Networking for introverts

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If the prospect of networking fills you with dread or you think it's something only extroverted people do, think again. You don't need to have a gregarious or outgoing personality to build a network of professional contacts - in fact, your approach may be better received than the brash personality types out there.

As John Lees, author of "How to get a job you'll love" explains: 'There is a misconception that only extroverts can network. Introverts in fact have some advantages: they are natural listeners and they tend to reflect before they speak. They are also sometimes better at building long-term relationships.'

But John Lees also stresses that regarding yourself as an introvert should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing, and goes on to say: 'Connecting with people in your client search is a skill that needs practising and the less it comes naturally, the easier you should make the first steps.'

He suggests beginning with "Level 1 conversations" - which he describes as 'the gentlest form of networking', and which anyone can do.

Start by talking to people you already know and trust, but talk to them in a way you've never done before

This approach helps avoid mistakes that will feel like setbacks, says Lees: 'Like the cold rebuff you get when you start a phone call saying "you don't know me, but...." or approaching high-level contacts too early in the process when you're still feeling bruised by all the effort of setting up a business and you don't know what you're looking for. Why give people the opportunity to say "not now" or a plain "no" when you're aware how much these will set you back?'

Nervous networkers should always approach the easiest people to begin with.

Be honest about what you're asking for

'When you pick up the phone', says Lees, 'you know that you can just begin a conversation, and you don't need to prepare a script of what you will say.

'Be honest about what you're asking for - make it clear that you are setting up brief conversations with a range of people to find out what goes on under the bonnet of particular sector.'

Avoid 'big-asks' when asking favours

When you're networking for the first time, think carefully about what to ask for - strear clear of favours which might be a big-ask of your contact. But at the same time, you shoudn't be afraid to find out a little more about what these people can deliver.

'Ask people for things they are happy to deliver - not a contract, business straight away, but a good conversation about the world the post holder knows well. And thank people properly. Start by talking only to people you know, ask about their business, then ask them to introduce you to someone else - a proper, warm introduction, not just a name.'

Ask to be introduced

Of course, it can be intimidating going into a room full of strangers and feeling pressured to make contacts, but the fear of networking is often much worse than the reality. You can overcome this by asking one of the organisers to introduce you to other people at an event, as they will usually be very happy to facilitate this.

When the time comes, introduce yourself clearly so that people know your name and what it is that you do. This is a great way of revealing common ground for conversations, says Lees. 'As long as you show an interest in people and a willingness to listen, generally people will only be too happy to talk to you.'

Networking online

If you can't face wearing a name badge and making small talk, don't despair. Online forums and networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to make contact with people in your sector - without even having to leave home.To get started, search for current and ex-clients and look for groups set up within your industry. Remember, the more you put in, the more you'll get out - so be sure to post messages and join the conversation rather than just observing.

Having a few conversations online should make it easier when you take the plunge and meet up at a real life event. You'll be networking like a pro before you know it.

By Angela Szczepankiewicz

Virtual Admin Plus

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Date Added: 30 September 2013

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