We’ve all been there, frozen in a group of unfamiliar people. You know you should be networking, but you just feel almost paralyzed. It’s awkward, and you’re envious of others that seem to effortlessly meet others. You walk away with maybe a card or two while they have gone through the room and have networked with nearly everyone.
The truth is both you and the networking phenom are doing it wrong. Networking is not a numbers game. You aren’t here to meet everyone.
Think about your marketing efforts. Can you, or better yet should you, sell your product or service to everyone? No. You should only sell to people that are qualified and ready to buy. For networking, the same principles apply. Why are you wasting your time with everyone? You are not here to collect business cards. Those that do so are devaluing their time.
Think about it. Are you going to follow up with every single person you meet? And if you can do that, what quality of relationship will you have with that person? What if they aren’t interested in your product or service? Also, think about what message it shows to your potential clients if you aren't that invested in the relationships due to the fact you have several hundred cards to go through. People can sense when you are "plastic," when you try and force conversation because you are just looking at a business card and have no idea what to say.
Your time is the most valuable commodity you have. You feel awkward, but that’s more like your intuition telling you there is a better way. I am an introvert, and I continued to follow what others said and failed until I realized that the numbers game people aren’t efficient.
Here is how to win with effective networking as an introvert.
Forget networking, think strategic partnerships
The word networking is almost as sleazy as multi-level marketing. Don’t spend time networking at many events a week, Chamber of Commerce hopping, wishing upon a star. Find the star.
Find the influencers and strategic partners that can amplify and accentuate what you are doing that truly believe in what you do and you truly believe in what they do. One strategic partner/influencer is worth thousands of network acquaintances. Why waste your time with acquaintances when you could build a deep and strong relationship with a strategic partner/influencer and continuously level up each other?
I have never met strategic partners at “typical networking events.” I found them by doing my research online, finding out who is well connected, and then reaching out to build a relationship with them. I keep building that relationship only if it is mutually beneficial, which you will find out the more you connect with the person. Think about what services or products complement what you do and find the well-connected stars in that industry.
If you happen to fall into a networking event, it’s never about trying to meet everyone. Just listen and see whom do you think is worth your time and theirs. Don’t try to collect cards. Instead, find people you connect with and with whom you can build a relationship. You don’t have the time to continue to connect with everyone and try and maintain some form of quality contact.
Also, be more strategic when attending events. Find events that are better suited for you. Ideally, you want to be the big fish in a small pond. As an example, say you’re a website developer with a niche of HVAC. What type of networking event should you go to? What about an HVAC convention or trade show of sorts? If you just happen to be the only marketing or web design person there, then alas you are the big fish in small pond.
Roll your own event or showcase your authority as a speaker/contributor
Instead of wasting time at other events, roll your own. Always think of how you can compound time. Hosting an event means you have an opportunity to see who is coming and do a little research before the event. Also, you can be a little selective as to whom you invite so that you are the big fish in a small pond.
If hosting an event is too much, finding speaking gigs is a very easy way to build connections. Speaking, if you are able to do so, allows you to position yourself as an authority on the subject matter you present, and people after your talk will come to you. It's also compounding time because instead of one-on-one, you are presenting one time to every single person in the room. Yes, not all of us have a knack for public speaking, but it is more effective than a typical networking event.
Another outside the box idea is to become a contributor to different mass media blogs or industry specific blogs. By being consistent, you will notice people reaching out to you. Also as an added benefit, you get the SEO love from these highly-recognized websites having a link back to your website (via the byline).
With groups on Facebook and Linkedin, you can focus socially networking. The best way to get ahead is just to help and be consistent. Find a group that matches your ideal customer avatar or is full of people that you think are worth your time and theirs from a networking perspective. Then as you become a "regular," you will see people reach out to you asking for your help. Also similar to roll your own event, you can setup your own groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Power of authenticity
One of the greatest things I learned about selling and marketing was that you don't try to be who you are not. People crave authenticity. If you are an introvert, be an introvert but find out how to make it work when it comes to building your networks. You will find that there are certain things that you are an "extrovert" for. That is true for everyone. Even the greatest of extroverts have some activities that they are more introverted about.
Suresh Thakoor is a marketing and sales solutions architect and co-founder of the marketing and sales consulting firm, Ananda Solutions.