I am an entrepreneur who has a six-year old consultancy business and I am looking for ways to grow my business. I have been told by my peers that I should try engaging in a few networking initiatives as this seems to be what most entrepreneurs and business professionals are doing. While my business requires me to interact with my clients on a one-on-one basis, when it comes to socialising, I am a bit of an introvert and I am also apprehensive about if networking really works. Any advice?
Dear Introvert Entrepreneur
There are many people like you who are introverts and are apprehensive about networking for one reason or the other. So rest assured that you are not alone. I agree that networking for some can be quite intimidating (especially for an introvert), but there is also a lot to be gained from networking.
So, your peers are right. Networking is one avenue that you can leverage to help you grow your business. Initially, I too was apprehensive about networking. But, over time, I gained an appreciation for it, especially after completing a course in Networking and Internationalisation during my Masters programme. I have come to realise that networking does not come naturally, but it is a skill that anyone can learn.
The good news is that you do not need to be the most outgoing person to network effectively. Like everything else you will get better at it with practice.
Networking is mainly about building relationships. It is also about engaging with others and sharing information that can help a person to advance his/her personal objective; whether it is to grow their business or even if it is just to increase their social contacts.
Many introverts may tend to gravitate to digital networking via various social media platforms to connect with other potential business professionals or to meet new people. This is good as well. However, while technology affords us many benefits – especially as an entrepreneur – where you may enjoy many cost-effective opportunities to meet and speak with clients, technology cannot replace a genuine hug or handshake. While we can connect with people all over the world via technology, we seem to have become disconnected from people in our physical space.
In fact, according to an online article on the Forbes website, young people under the age of 35 who are the most prolific social networkers of all are the ones who, surprisingly, are the loneliest among us. Similarly, another recent study found that 48 per cent of respondents only had one confidant. This is a vast decrease when compared to a similar study 25 years ago when people said they had at least three people in whom they could confide. So, it seems that as we have built expansive social networks online, the depth of our networks offline has decreased.
You indicated that in a social setting you are more of an introvert. However, I will recommend that you try attending more social networking events where you can meet and engage others. In fact, AFETT has Membership and Programme meetings on the third-to-last Thursday of every month. This is a great platform for you to network and meet like-minded people in a small intimate setting.
By starting off at these events you would have an opportunity to gain some confidence and experience the true merits of networking. Furthermore, you would find that this type of setting affords you the opportunity to ascertain who is genuine or not through conversations or through a friend who may help you to connect with the right person. I will advise that you take it one step at a time and do not become overwhelmed by attending too many events.
Initial steps that you can take:
1. Start networking with people in your circle; friends with whom you are comfortable, co-workers or like-minded entrepreneurs. This can help you to become more comfortable with the idea of networking.
2. Attend any social event with friends and have them introduce you to other people.
3. Attend conferences, seminars and social events that are of interest to you, where you can also meet and interact with other people with similar interests. Here, starting a conversation may be easier because you may share the same interests.
4. Re-connect and maintain relationships with old school mates or university classmates, family, friends or even former co-workers. They may be your link to signing a big business contract.
5. Network in your neighbourhood; attend community events. Your next door neighbour may very well be the manager who has to sign off on your proposal for a project that would bolster your business.
6. Join a group or an association like AFETT, where you can get involved in activities that would help you meet new people and most importantly build genuine relationships.
Tips on Networking:
Body language cues are important for networking effectively. It is said that within the first seven seconds of meeting someone they will visually assess you based on your body language.
Maintain good eye contact during a conversation. Good eye contact makes the person feel important. Do not look around room.
Folding your arms while talking indicates boredom.
Be mindful of how you stand while talking to someone. Stand in a manner that is open and welcoming. Do not lean on something while talking as this can indicate disinterest
You can check out this website for more detailed tips https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227257
There is a wealth of information on the dynamics of networking and how to network effectively. I would also advise that you research professional websites that can help you in your networking quest. Remember that you can network in any space, whether in a formal or informal context but use it to build and maintain the relationships you believe are important.
All the best, but most of all enjoy it.
AFETT is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2002 with the goal of bringing together professional women and engaging in networking opportunities, professional training and business ideas. ASK AFETT is a column meant to address issues and concerns of professionals seeking advice to assist in progressing in their careers. Today's response was written by AFETT member, Dixie-Ann Dickson, secretary, AFETT. Learn more about AFETT at www.afett.com, search for AFETT Events on Facebook, follow us @AFETTEXECS on Twitter or contact us at 343-2160. Email us your career-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors, meant strictly as advice and guidance, based upon their experience and expertise. In no way are they meant to be legally binding upon AFETT and or its members, servants nor agents.