If you need to find clients or collaborators for your self-employed career, filling your calendar with conferences and local meetups seems like good advice. But while it can build valuable working relationships, it’s also a challenge if you’re introverted. So how can introverts cope at freelance networking events?
Around one third of the UK population are estimated to be introverts. And that percentage is likely to be higher among freelancers, due to the appeal of working alone at home rather than in a busy office. Introverts tend to do their best work alone, prefer small groups of close friends, and find new people and large crowds draining. It’s often mistakenly associated with being shy or socially awkward, but is completely separate.
You may be introverted but able to cope perfectly well with networking events, or choose to run a successful freelancing business by removing them entirely from your promotional plans. But if you do find them challenging, the following tips may help to make freelance events more manageable.
Embrace being an introvert
There’s no stigma associated with being an introvert, extravert, or an ambivert (able to switch effortlessly being the two). But when you identify and accept which type of personality is most like your own, it’s easier to make the most of the advantages it can offer.
Introverts tend to be more empathetic and focused on long-term relationship building, so that’s where you should focus your energy, rather than trying to work the room making quick connections.
If you find networking events physically and emotionally draining, then it’s best to plan time in your diary to rest and recharge.
Make use of extravert friends
Introductions and small talk can be awkward for anyone. But if you can partner with an extravert friend, they’re able to start conversations, which are easier for you to continue. It also means you can share your contacts with each other, growing your network more quickly.
Just make sure you don’t give into the temptation of safely chatting with your friend throughout the event, or following them around the entire time.
Research the event
Being prepared will help with shyness or anxiety as well as introversion. It’s reassuring to know how long an event will last, the available facilities, and who the hosts and attendees might be. It also means you can ensure you’re on time, and know where to go when you arrive.
This also lets you choose events which might be more manageable, especially to start with. Smaller local meetups and workshops will be more casual and less intimidating. Or look for networking which is combined with a fun activity, which automatically gives you something else to focus on, and talk about.
Set realistic and manageable goals
Having an objective in mind will give you a clear purpose and topic to talk about. And by limiting the number of people you want to connect with, you can keep things manageable without exhausting yourself. Researching the attendees means you’ll already have a good idea of the people you need to speak to.
Concentrating on a smaller number of people also gives you the opportunity to suggest one-to-one conversations rather than trying to chat in larger groups. Which is likely to be more comfortable for you, and more productive. Networking can also take a long time to show results, so don’t expect to walk away with signed contracts when the event ends.
Practice your freelance pitch and asking questions
It’s easy to forget to share important details when you’re focused on a conversation. So, it’s worth practising talking about your business to ensure you remember the key points including what you do, who you work with, and the problems you can solve.
And if you do need a chance to regroup your thoughts, make sure to ask questions. Introverts tend towards being empathetic and good listeners, and it shows interest in the person you’re chatting with. You can always prepare a few relevant enquiries before the event, so you have something ready to ask.
Have an exit plan as a back-up
Even if you don’t use it, having a prepared alibi for leaving early can be reassuring. It’s particularly useful if you’re relying on sharing a lift home, and want to signal to your driver that you’d like to end things without causing any unintentional offence to the event hosts.
Keep a positive mindset
Smiling and being positive will help you appear approachable, and encourage others to start conversations. By contrast, if you’re constantly having a negative internal monologue with yourself, other people in the room will pick up on it.
It can be easy to become self-deprecating and put yourself down, but try to project confidence in your business, skills and experience to encourage others to do the same.
Give yourself space to rest and recharge
If you know a networking event will drain your energy, try to schedule time off, or work which you’ll find less challenging to give yourself time to relax and re-energise.
You can also reward yourself, whether that’s with a walk, reading a book, watching TV or a sweet treat. Whatever helps you to get through any stressful or uncomfortable situations by having something to look forward to.
Follow up and book your next event
Make sure that you respond to any new connections you’ve made in a timely fashion. There’s nothing worse than realising you forgot to contact a potential new client, or valuable collaborator, when you spot their business card on your desk six months later.
You don’t have to pitch them or try to nail down a contract. Simply thanking them for their time and sharing something relevant to your conversation will help to build the relationship.
And make sure to book your next event. It can be in weeks or months depending on how long you need to recharge and prepare, but having the booking in place will help you maintain momentum and consistency.