Many of you know that I'm a card carrying introvert on the MBTI scale (INFP), and as such, business networking isn't high on my lists of things I love to do. Or, should I say, networking as it's traditionally carried out -- big room, lots of people, mixing and mingling over drinks and inane cocktail party-like conversations -- is not my favorite activity. I'd rather have a tooth pulled, I think, than be subjected to this type of networking activity. However, if you put me 1:1 with someone, or even with a small group of people around a table, I have a good time and make great contacts.
However, organizations around the world seem to believe that the "big group" networking is most effective, so they sponsor many of these events during the course of a year. Sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to achieve your goals, especially as a business owner, and that can be a very scary feeling. Consequently, I have dragged myself, sometimes kicking and screaming, to more of these events than I care to count.
I'm here to tell you that if you never choose to challenge yourself in any way, the success you'll have in growing and developing your business will be slow and stagnant, at best. What you resist most is usually what you most need to learn, and resistance around networking can be tied to lacking confidence in yourself and your abilities, or, if you're an introvert, it can tied to not knowing how to handle these types of events in a manner that's consistent with your personality style as an introvert.
What has made this process easier for me is that I go in with the attitude that I'm seeking to build relationships and find out as much as I can about the others with whom I speak, as I do love to help people out by connecting them to other people or resources that will help them accomplish what they want to accomplish.
Now, before going to a "big group" networking event, in an effort to psych myself up, I think of 3-4 powerful questions I could ask the people there to best help me get to know them and what they do and perhaps lay the foundation for an ongoing relationship. This technique is much more effective than talking about sports scores or the latest celebrity scandal, believe me!
Here are ten questions that I've used to help me begin to develop deeper relationships at a networking event:
What is the product or service your business provides?
Tell me about your ideal client and how I might recognize him/her.
What projects are you working on right now?
How did you decide to go into this business?
What do you find most challenging about (your industry) these days? I fill in the industry name in with banking, computer maintenance, financial planning--whatever is appropriate to the person with whom I'm speaking.
Tell me about your community involvement. In what other professional or civic organizations do you participate and what role do you play in the organization?
How is (some current event) impacting your industry/business right now?
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I'd love to hear one of your client success stories--how did you make a difference in the client's life or business?
Who would be a good referral for you at this point?
People love to speak about themselves and are flattered when they're asked deeper questions. This technique takes all the pressure off of me, as my focus is the other person. This strategy makes all the difference in the world for me. And, by digging a little deeper with the person, there's a greater possibility that we might find the common ground on which to begin to establish a working relationship. You'll also find that the other person will more than likely want to hear your answers to some of these same questions, so be sure that you've developed answers for them for your own business as well.
So, ye introverts, be not afraid and go forth and network!
Copyright (c) 2006 Donna Gunter
Online Business Resource Queen (TM) and Business Coach Donna Gunter helps self-employed service professionals learn how to automate their businesses, leverage their expertise on the Internet, and get more clients online. To sign up for more FREE tips like these and claim your FREE gift, TurboCharge Your Online Marketing Toolkit, visit her site at Get More Clients Online . Read about running an online biz at our blog, Get More Clients Online Blog.