Starting a virtual business is alluring to many introverts because there’s not a lot of face-to-face contact required. No water-cooler awkwardness, no conference room showdowns. You can earn money sitting on your couch in your own home, even in your PJs. Let's face it, as an introvert, networking is probably the last thing on your mind.
But no matter whether your home business is freelance writing, virtual assisting, transcribing, proofreading, or something else, there is always hustle involved. And hustle requires networking to connect with prospective clients. There’s no way around it: you will need to step outside your comfort zone and interact with your fellow humans.
So how do you overcome your mental hurdles and start making the connections needed to run a successful business?
Here are three helpful steps you can use to ease yourself into the process and reap the benefits of introvert networking.
Step 1: Hone Your Email Skills
The good thing about a virtual business is that you can accomplish a great deal of your work without ever needing to speak to anyone in person. Effective use of email is an introvert's biggest ally.
But have you ever considered using it as your introvert networking secret weapon?
In outreach emails, your goal is to warm up a cold lead (someone you’ve had no prior contact with). Visit their website and do some research. Find one of their blog posts or products you like or relate to. Then send a simple email to tell them so. Let them know you’re a fan of what they do and why they do it.
Most people like this kind of positive feedback, and you might spark a conversation that becomes a real connection. Even if you don’t get a response, you’ve gotten some practice. As a result, the next time might feel a little more comfortable and less stressful.
Pro tip: Use a strategic headline to entice the recipient to open your email. Something like “Quick question for you!” or “Looks like we have this in common…!” might work well.
Step 2: Participate in Online Communities
Joining an online community is one of the most painless ways for introverts to network and make professional connections.
To get started, search for communities where your potential clients might hang out. For example, if you are a virtual assistant, you could join a Facebook group for online entrepreneurs. If you have a niche, like a virtual assistant who works primarily with writers, you could include specialized communities like writing and publishing groups, as well.
Once you’ve joined, you might choose to lurk for a while before interacting, so you can get to know the culture of the group in a way that feels safer to you. This lets you become familiar with a few members by their posts, and you’ll feel like you already know them before you start to interact.
I've found a group… now, what do I say?
When you do join the conversation, how you participate in these online communities is important. It goes without saying that you should follow the group rules or guidelines. Also keep in mind that this isn’t the place to come in and start pitching your services. The goal is to become an active member of the community, and to give more than you take, helping others where you can and making connections along the way. If you take the time to consistently comment helpfully on posts, other active members will get to know you and value your input.
Sometimes, your ideal clients reach out to the community with an ask. For example, someone might be looking for beta testers to give feedback on a course they’ve developed, or volunteers to read their ebook and leave a review. These are fantastic opportunities for you to lend a hand and make a connection. That connection could lead them to think of you when they or someone they know have a project you’re suited for.
Pro tip: Once you start making a few friends in your communities, be sure to follow them on their social media channels and sign up for their newsletters so you stay “top of mind” when a project comes up!
Step 3: Attend a Networking Event
Just because your business is virtual doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend in-person networking events. Even if you’re an email whiz and an online community expert, you’re not off the hook.
Smaller local events tend to draw businesspeople from your area who might rather work with a person from their own community whose face they know than a stranger they found on the internet. If you make a strong impression, local businesses could become the bread and butter of your career.
Larger events, like conferences, will usually have influential speakers in fields related to your work, and many other people who might be seeking just the services you provide. You might leave a conference with enough contacts to fill your client roster, and a wealth of new learning, as well!
So, how do I break the ice?
Networking events can be nerve-wracking for introverts, but you don’t have to go it alone! Take a friend with you to be your wingman/wingwoman. Write up a list of talking points or conversation starters (even if it’s just your introduction) and practice until you can say them smoothly. Listen to others – most people like to be heard. Ask people questions. Rehearse a few general questions along with your talking points, if that helps you feel more confident and prepared. You can find more tips in this network event tip sheet from The Muse.
If you can, check the attendees' list ahead of time. Look for people you have a connection with. Are you alumni of the same college? Do you like the same sports team? Have you both just finished the same book? Make a note to mention it. Connections don’t have to be related to your career to matter. Some of the best ones are based on common interests outside of work.
Just like in online communities, the idea is to meet and connect with people. It’s not to try to sell your services from the moment you arrive. Setting a goal to have conversations with two or three people at a local event, or a few people each day of a conference, can help things feel more manageable. You really don’t need to interact with everyone at the event for it to be successful! Start small and work your way up as you go.
Where do I look for networking opportunities?
Check your local Chamber of Commerce or small business association, or use Google to find networking opportunities in your area. You can use a platform like Meetup, which helps you connect with local people who have similar interests. For larger conferences, you can check in at professional organizations for your business, such as the IVAA for virtual assistants, NAIWE for writers and editors, or AIPB for bookkeepers.
Conclusion: Introvert Networking is a Long Game
Being an introvert doesn’t make you less effective in business. In fact, it can be an advantage in many ways, especially in a home business where you are potentially spending a lot of time alone. This is part of the appeal for introverts, but drives extroverts nuts! You are happy to take on the type of solitary assignments that let extroverts get out there and interact with people to their heart's content. But in order to do that, you need to find your ideal clients, and that’s where introvert networking comes in.
Always remember that this isn’t about the quick win. Small steps will let you gain confidence as you grow connections. Professional relationships are often built gradually over a long period of time. The chance to do business with someone you meet while practicing introvert networking might take years to develop, if it ever does. But if you’re consistent and continue to develop those relationships, your efforts will make you more recognizable over time, and might just yield a healthy roster of clients and referrals! At the very least, they’ll give you a reason to get out of your pajamas every now and then!
Do you have any ideas or concerns about networking as an introvert? Share them in the comments below!