Top networking tips for introverted entrepreneurs

If you’re an introvert, you probably cringe at the thought of pitching your business to others. You might even avoid business functions that make you feel nervous, self-conscious and slightly awkward because you’re outside your comfort zone.

But you’ve got a great product or service and a solid business plan, so why is it so hard to talk to people about your business?

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Officeworks Small Business Wellbeing index1 reveals almost 29 per cent of Australian small business owners find it difficult to network their business.

The research, which studied business wellbeing among 1005 small business owners in Australia, also shows that 4 in 10 business owners struggle when it comes to attracting and winning new customers.

It’s often said that it’s not about what you know, but rather who you know that will help your business succeed.

Regional Director of Michael Page Australia, Richard Wynn, writes for his company blog that creating a network of contacts is invaluable to the business your company generates.

Networking is all about establishing bonds and building authentic business relationships. Expanding your business network could help you generate referrals, create opportunities, gain support and increase your influence.

So, if success in business is all about making connections, how can introverted entrepreneurs get ahead? 

Planning an agenda before a business networking event can help you make purposeful connections.

Small business expert Jen Harwood recommends setting goals and determining your business needs before networking.

Setting these expectations can help you make more intentional connections when you’re at an event, Jen says.

Meeting new people might even seem less daunting if you consider it as a business task and recognise it will ultimately help your business.

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Besides going to business events, you could also attend dinner functions, volunteer for community programs, join a local council or use social media to help grow your network.

If you’ve ever tried to approach someone new (especially at business events), you’ll know it can be stressful and uncomfortable.

But it doesn’t have to be. Managing Director of the FM Group, Richard Forrest, suggests breaking the ice by preparing a few questions.

You could start a conversation by commenting on the location or occasion, and couple it with an open-ended question.

Introverts are often said to be analytical and intuitive, with great listening skills to boot.
You can use those skills to your advantage when you get to know someone new.

Take a genuine interest in the person you’re talking to and direct the conversation to their work or hobbies. 

Instead of asking WHAT a person does, ask WHY they do it. Asking ‘why’ allows the person you’re speaking with to elaborate on their passions and interests.

Also asking how they started their business can give you great insights into their business journey.

Showing interest in someone else’s stories will often mean they will ask you questions in return.

If talking about yourself makes you anxious, try preparing answers to some basic questions you might be asked.

You can list points you would like to mention, or important details about your business to discuss at your networking event.

Instead of pitching your business, consider what you can offer people in a relevant and authentic way.

Then think about how you can best communicate that. In an article for Key Business Network, networking expert Julia Bannister recommends having a ‘Pay It Forward’ attitude when it comes to providing value for the people meet.

This attitude will get you in the habit of looking for opportunities to serve others instead of giving and expecting something in return.

Having the mindset of 'how can I help you?' instead of 'how can this benefit me?' will help you make a good first impression and benefit you in the long run.

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Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their business card, or offer your business card if they seem interested in your business.

Making a positive comment about something on the card – like the design or job title – helps show you’re interested and engaged in the conversation.

A good habit would be to write a note on the business card about the person or a certain part of the conversation that might help you write a better follow-up. 

You might end up with a stack of business cards after a busy networking event, but they’re not valuable unless you connect again with the people you’ve just met.

Try to follow up within 48 hours of your initial meeting, so that you’re still fresh in their mind.

It can be as simple as sending a quick email, connecting on LinkedIn or making a call to set up another meeting.

Business relationships need to be nurtured and developed over time. When writing a follow-up email, be clear on what you want to happen next. You might want to request more information about their business or expertise, suggest someone they might want to meet or even invite them to lunch.

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Stay true to you

A pivotal element of networking successfully is to be genuine.

Embrace your shyness. You don’t have to attempt to act like an extrovert to create business relationships. Having a positive mindset about networking is a great start to growing your list of connections.

1Fieldwork conducted by Symphony Analytics & Research on behalf of Officeworks in June 2015.