“You’re an introvert?” people often ask when I tell them that networking doesn’t come naturally to me. As an entrepreneur, networking can be the lifeblood of your business. By getting out there and meeting new people, you can increase your lead pipeline, make new contacts, and even forge new friendships.
I can be shy, and on occasion, riddled with anxiety. But I force myself to get out there anyway. Here’s how I learned to network and broaden my business horizons.
Make a goal for events
This year, I started creating music for the first time and dove headfirst into the music industry. I started with zero contacts, so I knew that I needed to put myself out there. I made a list of events I wanted to attend, and each month committed to going to one. Often, the hardest part of networking is encouraging yourself to attend an event. Whether it’s outside your regular commute or it seems far too intimidating, getting there is the first step.
Each month, set a goal for how many events you would like to attend. Having a written goal can help hold you accountable. The next step is to just go, as simple as it may sound. “Let go of any insecurities or fear, and just dive in.” says Emily Roehl, Manager of Programming at Superfly, an industry vet I met after encouraging myself to attend a music conference this year. “It’s okay to introduce yourself first or even remind folks of your name—networking is hard for most people. What helps me the most is remaining humble and kind. If you give people the space to talk about their lives, you can quickly pick up on their values and intentions and find a common ground to anchor the conversation.”
Find a networking buddy
As the saying goes, there is support in numbers. For your next event, grab a colleague or friend to hit the event with you. Find a peer that has similar industry goals and also is looking to widen their business network. You can go to the event together, but once you’re there, start talking to other people and reconvene later in the night. “When I go to networking events, I like to bring a friend,” says Derek Merdinyan of Video Igniter. “We both support each other to reach our business goals and also hold each other accountable to get out there and go to more events.” If you bring a buddy, you can even approach groups together to intermingle. Simply having someone at the event that you know can help alleviate networking anxiety and also provide a fallback plan. Having a networking buddy at the event is also great for when a conversation goes flat, and you’re looking for an escape route. When that happens, I usually tell the person it was nice to meet them and that I need to find my friend.
Support others before you expect them to support you
You wouldn’t go to a party and immediately start talking about yourself without getting to know the other party. The same goes for a networking event. Go to events hosted by industry veterans, and get to know what they are about. Ask them questions about what they do and what they are passionate about. “I always suggest anyone get involved in their local scene for starters. It’s the most important networking tip and where it all begins.” says Erin Tonkon producer and Mixer at Little Underground.
This rings true for any industry. “Find all of the events happening in your area, and get to them as frequently as you can. “Get to know the artist community in your area. Go to shows. Support them. The music industry starts with the artists—they are who it’s all about, and it’s important to be a part of the scene whether you are an artist yourself, a producer, engineer, or interested in anything on the business side of things.”
Don’t focus on selling, focus on building relationships
There’s this idea that networking is for selling yourself. But in reality, you’ll get much further if you focus on cultivating relationships. “Don’t immediately ask for something, lead with value and how you can help them. Ask a lot of questions, and be genuinely curious about the person you are speaking with,” says Tamisha Arrendell, a singer and songwriter. Whenever I attend a networking event, I never try to close any sales. I focus on getting to know the people there and see how I can help them. Often this leads to new business relationships, friendships, and new clients.
Networking can be intimidating, but remember it doesn’t come naturally to most people. Go to events often, practice talking to strangers, and this year could be your best year in business yet.