How to Network When You're Introverted
If that word just made your skin crawl, you're in good company. Many small business owners cringe at the idea of networking, especially the traditional, old school way, where it feels like a “fake nice” way to interact with someone else to get ahead in your own business. Especially if said business owner is an introvert.
Yeah, eff that noise.
Let’s redefine it: networking lifts your people up with you. Doesn’t raising up your people feel better than picking your way across a crowded networking event to talk to that semi-well-known industry “rockstar” who can help you get ahead? I know it does for me. Here's how.
Get rid of fear.
Going to a networking event where you won’t know can feel like awkward. Keep in mind, though, that a ton of other people there will feel the same.
Show up in an outfit that makes you feel awesome, and make it your goal to make at least one warm connection with someone. (Listen. You do NOT have to make 20 new friends). Offer to introduce other people to each other, too, and eventually you’ll be rolling through the event with a small crew of great people who are thankful you took the time to say hello to them.
Reach out respectfully.
I am a wedding photographer, and met a few of my fellow photogs in New York City by reaching out to them via email or Twitter. A friendly four line cold email is appropriate, and fun for someone to come across in their inbox. If it sounds like too much, think about how you would feel to get an email that says, "Hey, you're awesome, and I'd love to get a cocktail with you. Maybe next Thursday?" Pretty good, right?
If there is someone you really want to work with, reach out. I booked a wedding with a wedding planner I had admired for a while by emailing him with my pricing and a bit about myself and my company, because I genuinely thought his clients would be a good fit for me. And if there are others just starting out or a few years in like you, start sticking together. You never know where relationships will take you. Mine have taken me all over the world.
Set up your inner circle.
I have a very small group of “photografriends” in the NYC area who I’ve known for years. I put them all in a Facebook group (you might also want to set up a Slack channel or WhatsApp group chat.) They are the people I know to call if something goes wrong on a wedding day, my first source if I need a second shooter, and, of course we share referrals back and forth. I adore them and trust them completely.
If you can't find a networking event, start one.
This was one of the most fun things I've ever done. Each month or so I host a happy hour networking at a local bar in New York City. It’s low-key and at a good time for most people to come.
It is DEAD EASY. I don't give a speech, or lead, or dress up. It’s just come as you are, drink what you want, order some French fries. Super low- key and really fun. My fellow vendors are encouraged to bring life partners and other wedding vendors, too. My “email list” is nothing fancy, it's simply a cut-and-paste text document on my iPhone.
Oh, and, if you’re in NYC and want to come, too, I’d *love* to see you. Send me an email or reach out to me on Twitter, and I’ll put you on the list.
Always carry business cards.
Always, always, always. No they are not outdated. Everyone stop saying this. They've brought me thousands of dollars. I carry the following:
- a small backpack to hold the small amount of gear I need for portrait sessions
- a rolling suitcase that holds all of my gear for full weddings
- a purse for when I’m out and about in my life
- a large wallet that doubles as a clutch for running errands on foot
All four of these have a small stack of business cards permanently tucked into a pocket. You just never know who you are going to meet, or when. I’ve given my business card out everywhere - airports, while shooting on the street, and on a crosstown bus.
This past March, I was at a big charity dinner hosted by a friend’s company, seated next to a future bride who shared that she was having a hard time finding a wedding photographer. I gave her my card without knowing her budget, and said that even if I couldn’t do it, I could help her find someone. She hired my studio.
Leslie Fandrich is an artist friend who designed my logo, and the layout was put together by the designer who did my website: Irene Hardy of Magnoliahouse Creative. They were printed by Igloo Letterpress on double-thick cotton paper, and I feel baller when I hand one over.
If you’re on more of a budget, you can’t beat Moo. Their original ones are nice and affordable at $20 for 50, and they often have sales. If only one card out of 50 books you a gig, you’ve made your investment back. Oh, and make sure it includes your email address - a mistake I made the first time I ordered business cards. You... probably knew that already. *sigh*
Be helpful and valuable.
Helping others is so powerful. Take time to help newer business owners. Share your secrets. Find your “people,” and work to raise up everyone in your group.
In my group, I’m good at knowing what to say to an unhappy client. My friend Jessica is a wiz at Lightroom, and when I was visiting her in LA a few years ago, she introduced me to the software that changed my business forever.
Offer you talents to others. I'm a photographer, and have given fellow wedding vendors headshot sessions for free. Not only is a good time for me to try out different techniques with someone who isn't a paying client, I get a fantastic, warm, one-on-one connection to someone in my industry. Plus, they put my name all over their Facebook and Instagram along with their fabulous photo, so win.
Keep the “social” in social media.
Leave thoughtful, engagement-boosting comments on other professionals Instagram accounts. You’ll be thought of as a morale booster, and your name and face will be popping up in people's feeds. For folks you want to work with, turn on notifications for their account on Instagram so you can be one of the first to comment when they post something new.
I hope this helps and that you’re feeling inspired! Let me know how you’re doing, and if you have any questions about networking, I’d love to hear from you. The best way to reach out is to drop me a note on Twitter. I'm @AmberMarlow, and I'm always ready to help.