I remember when I first started my business and I realized that networking was going to be a real thing I had to actually do. Before I became a photographer, I used to work for a textbook publishing company, dealing with professors and hiring them to proofread math content. Super exciting…
In my mind “networking” was just for those people trying to get ahead. Networking was for those smooth-talkers, people who liked to schmooze, people who were trying to get something from you. I quickly learned that my definition of networking was merely in my head.
When I became a wedding photographer, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to book weddings all on my own. Dallas is a big city and I was the new girl in town, having just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn't know anyone. No friends. No family. No coworkers. What to do?
Networking was the answer.
But how do you network when you're also an introvert and the idea of networking makes you really nervous? Every time you have to participate in an icebreaker activity, you want to puke? Or the notion of public speaking makes you really queasy?
Yeah, that's how I felt. But I knew that if I was going to be successful I needed to build a team of allies, friends, and partners. That's where networking comes in.
1. Attend networking meetings with a friend, preferably the outgoing kind. I had a friend from college who was an expert networker (or at least I thought she was). She would go to events and you could see her work the room. She would charm people and keep them talking with her thoughtful, interested questions. I remember asking her, “Teach me to network. You're an expert schmoozer!” (I meant that in the nicest way possible.)
If you're an introvert, networking can be super intimidating. But, there are strength in numbers, right? Bring a friend! Bonus points if you bring a friend who is outgoing and not afraid to talk to new people. That's usually all it takes to start – initiating a conversation.
I know that for me, once I'm already talking to someone, it's pretty easy to hold a conversation. It's getting to that starting point that every introvert dreads. You look at each other, smile politely, and wonder when the heck this thing is going to end.
2. Make small talk and try to evaluate who you'd like to get to know better. I think that introverts tend to be pretty good at figuring people out. You can usually tell from the get-go who you're going to click with and who you're not. It's totally okay not to be for everyone!
So while you're at a networking event or industry party, chat with the people around you. Be genuinely interested in them. Ask questions about what they do. Learn more about who they are and what they do. Ask for their business cards. Excuse yourself to refresh your drink if you need to escape a conversation. (As introverts we can sometimes get caught up and tied up with an extrovert and not know how to leave the exchange.) It's okay to move on, you'll just need a conversation starter.
For me, large group gatherings are intimidating. I usually find myself listening more than I do talking. There are always those people who are not shy to speak. I take the opportunity posed by these events to observe, listen, and figure out who I'd like to get to know better.
3. Email your “targeted” vendors and invite them to lunch or coffee. Okay, so you've collected a new stack of business cards. What do you do with them? I know I'm guilty of holding onto them and not doing anything with the cards. However, this is where you can start networking like an introvert.
Go through your stack of business cards and sort them into stacks. “Yes, I want to contact them” and “No, not now.” For every person that you felt you connected well with at the event, shoot them a quick email, preferably within 24-48 hours so that you're still fresh in their memory. Invite them to coffee or lunch (whichever you prefer). Since vendors are often busy, offer two dates that would work for you, so that they can check it against their calendar.
So I know that sending an email to a virtual stranger can also be intimidating for an introvert. But know this: the worst that can happen is that they decline your offer or never respond. Hopefully, if you connected at the event, they'll be more than happy to meet with you. If they are really busy, know that it might be a few weeks down the road before you can get together.
4. Meet in person. You've connected with your new contact (soon to be friend) and you've set up a time to meet. The great thing about this way of networking is that you've already met, so it's not like going on a blind date. You've shared some pleasantries, and now is your time to go deeper. Really get to know each other. Yeah, it's kind of like dating.
There's the great Dale Carnegie quote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Take this advice and stick to it! It's really true. As introverts, we are good listeners, and this is a great way to use those skills. Ask your new friend where they are from, how they got started in their business, and most importantly, ask them how you can help them. How can you serve them? It might be as simple as offering to take new headshots, or helping them set up a Facebook page, or photographing their work. Give first. Give often.
5. Connect online, follow up, and collaborate. You did it! You've made a new connection, and hopefully now friend, in the industry. After your meeting be sure to connect online, like their Facebook business page, follow them on Instagram, follow them on Pinterest.
Be sure to follow up with your new friend. It may be through something you saw online, an article they might like, or perhaps is congratulating them on a recent feature on a blog or in a magazine.
Find ways that you can promote and work with your new friend. Set up a styled shoot. Support their events. Celebrate their accomplishments.
Are you an Introvert? Does the prospect of talking to strangers make you want to run and hide? If this advice helped you, please let me know in the comments below!
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