Does the term “networking event” cause an immediate anxiety reaction for you? Does the thought of talking about yourself to different people you don’t know cause panic? Do you feel like your business could grow significantly if you just could get over your discomfort of networking? If you answered yes to these questions I’m guessing you would label yourself an introvert. I am here to offer hope. Introverts can network just as effectively as extroverts. It may look different, but will still be successful.
Building a strong referral network is a great way to build and maintain a successful private practice. Our field is relational and so direct networking or meeting other professionals will produce results far sooner than online marketing can. If other professionals (therapists, acupuncturists, doctors, etc.) have met you face to face and can see your passion for working with a specific population, as well as your personality, they can provide referrals that will most likely be a good fit for you and for the client. It also helps build your referral list for when your caseload is full or if you are not a good fit for a prospective client.
If you understand the importance of personal and direct networking but are still scared out of your mind to get out there and do it, read the tips below to calm yourself down and increase your confidence. You too can network like a pro.
Know Your Introduction
Before you attend any type of networking event, you need to know who you are and what you do beforehand. What is your title? This may depend on your audience. In a group of other therapists, you can say that you are an LPC or LCSW. This is our language. If you are with other types of professionals, they may have no idea. Trying to explain the license type is boring and those folks will move on to someone else. Create a title that is comfortable coming out of your mouth and describes what you do without much explanation. My title is, “I am a child and family therapist.” Does it incorporate all of the things that I do? Nope, but anyone I talk to has an idea of what I do. As we continue talking I get to decide what else I want them to know about me or my practice. Practice this in front of a mirror, with your significant other, or even in written form. Just having a comfortable place to start a conversation can go a long way.
Meet Just One
Going into a structured networking event with many other professionals can be intimidating for a lot of people. Even the extroverts. It may feel like your goal is to meet everyone in the room, pass out all of your business cards or brochures, and to sell yourself like one might sell a used car. Small talk seems to be the name of the game and nothing makes you cringe more than small talk. Good news…this is rarely how you will meet those really great, core referral sources. One of the superpowers of an introvert is their ability to read a room and find the one person they feel like they can connect with. Who is not just small talking and selling themselves and moving on? Who is talking passionately about their craft? Instead of talk, talk, talk, an introvert is typically listening. Find one or two people that you can connect with and stick with them. You will learn more about those one or two people and how you can benefit each other than if you uncomfortably try to meet everyone in the room. You will leave with hope rather than with disappointment and judgement about how weird you must have seemed to everyone there.
If you are worried that you are clinging to one person for dear life and that they are trying to move on, never fear.
Remember that most networking experiences do not have a minimum time requirement. If you have truly made one or two good connections, your goal has been reached, energy well spent and you can leave.
Graceful Exit Strategies
One of the most uncomfortable places in which to find yourself may be when you have decided that you are not a great fit for the person with whom you are chatting. It also may be uncomfortable if the person you were initially clinging to has decided they want to work the room and meet other people. They gracefully exit and leave you feeling completely alone and floundering about what to do next. In the second example, take an inventory of if you have reached your goals for this event. If you have not, go back to what you are good at. Survey the room and notice who is talking passionately about their craft and where you feel you might meet that one connection. You’ve already done it once, you can do it again. If you have reached your goals, put your business cards out on the table, thank whomever was hosting the event, and go somewhere to process your experience.
The other issue, how to leave a conversation gracefully, may be a more difficult process. Like everything else, this has to be an authentic response to who you are as a person. As an extreme extrovert, I may say that I loved what they had to say about XYZ, let them know my goal is to meet everyone in the room and do just that. That may in fact be my goal. I may suggest someone they could connect with if I know of such a person in the room, thus giving them a place to go. I may even introduce them if it will make a smoother transition. You may be transparent and let them know that you have a goal to meet with others that share the same passion or have a completely different clientele for referral purposes. Maybe they know of someone and can connect you or they may not. A way to leave gracefully is to acknowledge something that you learned about them or their craft from your discussion and then make your way elsewhere.
The Follow Up
One of the key elements that many people forget to do to foster relationships made at networking events is the follow-up. It doesn’t matter if you are an extreme extrovert or introvert, following up is what takes you from someone who handed out a business card and chatted for a bit at a happy hour to a referral source. The day or two after an event, call or email the folks with whom you felt a true connection. These emails should be authentic and should share something about what you appreciated about meeting them, how passionate they are about their craft or something else from your conversation the previous day. Since the goal is to continue building this relationship, suggest a time to talk or meet one-on-one to really get to know them and how you can benefit from knowing one another. This one-on-one interaction will feel much more comfortable and not drain your energy AND will increase your relationships in the field.
Know Your Energy Bank
Whereas an extrovert will feel energized before, during, and after most social and networking events no matter how many other people are there, an introvert needs to be very aware of their energy bank. Just preparing yourself to attend an event may zap your energy. During preparation, it may be helpful to get as much information about the event as possible, as well as set some tangible goals to reach by attending. The negative self-talk in your mind may question whether meeting one or two people at an event is really worth your energy. If you have found out that many of the others attending the event are not in a similar field, where connections and referrals are not likely, then that voice may be correct. If, however, there will be many opportunities for connection, kindly tell that voice to go away and that meeting one or two great healers would be highly beneficial to your practice. Know when you have reached your goals and limits on your energy bank and find ways to replenish your energy soon after the event. If you tend to your authentic, introverted self and know that you can fill your energy bank again, then you will be less likely to use this as a reason to completely avoid networking altogether.
Being introverted or extroverted is important to understand about yourself when running a business. Like the therapy you provide where authenticity is part of your uniqueness and fit for your clients, authenticity can also be a part of your marketing and networking style. While an extrovert will be the first one at the event and the last one to leave, an introvert can create relationships and connections just as successfully. The process will look different, but the results can be just as strong.