I hate small talk and I get nervous in a room full of strangers. I’d rather spend my time anywhere else and with a close group of friends (like no more than 5). So, it should come as no surprise that I don’t like networking. I would much rather wait at the DMV all day than network. Yeah, it’s that serious.
If you also consider yourself an introvert like myself, you understand exactly what I’m talking about. However, as a small business owner, you know how crucial it is to put yourself and your business out there. Furthermore, much to every introvert’s chagrin, networking is an extremely valuable and effective technique. It offers free exposure and opportunities galore. However, it doesn’t have to be as painful as you (or I) think.
Below I’m sharing five tactics that have recently helped me tremendously when networking. It’s still not my favorite thing in the world but it’s made a world of a difference. Employ these tips at your next event and you’ll see what I mean.
If networking really makes you weak in the knees because you’re not sure how to strike up a conversation, let your clothes do the talking. Invest in fun t-shirts that read “Ask me about my travel business” or “Yes, travel agents still exist. How can I help?”. Anything that will entice people to come up to you. Then, all you have to do is explain what your business does and how you help the public. (Keep reading for a handy trick on properly pitching yourself).
And if you’re feeling extra bold, wear them outside of networking events like to the grocery stores, the bank, or sporting events. Bonus points if you wear it to a bar!
Overcome your networking woes by setting up a reasonable yet challenging goal. It’s much easier to navigate a networking event when you know what needs to get accomplished before you leave.
Some great ideas are:
By doing this, you’re giving yourself an agenda to preoccupy with instead of your nerves. Plus, imagine how confident and great you’ll feel once you’ve reached your goal. If you’re reward-driven like me, make sure to give yourself a nice prize for your hard work. Starbucks feels less guilty that way.
You know what gives networking a bad rep? Awkward silences, stumbling words, and elevator pitches. So, pack your invisible toolbelt with conversation starters and interesting questions. Take some time to really think what you want to learn from the other participants. If it helps, write them down on your phone so you can easily refer back to them when you have a moment alone. Bonus idea: if you have any challenges in your business, bring them up to the person you’re talking to. Now what about when the spotlight shifts to you? Before your event, practice answering your own or common questions. You can either role play with a friend or with yourself in the mirror.
Also, talk about your business effectively by perfecting your intro. No one wants to hear a monologue of what you do. According to Clay Hebert, Marketing Strategist and Founder of Crowdfunding Hacks, your perfect intro should be about who you help and why, it’s interesting and confident. For example, at Travel Planners International, we guide travel agency owners on creating and running a successful business. Isn’t that far more interesting than “We’re Travel Planners International and we’re a host agency for travel agents in the United States”?
Now, your turn.
Breaking the ice is easier when you bring a pal. Personally, this is my favorite approach. I find comfort knowing there’s someone that can step in during the conversation if I get tired of the spotlight, so to speak. Or, team up with a peer you know will be there. You both can take turns introducing the other or they can provide a warm introduction to their circle. Remember, there’s power in numbers.
Don’t beat yourself up! Think about all your accomplishments that have led you to this moment. Tell yourself how awesome you are in the mirror. Put on your favorite outfit and talk a selfie. Pep yourself up before this event! If you give yourself reasons to be confident, you’ll start to feel confident.
Need extra motivation? Check out this cute video here. You can do anything great!