Networking is a fact of life for most successful self-employed professionals. When you’re a lone operator or the leader of a small start-up company, the connections you make with like-minded business people can be the difference between stellar success or struggling mediocrity.
Although there are a fortunate few people who seem to own any room they walk into, able to strike up productive commercial relationships with ease, most people find this networking aspect of enterprise daunting. Indeed, for the more introverted and thoughtful types, it can present a definite challenge. Thankfully, it’s a problem that can be overcome, or at least successfully sidestepped.
First, it’s vital to remember that being toward the introverted end of the personality spectrum in no way disqualifies you from being a successful freelancer. Drive, ambition, talent, and dedication are by far the most important factors in building a healthy client base. However, the case remains that forging useful relationships with others will open up many lucrative opportunities and smooth your path to success. So how can you improve your networking skills if you’re naturally introverted and quiet?
1. Make the Most of the Internet
A considerable amount of modern business is conducted in the online arena, and relationships built through digital networking are as vital as those in the physical world. Happily, they’re also much easier to develop. You have more time to think and consider your strategy, and to deal with the agenda on your own terms. What’s more, relationships built online transfer well into the “real” world, if and when they’d benefit from being taken up a level.
2. Networking Event Preparation Is Key
Before any networking event, take the time for some proper preparation. If you’re not 100% confident in your ability to improvise in a pressure situation, it’s imperative to have a few prebaked strategies to fall back on. Practice your sales pitches, descriptions of your work, and even some general business-related topics of conversation to use as small talk. You may not end up using what you’ve rehearsed, but having the safety net in place will make you feel more confident and reduce the amount of conversation-sapping stress you feel.
3. Seek Out Similar Personalities
At any networking event, have a look around at the attendees. The chances are, there will be a small number of highly active people taking the lead, and a few silent, mysterious types lurking in the corners. Most people, of course, will be occupying a position somewhere in between. No matter how self-conscious you feel, you’re almost certainly not the focus of much attention, nor are you likely to stand out in any way.
Make the most of your relative anonymity by carefully observing your fellow networkers, and making a note of those quieter people with whom you feel you could do business. Approach these targets away from the main hubbub of conversation; you’ll both appreciate the relative quiet and lack of pressure. Impressive results can spring from these one-to-one conversations — you’ll have the space to get down to serious business while leaving the alpha-personalities to joust among themselves.
4. Keep a Sense of Perspective
It’s of vital importance not to overanalyze matters or worry about your own perceived performance at an event. Studies show that we commonly overestimate our shortcomings and what others think about us. By its nature, schmoozing is relatively superficial and soon forgotten if no business results from it, but it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things. Gain what you can from these events, practicing your skills as you go, and don’t try to behave contrary to your nature. Always remember that many people will appreciate your honesty and difference from the crowd of noisy self-promoters who tend to dominate such meetings.
5. Value and Maintain Connections
Lastly, if making connections is harder for you than for some other freelancers, it only makes sense to fully value the professional contacts that you’ve established. It pays to work extra-hard at keeping in touch, whether by phone, via email, or in person, and it never hurts to try and pass favors and opportunities to your valued contacts. A relationship that you nurture over time is worth far more than any fly-by-night meeting in a pressured networking situation.
People decide to try freelancing for many reasons. A few are attracted to the networking, schmoozing, and competitive aspects of business, but for most self-employed professionals, building a roster of contacts is simply a means to an end. Anyone can schmooze successfully if it’s treated as a skill to develop rather than an innate character trait which only a lucky few possess.