Over the years, I have learned to overcome many of my fears, but, more importantly, I have learned to network in a manner that is more conducive to my own personality. While these tips help me get by, and make productive use of events, I am still not in my element.
Instead of relying on traditional “meat markets” to make connections, I choose to target specific individuals for whom I have a profound respect and seek to build a meaningful relationship over a period of time.
Here’s my process for networking the introvert way.
Identify a potentially meaningful relationship.
It’s easier to identify potential network relationships in today’s social media world than it ever has been before. LinkedIn is your secret weapon. Whether you’re looking for board members, prospects, employees, or simply valuable relationships with individuals that you should know professionally, you can use it to identify individuals that share your passion, similar interests, or have meaningful experiences.
Networking is no longer about 7 degrees of separation, it is now about 3 clicks in LinkedIn.
Ask for advice from someone you respect.
It never ceases to amaze me how generous most leaders are with their time. Reaching out, especially through a common connection, and asking for a few minutes to introduce yourself and solicit their advice does two things. First, it expresses a degree of respect that you have for them. Second, it provides a reason for the meeting.
With the right introduction, and in many cases with a simple, straight to the point email, I have been amazed by how many individuals are willing to jump on the phone or grab coffee for an initial introduction.
Come prepared and value their time.
Be specific about your request. Begin with a small amount of small talk, but then get to the point. Why are you reaching out? What is it that you respect about the person and what advice might they be able to provide? Make sure that you’re genuinely interested in their response and are ready to engage in the conversation. Through that conversation, make sure that you share your own value and insights.
Foster a high value conversation within the amount of time that was allotted (I suggest asking for 15 minutes for a call and 30-45 for coffee).
Nurture the relationship and add value.
Make sure you follow up with a thank you note, and then with further touch points at various intervals. Your first follow up is probably most effective 6 weeks to 3 months later. Don’t be overeager, but also don’t become a stranger. Just find a way to put your name, in a personal manner, on top of their mind and slowly build momentum and increase the rhythm of touchpoint.
In these follow-ups, find a way to add value. Make an introduction to a prized connection within your rolodex that you believe they will benefit from. Send them an article that you read and reminded you of your conversation. Congratulate them on a success they had.
One-on-one networking like this can lead to powerful relationships. In my experience it often builds stronger relationships than the touchpoint you create at an event. I have used it to build relationships with two of the individuals on the list of “brains I’d like to pick” (unfortunately, two of them are now deceased – yikes! – but I had made progress and was one connection away from each of them at the time they passed).
Don’t be afraid of rejection. You may find, like me, that it’s easier to “network” when you have a genuine interest in getting to know an individual that you respect.