MANY ATTORNEYS I TALK TO tell me they do not like business networking because they are “shy” or “introverted.” If your goal is to make money in your business, there are many ways to market your practice. You do not have to do anything you are not comfortable doing as there are many options (you need to do something, of course, to market, but not everything). So, if in-person networking is not your thing, you can take other actions.
However, if you know and appreciate the benefits of in-person networking (and there are many), and you desire to participate and do not want to let your inhibitions keep you from being successful at networking for your business, then here are some tips for you that have worked for several of my clients:
- Get out of your own head. Most self-described “shy” or “introverted” or “socially phobic” people are self-conscious because they are focusing on themselves instead of on others. We tend to think that everyone is watching us, thinking negative thoughts about us, or waiting for us to do something foolish like tip over the punch bowl. That’s simply not the case. In fact, you’d probably be shocked to learn that most people are not even thinking of you at all. No, instead, they are thinking about how they don’t really have time to be here tonight, or that their spouse is an ass, or their kids need to be picked up from practice and there’s no one else to do it, or it was a long day at the office and they are tired and just wish they could go home and have a glass of wine, or…you get the idea. They aren’t thinking about you; they are thinking about themselves, their families, their lives, their businesses and their agendas. So, get over yourself (Lest you think I am being mean, I’ve had to tell myself the same words before. And it works. Try it sometime!)
- Be curious about others. I mean it: be genuinely, sincerely curious. Ask them questions about themselves. When we focus on getting to know more about others—not in a fake “What do you do?” kind of way, but in a sincere effort to understand who they are, to make a connection with a fellow human being—we stop worry about whether or not other people are looking at us funny and start living in the moment. Curiosity shifts your energy and the energy in the room. It can take networking from feeling like an obligation to feeling like fun.
- Make kind gestures. When was the last time someone gave you a sincere compliment? How did it make you feel? What if you focused on making at least three kind gestures a day? Open a door for someone. Smile at them. Compliment the cashier at the grocery store. Now, take that same energy and intent to a networking meeting. Say to yourself: “Before I leave here today (or tonight), I will have made at least three sincere kind gestures. I’ll compliment a colleague on her shoes and ask her where her favorite place is to find shoes. I’ll offer to grab someone a drink. I’ll smile, ask question and then listen to the answer without thinking about how I will respond.”
- Pretend you are the host of the event and it is your job to make everyone feel comfortable. Facilitate introductions between other people. Seek out wallflowers and lead them to the dessert table. Ask how they came to attend the event. Who invited them? How did they hear about it? Is it their first time there? Is there anyone in particular they would like to meet? (Or do you know just who they should meet?)
- Know your objective before you go. Who would you like to meet? If you walked away having met one person that you think to yourself “wow, that was so worth it!” who would that be? If your objective is to become known as a connector—one who connects others—so that others think of you as a “go-to” source for anything related to your business, to whom do you need to connect? Make a plan before you go of what you would like to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be something small. When you accomplish that objective, you will feel successful no matter what else happens that evening. One caveat: Never plan to attend a networking event to make a sale, to “get a client.” Always go with the objective of meeting new and interesting people, or reconnecting with someone you like and deepening your relationship with them. When you do that, your results might astonish you.
- Focus on the follow up. Most people “hate” networking because it feels like it takes a lot of time for something that may or may not yield results. The issue is we get so focused on the event itself, we forget that it is merely the first step in the process. The gold is in the follow up. If you think “Oh, no! Who has time for that?” then you are not thinking broadly enough. Instead of emailing or calling people from the business cards you’ve collected, instead, send them a request to connect on LinkedIn (most people will accept because that’s why they were at the event, too), and then send a follow-up email thanking them for connecting, telling how much you enjoyed meeting them, and then inviting them to continue the conversation with a “virtual coffee.” A virtual coffee is a 15 to 20 minute video chat designed to let the two of you get to know each other (and each other’s business) better so you can determine how to help one another. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s super-easy and no one has to travel any where (or spend that travel time) to do it!
Believe it or not, networking can be fun. Basically, it’s a party or social event with a specific purpose–to meet and connect with new people and to deepen relationships with existing friends. Shifting your perspective to focus on the needs of other people to make it about them and not about you can make all the difference, not only in how you feel about networking, but in your results.