Networking is the cornerstone of any successful freelance business. It’s one of the most effective ways to meet potential new clients and form relationships that will evolve into new business.
People tend to do business with people they know and like, and they’re much more likely to use your services if they’ve met you a few times and have connected with you previously. But, what do you do if you’re a bit shy and aren’t comfortable walking into an event full of strangers and talking about yourself?
Over the years, I’ve developed a method of getting myself to go to networking events. I may be outgoing and fun around people I know, but a room full of strangers freezes me in my tracks! Here are a few tips to making these meetings less painful for networking-challenged freelancers.
Develop Conversation Starters
Knowing what to say to someone, especially when you’re stressed or nervous, can be hard to do. So go into your networking meeting armed with a few standard questions that you can ask of anyone you meet. Breaking the ice with some easy-to-answer questions can help get the conversation ball rolling.
A few simple conversation starters are:
- Have you been to one of these networking meetings before?
- What part of town do you live in/is your business in?
- Do you know anyone here today?
- Have you heard this speaker before?
Having a few easy-to-remember, general questions ready when you enter a networking event can help boost your confidence in starting the conversation.
Find someone who looks as lost as you do, and go talk to them.
How many times have you stood alone in a networking meeting wishing you had someone to talk to so you didn’t look so obviously on your own? Why not rescue someone else from that situation? It’s easy to do because they’ll be eager to talk to you after being released from their solo-status. Then if you hit it off, you can introduce them to someone else and all of a sudden you have a networking wingman. Which leads us into the next tip….
Take a Wingman with You
Sometimes, having someone counting on you to be at the meeting will encourage you to go to the meeting. And knowing someone at the meeting who you can go back to if needed helps you to feel safe. They’re like your networking anchor.
BUT, don’t get into the habit of going with a friend and then talking only to that person. You want to meet NEW people. So, chat with them a bit, and then integrate yourself (or even both of you) into a conversation with new people. That way, you have the comfort of a wingman, while still reaching out to new people. Plus, your wingman can tout your skills with the people they meet and vise versa, thus doubling your visibility in the meeting.
Practice Your Pitch
Generally, one of the first questions asked when meeting someone at a networking event is “What do you do?” Be ready with your ‘elevator’ speech so you’re confident in your answer. Develop a concise answer that easily communicates in 20-30 seconds what you do. A few ideas for developing your pitch might be:
- I’m a freelance designer who specializes in creating….
- I’m an independent writing consultant and just finished a project for…
- I’ve been a social media marketer for X years and have helped companies…
- I’m the owner of a small consulting business. I help other businesses…
Have Professional Business Cards Handy
You want to feel confident handing out your business card, and at networking events people will expect you to have one. Make sure your contact info is up to date, and that the cards are professional looking. You don’t want to have to scratch out and scribble in your new email or phone number. There are many low-cost online options that are easy to use and inexpensive to get updated, professional cards printed. Check out sites like VistaPrint.com or OvernightPrints.com (and others).
When you receive a new connection’s business card, make a note on the back as to who the person is, what you discussed, or other pertinent information about your conversation. That way if you want to reach out to them after the meeting, you’ll have a little nugget of information with which to start your conversation.
Test Out Different Types of Networking
Some networking groups encourage happy-hour type networking where you stand in a room with other people and just mingle, talking to new people gradually. This can be good for gregarious people, but a frightening situation for the more shy networkers.
If you’re not comfortable with the mingle-type of networking, find groups that use “forced networking.” It’s not as bad as it sounds. Forced networking is simply where you sit at a table with six to ten other people and give a short intro about yourself. You pass business cards to each person in the group, and then the next person gives their intro. This is a great way to meet multiple people without having to talk to them one-on-one. After the forced networking ends, you can then talk to some of the more compatible people before leaving the meeting.
If you feel lost in a really big crowd, find smaller local groups where you can get to know people better and feel more comfortable in a smaller setting. BNI groups are a good resource of local business people in a forced-networking type setting.
What’s the Worst that Can Happen?
I’ve never heard of a situation at a networking event where everyone stopped, pointed, and laughed at someone who felt out of place. So, get out there and do it. You may fumble over a word or two, or stand by yourself for a few minutes, but it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let your fear talk you out of going or you could miss out on potential clients, new business and connections.
What’s your best networking tip? Have you done things to prepare for a networking event that gave you more confidence to go meet new people? Share your tips in the comments.
Image by annilove