The importance of referrals in building a business is undeniable. While you may get a random referral without a network, it is highly unlikely. Generating a consistent flow of business from referrals only comes from investing in growing a solid business network. That means talking to people. In person. If you are an introvert, you probably just threw up in your mouth, a little. I’m an introvert, too. I get it. However, I’ve managed to build a solid network, despite my need for alone time.
If you feel more comfortable at your desk than in a room with strangers, here are some tried and true tips that will make it a little easier for you.
8 tips for how to network as an introvert
1. Be visible
From Chamber meetings to industry-specific meetups, there are loads of in-person opportunities to start raising your profile. Lurk if you must. Be a business wallflower, but start showing up. Just having a pulse in public with your peers will start laying a foundation for future relationships.
2. Observe and Serve
Introverts are natural observers. We pick up on a lot during our silences. Use this to your advantage. Watch and see who is who. Who is the gossip? Who is the quiet, competent one? You can also use your observational talents to identify opportunities to serve. Does everyone leave the host to straighten all the chairs after the event? If so, this is a perfect way to step up and start engaging, without making a fuss.
3. Set a timer
If you have social anxiety on top of introversion, a great trick is to set a timer before you approach someone new. If you set it for three minutes, and you get stuck in an awkward conversation, you can elegantly excuse yourself, saying you need to go take care of something. You aren’t lying. Self-care is very important. If you are vibing with the person, just turn off the timer and roll with it.
4. Email follow-through
Once you’ve made that connection, ask for their card. Unlike with dating, you don’t have to wait the obligatory three days before making contact. Just go ahead and shoot off an “it was nice to meet you” email. Include a way they can connect with you further, such as here on Alignable. If you really clicked with them, suggest coffee.
5. Booking Apps
My booking app is my best friend. Once I’ve suggested coffee, and they’ve agreed, I’ll send a link to my booking app. It gives them the choice of all my available time, and eliminates all that awkward back and forth. I offer to schedule the “old-fashioned” way, if apps make them uncomfortable. Almost no one turns down the app.
Initial coffee dates shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to pitch someone. This is the time to find out how you can encourage them, or be of service. Referral networks are built on relationships, not sales pitches. Ask about their business. What do they love about it? What are their pain points? One of my all-time best referral relationships began from a casual question about pain points. Even if you can’t help them, let them know that you will keep their struggle in mind if you run across a solution. If you keep turning the conversation back to them, you will not only have to talk less, but you will be perceived as a conversational genius.
7. Big check lunches
Once you been doing the above for a while, you will identify some people who might make great referral partners, or mentors. Every time you make a big sale, or get a good check, take someone on that list to lunch. Make it a habit. Here’s a secret: people may turn down coffee, but almost no one turns down a free meal. If you are like me, I’m much better one-on-one, than in a crowd. And nothing breaks down barriers like food. I credit my Big Check Lunches with not only helping me build my network, but with turning those partners into friends.
8.Do what you say
I know you probably think this is obvious, but people who actually do what they say they will, every time, are in the minority. By just being reliable, you will set yourself apart. Treat all referrals like gold. If you miss a deadline on a project that was referred to you, you can bet that will get around. When someone gives you a referral, they are lending you their credibility. Make them look like a genius. Everyone wants to be known as the person who knows amazing people. Be amazing and that will also get around.
A robust referral network doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you consistently work on it. Unlike our extrovert friends who collect relationships effortlessly, we introverts have to have a plan. A little bit of targeted interaction goes a long way.