. Our networking advice for self-employed introverts will help you build up new relationships in a much less stressful way.
There’s a big difference between being introverted, and antisocial. While everyone is different, introverts tend to prefer interacting with small groups of close friends, focus more on long-term relationship building, and demonstrate more empathy. All of which can be incredibly useful in expanding your business network.
It’s estimated that between 30-50% of the UK population self-identify as introverts (as opposed to extroverts, or ambiverts with a balance between both features). So, you’re definitely not alone if you feel more comfortable with your inner thoughts and ideas rather than large crowds. And work events can be stressful for anyone, regardless of your personality type.
Understand how you prefer to network
There’s no inherent advantage to being an extrovert or an introvert when it comes to meeting people. It simply refers to whether you prefer to focus on external interactions or find more satisfaction from personal thoughts and feelings.
Understanding how you prefer to network means you can tailor your approach to suit your strengths, and minimise your discomfort. This can be as simple as choosing whether you want to be the focus of attention in the room, or would rather meet people one-on-one, and then choosing events and opportunities based on that knowledge.
This lets you pick the meetups, conferences or other social gatherings that will be most appropriate and comfortable for you, and offer the best opportunities for positive outcomes. Small local business meetings and workshops can be less intimidating and offer more chances for personal interactions, rather than massive conferences.
And even larger events can offer opportunities to splinter off into smaller groups, with some offering walking, running or yoga classes, for example.
Plan ahead to lower your worry and stress
Some quick and simple preparation can lower your social anxiety by a significant amount. Details to check include the start time and duration, facilities available, the hosts and attendees, and any travel information you may need.
Giving yourself plenty of time to get to an event will mean less stress about running late, and you can familiarise yourself with the surroundings or introduce yourself to people before everyone else turns up.
Socialising tends to be more tiring if you’re introverted, so schedule some time to recharge afterwards. You can also include something to reward yourself for overcoming the challenge, which helps to associate events with more pleasant experiences.
Set realistic goals and time limits
Having a reasonable objective for attending an event will help you focus on the potential outcomes rather than any discomfort at the time. It also gives you some clear topics and questions you can prepare in advance as conversation starters.
It’s also better to focus on having one or two quality conversations than trying to rush around everyone in the room, especially at larger events. And once you’ve reached that target, there’s less obligation to stay until the very end if you’re already wiped out. Meaning you’re more likely to attend your next event.
Practice without aiming for perfection
It’s a good idea to be able to describe yourself, and your business, in a clear and succinct manner when you’re meeting new people. So take the time to craft your elevator pitch and practice it at least a few times before heading to an event.
Having a prepared pitch and some planned questions can take the stress out of conversations. Especially as introverts tend to be empathetic and good listeners. But don’t worry if you stumble over any words or make mistakes.
Being perfectly polished can come across as artificial and disingenuous. The odd slipup actually builds trust in you, as long as you own it. And it puts the other person at ease, especially if you can both laugh about it.
Give yourself an exit strategy
Knowing that you can leave at any time can be hugely reassuring, even if you don’t need to make a quick escape.
It’s particularly useful if you’re sharing transport, or need to signal to friends that you’re tired and need to head home. You don’t need an overcomplicated excuse, but having an agreed code can avoid causing any unintentional offence to event hosts and attendees you’re chatting with.
Building a strong social network and good habits is all about maintaining momentum. Make sure you follow up on any conversations where you’ve offered to stay in touch or share information, file business cards, connect on appropriate social networks, and don’t panic if an initial meeting hasn’t resulted in a new contract the next day.
Try to focus on the positive experiences you’ve had, and use that as motivation to book your next event straight away. It doesn’t have to take place immediately, but putting it into your schedule will help you commit to consistent networking over time.
Ultimately, the best way to network as a self-employed business owner is whatever allows you to build great relationships consistently over time. If you’re an introvert, that may mean managing your time and attending a smaller number of events, focusing on meeting just a few people at each one. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful in helping you to grow your business.
Being more relaxed and comfortable at any events you attend will naturally make you more pleasant to chat with, and more likely to come away with potential new clients, suppliers, or collaborators.
You can find more advice in our dedicated section on communities and networking for the self-employed, whether that’s interacting in person or online, and even starting your own events.
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