For many introverted or shy people seeking jobs, or even entrepreneurs looking to gain new clients to grow their business, networking can be one of the most nerve-wracking activities. Introducing oneself to complete strangers and starting a conversation in order to get people interested in a product or a service isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
The good news is that email and social media have made touching base with people easier than ever, particularly for introverts. For one thing, it doesn’t involve an awkward face-to-face conversation. Neither does it involve facing a big room full of people.
Eventually though, if you’re one of these shy types, you’ll have to accept the likelihood that these exchanges online will inevitably lead to some lunch or dinner meeting, or job interviews, if you’re in the market for a job. Therefore, it is always good to be prepared for either type of encounter when working out your networking plans and strategies.
Eating an Elephant
There’s an old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The problem most people have with networking is that it can be a bit overwhelming. Why? Because they try to “eat the whole elephant” in one bite.
In other words, you are going out to network with the goal of making a sale, landing a job, getting the deal. It’s a daunting goal for what is essentially a cold meeting. To be successful, you must accomplish many steps leading up to the goal. You have to dress right, make a good first impression, say the right things, and hope it all goes as planned, because your future is on the line. It can be a lot to swallow.
By breaking down the process into steps, or bite-sized pieces, the task can become a lot easier to digest. This is actually the secret to successful networking. One easy way to do this is to focus on the first step of the process, rather than focusing on your end-goal. This can take a lot of pressure off and make it that much easier to get the ball rolling.
The First Step of Networking
The first step of the process is actually as simple as finding and meeting the people with whom you want to network. That, and a simple introduction, are the beginning steps of networking.
But thanks to the internet, even the first step can be made infinitely easier. Whereas even the first step of making a contact and introduction can still be a bit intimidating when networking in person, this step can be made almost completely stress-free online.
There are many places you can network online and this is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to finding groups. Rather, it is designed to be an introduction to networking online, which is applicable to virtually any online group.
Online Networking Tips for Introverted Individuals
If you’re into expanding your professional circle of contacts and aiming to get rid of your shyness and build self-confidence, here’s what you can do:
1) Join an industry group. You’ll find it’s a lot easier getting involved with like-minded people or professional contacts. No matter what business or industry you’re engaged in, there is sure to be an online group. Join it. It might be a Facebook group, LinkedIn group, forum or Reddit. Spend some time reading past posts and keeping up to date on current posts. Once you are familiar with how group members interact, introduce yourself and join the conversation.
2) Know the rules and guidelines. Part of being shy is the awkwardness of not knowing how to act in a given social situation. Social networking online gives you this information easily. Look for posted rules and guidelines. Use them so you’ll have confidence knowing what to do and what not to do. If you have any questions on proper group etiquette, just message the group moderator and ask.
3) Interact. No matter who or what you are, you’ve got something to share… knowledge and insights people might be interested in. So respond to questions and make comments on posts. Sometimes, even a simple LOL reaction to a joke will show your brand of humor. Be polite not obnoxious and stay on topic. As you post something, proofread it and make sure your grammar’s OK and that your sentences make sense. Unlike in real life, you’ve got the advantage here of correcting yourself before you say anything that might be embarrassing or make someone uncomfortable.
4) Contribute. Nobody likes a leech. Don’t just lurk, passively consuming everyone else’s contributions. Or, worse yet, don’t spam the group with promotional posts. Your opportunity to self-promote will come to you once you’ve earned it. Instead, take on a genuine attitude to help and contribute value to the group. This isn’t so hard. There are things you know that others don’t. Maybe it’s just a new app you found useful and relevant to that group. Maybe it’s a way you found to do things that worked for you. Or maybe it’s just answering another group member’s question. Contributing generously to a group can establish you as an authority within the group and soon other members will begin to seek you out.
5) Work out an interesting social profile and let it do the talking. If you’re uncomfortable about making the first move in networking, then make it easy for potential contacts and prospects or recruiters to find you. Use Twitter. Share your passion for work. Consider LinkedIn as well to show your skills and special talents. Put out relevant information for people to find. Then find individuals and groups you want to share your information with and join and follow them. You’ll start to get followers back and that means a wider audience seeing, and possibly even sharing, your message.
6) Set simple realistic goals for yourself. Networking works best when done consistently and gradually. It can have somewhat of an organic nature, taking on a life of its own when done correctly. Setting unrealistic goals will more than likely make you give up on the whole endeavor. But do set a goal and track your weekly results. Start with whatever seems easy. Maybe that’s just making a few new contacts per week. You can always ramp it up later. But be consistent in your efforts. It pays off handsomely over time.
7) Don’t forget the follow-up. Once you’ve made some contacts, don’t just forget about them while looking for more new contacts. Each contact made should be developed and treated as valuable (which it is). Send a follow-up email or message saying it was great meeting and getting to know them and you would love staying in touch or even meeting up in the future. Again, the keynote is to have the desire to help and bring value to your new contacts. Set goals (and also a schedule) to do follow-up. It’s just as important as making new contacts, if not more so.
Once you have the hang of networking online, you may find that your attitude and ability towards offline networking has significantly improved as well. Look at how you can apply the online networking skills to offline networking. Even in everyday situations you might have some great networking opportunities. Just casually socialize with colleagues around the office or treat a different co-worker (or colleague if you’re a business owner) to lunch every week or two. This will help enhance your networking skills and… who knows… maybe even open a few doors for your career or business.