I would say I’m 60% introvert and 40% extrovert, but my friends and family would tell you it’s the other way around. For me, these numbers really come into play when it comes to business networking. My “60/40 rating” could be why I have such a hard time initiating conversations with new people when I’m attending business networking events, but once I’ve made contact and learn a few things about them, you’ll want to pay me to stop talking! (..OK, I’m not that bad but close). For a lot of solopreneurs, especially introverts, networking is something that’s dreaded but, unfortunately, very necessary.
The truth is networking is important to build a reputable and well known business. It’s important no matter the type of business you have, the size of your business or how long you’ve owned it.
So why is it so few business owners/professionals have a solid networking strategy in place?
In the “good old days” (before social media and online resumes), we put on our happy face and attended the networking events we were expected to attend. We slapped on our name tag, checked to make sure we had enough business cards and then we’re off. At the end of the event, all we had was a pocket full of business cards from people we already can’t remember.
The good news for introverts is that today’s technology has made business networking more simple and less terrifying. With the right planning and tools, those networking tasks you hate can be easily streamlined and, in some instances, put on autopilot.
Here are my tips for networking in today’s digital world:
- The first thing you have to do is set aside time to research who the big wigs and thought leaders are in your niche. Also research 10 possible joint venture (JV) partners and affiliates.
- After you have identified your “targets”, use Google or another search engine to find out as much as possible about them, including where they hang out online and what types of things they post most often on their social media profiles. As this step can be very time consuming, you may wish to outsource the task to a VA.
- After you’ve done your research, it’s time to make contact. What I like to do is create a simple email template that I use when I send out initial contact requests. The template would need to be personalized for each person, of course, but I find it’s a lot easier when I use the template, rather than creating an entirely new message each time. If you use gmail, take advantage of a free extension like Boomerang to make sure you or your VA follow up with no response targets automatically, after a certain amount of time.
- Attending a business conference in the near future? Consider installing the MailChimp Subscribe app. This app makes it super simple to collect email addresses from new contacts, even when you’re not online. The app can be installed on your smartphone or iPad. This could be useful for expos where you have a booth or even during your regular networking sessions.
- No matter how you collect the email addresses, you’ll want to have a series of “welcome messages” set up via your autoresponder beforehand. 3 to 5 messages should be sufficient but feel free to send more. Use your own judgement. Make sure any email you send is useful and relevant. Use the welcome messages to provide info on an issue that’s hot within your niche right now leading up to a solution you can provide or over a four-week period, subtly provide info on your services, including webinars, podcasts, etc. The key to building a popular brand is repetition. Meaning the more you communicate with your subscribers, the more familiar you become and more likely they are to trust your recommendations.
- The final step – let’s say you’re contacted via email by someone you connected with on Google+ recently. They’re interested in collaborating with you on a project. This would be another step where an email template could be useful. When you respond, thank them and if it sounds like something you’d like to be involved in, tell them how much you are looking forward to learning more about the project.
If you’d like to take the process a step further, include the details on how they can schedule a quick meeting to discuss the project in more detail. TimeTrade is a free scheduling tool that allows you to embed a calendar showing your availability directly on your website or blog. Your contact views your availability, submits an appointment request and other details, and you receive the request for review and approval. Once approved, the contact receives a confirmation via email and the meeting is automatically added to your calendar. No more going back and forward trying to find just the right time to meet. Your calendar is always up to date.
You won’t be able to implement these changes overnight but once the system is in place, you’ll feel better about networking while also freeing up time to work on other aspects of your business you enjoy more. I will admit that networking is not my favorite, but if done properly, could yield new friends as well as new clients.
Share your networking tips! Please leave your comments below.