If you are in any kind of business, you have probably considered the value of networking. Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective ways to get your message out. And, the best mouth is YOURS! Some people are born networkers. It’s easy for them. You may know someone who makes friends easily and can talk to just about anyone.
Then there are “shy” people. Just the thought of walking through the door and in to a crowded room brings feelings of anxiety and fear. I know all about that. I have always been a “shy” person. I don’t like crowds all that much and attending meetings and mixers with complete strangers is daunting. Even though I have managed to overcome my fears to become a competent networker, I still experience those feelings when I am in a new situation. As with many shy people, I’m fine after I become familiar with the situation. It’s just the beginning that’s hard.
This brings the question of what to do about this? What can a shy person do to get past the barrier of fear and benefit from networking? Imagine the possibilities for your business if you can expand your contacts and get more customers by attending networking functions.
What is networking? Simply put, it’s an exchange. You many attend a meeting, mixer, breakfast or lunch that is designed with networking in mind. These business-minded people are there to tell you about their business. The exchange part is that you get to tell them about your business. You may refer a customer to them and they may refer someone to you. It’s a very effective way to build your business. Common networking opportunities found in your area may include, local Chamber of Commerce, Business Associations, Service Groups and Networking Clubs. While these events are commonly frequented by traditional businesses, they are also helpful if you have a home based business where you work from home or even if you have an online business.
Here are some tips just for reluctant networkers:
1. Bring a friend or associate. Having someone with you is a comfort. I’m much happier networking with my husband. He is one of those “born” networkers. He has never met a stranger and he’s happy to talk to anyone. Having him with me is a relief.
2. Arrive early. If you are going to have to go it alone, getting there early will give you a chance to talk to fewer people, before the big crowd arrives.
3. Make one new friend. My hubby, as I mentioned before, can make friends easily. He can talk to each and every person in a room. He doesn’t understand why I can’t do the same. When we first joined our local Chamber of Commerce, I would find a place to sit and that is where I would stay for the entire mixer. Maybe he would be disappointed with a missed opportunity, but I found out that this is actually a very good networking strategy. Each time I sat in the same place, I would get to know the person on my right, the person on my left and maybe a couple others in the same space. I would have small conversations and really learn about those people. At the next mixer, I would be happy to see them and they would be happy to see me. We made contact. We made a connection. And, our connection was more personal and in depth than it would have been if I had just gone around the room handing out my business card. Over time, I found that I knew more and more people. Really knew them. And, those meetings became more fun and something I looked forward to.
4. Have business cards on hand. I always ask for cards. I’m surprised when someone does not have a card at a mixer. I take those cards back to my desk and keep them handy. I also try to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter. Those connections are the ones that keep on growing.
5. Dress nice. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but appearance DOES matter. Wear something appropriate for business. If your business is a messy and dirty one, this is a time to dress up for the occasion.
6. Smile. Nothing is more inviting than a friendly smile. If this does not come naturally to you, I recommend practicing. Some people give off an unfriendly air, when actually they are a very nice person. I love to smile and say a cheerful “Hi”. It is a great ice breaker.
7. Bring a raffle prize. If your networking function has a raffle (and most do), bring a prize. It’s great advertising for your business and it will open doors for you to meet and get to know the other members.
8. Do you remember me? It’s bound to happen that you will not remember someone who DOES remember you. It’s embarrassing for anyone, but more so for shy people. Sometimes I remember who they are on my way home. How frustrating. It’s natural as you are meeting more and more new people to have a hard time placing them. I almost hate to tell you this, because you will be waiting for me to say it. I like to say “it’s so good to see you!”. It’s something that I truly mean, it’s important to be sincere. But, that statement does not require me to remember their name or how I know them. It gives me time to search my memory for the missing pieces.
9. Shake hands. The perfect handshake is an art. There are classes and books on just handshaking. During the flu season, I literally cringe at the idea of shaking a roomful of hands. However, this is our culture. Embrace it. A good handshake is the same for a man or a woman. Reach out with confidence, offer your right hand, take their hand and squeeze firmly, while maintaining eye-contact. Don’t squeeze hard enough to hurt someone! Women wear rings, and a hard handshake can hurt. Don’t do the limp handshake either. It’s just uncomfortable. There is no room in business for a “Princess” handshake. If you take a woman’s hand like a princesses hand that you are going to kiss….do I need to explain that? Hugs are okay if you know the person or have some sort of personal connection. Kissing in business is taboo. Even a peck on the cheek. Just don’t.
10. Offer to help. If you really want to get to know the members of your group, get involved. You will make real relationships this way. If you are working and helping at an event, it’s much easier to overcome any shyness you may be feeling.
Networking is a terrific way to build your business, your brand and your own reputation. It’s one of the most economical and effective ways to advertise. It’s a great way to get more involved in your community and you will become a better person for it. I urge you to find a mixer or meeting in your area and make plans to attend right away. Let me know how it goes! I’m rooting for you!
Did this help you? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment. Thanks!
Stephanie Farrell is currently serving on the Board for the Amador County Chamber of Commerce. She is the past President of the Amador County Women’s Network for 2010 and 2011. This article is the property of Stephanie Farrell and may not be copied or shared without credit to the author and a link to www.stephcentral.com