Networking for introverts (whatever that means)
Avoid Hail Mary attempts at asking for help. Follow these simple ideas instead.
You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time around.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Your network is your net worth.
These aphorisms aim for the same truth: your close relationships and network of acquaintances in life make a big impact.
For some, social stuff is easy and natural. For others, it’s a challenge.
For the purposes of this post, an introvert is challenged by novel and/or sustained social situations.
This covers everyone from those who prefer a night with their cat over a crowded bar, to those who talk for hours about their favorite board game but shake at the idea of starting a conversation at the grocery store.
The reason I’m lumping these personality types and preferences together is because networking in 2022 is not one thing. This post addresses an outcome people want - building and maintaining professional relationships - not one method of getting there.
The main challenges people have with networking are:
They feel uncomfortable at traditional networking events
They don’t know how to strike up conversations, in person or digitally
They’re not sure how to keep in touch with people if they do form a connection
When you get more specific, though, the challenges involve three processes:
Starting a relationship
Building a relationship
Maintaining a relationship
I have experienced all of these challenges, failed countless times, and have had to get creative and find non-traditional ways of connecting with people to get around whatever self-imposed social limitations I found myself with at the beginning of my journey to develop my career and then change to a new one.
You’ll notice that these ideas are not in the moment tricks or hacks (e.g. repeat someone’s name X times), but instead different approaches to networking all together.
I find that in many areas of life it is better to play a completely different game than it is to try to inch your way forward in a game played by millions of others.
Start relationships by making lists of ideas and sending them to people (not as crazy as it sounds)
This idea is all about serendipity, or the off-chance that something cool can happen by following a process. It is not a guarantee of any result.
Side note: Before starting this publication I didn’t realize how much of an influence James Altucher’s ideas have had on how I approach work, but such is the benefit of long form writing. You realize things about yourself you didn’t know before.
Anyway, one of Altucher’s ideas I’ve used for networking and non-networking purposes is his simple suggestion to list 10 ideas per day. He calls this building your idea muscle, becoming an idea machine, making your brain sweat, and a few other images/metaphors that are accurate and helpful in understanding the purpose of the activity.
It’s this simple: you pick a topic and list 10 ideas about it. Do it everyday. If you have a specific goal in mind, like improving at work, or starting a business, you can make the ideas relevant to that. But picking random topics (“10 sitcom scenes I have lived in real life”) is also valuable for forcing yourself to produce. You’ll notice the process is easy until idea 6 or 7. Then you need to push harder to get to 10.
How to use the 10 ideas per day activity for networking
To use this activity for networking, pick a topic for your ideas that might be relevant and valuable to someone you want to connect with. Make your list of ideas, then find a way to share this list with the person. This will also let you practice finding someone’s contact information, which is a separate but valuable professional skill. Then, you guessed it, send the list of ideas to them.
Below is a screenshot from an email I sent several years ago to someone at the company GoGuardian. This didn’t lead to anything, but it is an example of the process. Other times, I’ve shared lists and the recipient was curious enough to reply, and other times they suggested we get on a call to talk more. From there, it’s up to you to keep in touch in an authentic and sincere way.
As with any social interaction, you can mis- or overuse this. Don’t follow-up incessantly (maybe not at all). Definitely don’t spam people with a list of ideas that are general. And don’t make it at all about you.
Build relationships by doing an interview series (podcast, email, social)
The podcast, or any other interview series, is a gift to those who struggle with casual conversation.
Because most people don’t associate this with networking, I’ll list out some of the benefits.
Benefits for the guest
Free exposure. Even if your following is small (or non-existent), asking a guest good questions still provides them value. Your getting them to squeeze out some new thinking on topics important to them or their business.
Content. If you do this right, you’ll produce something they or their marketing team can use in content and campaigns.
Benefits for you, the interviewer
Self-awareness. You will become much more aware of your patterns of speech, and you will correct annoying habits and verbal tics.
Listening. You will learn to listen when people talk and respond to their content and emotion, instead of planning your next question.
Audience. If you stick with it, you will build up an audience of listeners, who are now all officially part of your “network.”
These are the soft benefits of starting the podcast.
The real benefits comes from your decision of guests to interview.
Imagine this: a list of 25 interesting people in your field, hobby, or industry. You not only have found a way to catch their attention, but you have an hour set aside to talk to them about whatever you want. At the end, they’re responding to your follow-up email saying “thanks! That was great! Let’s keep in touch.”
This is what happens if you start a podcast or interview series in your industry and do a good job in producing it. It is the fastest, most win-win way to expand your network to include people who you otherwise could not reach.
I’ll write more about the process of starting and operating the podcast in an upcoming post. But I know one of the initial questions is “how do you get guests?” Don’t overthink this. I sent a bunch of emails with the subject line “Want to come on my podcast?” to the first set of guests, and made it clear that the show did not even exist yet!
Here’s the first email I sent out:
Disclaimer: the tools for recording, editing and distributing a podcast have never been cheaper or more widely available. However, there is a major difference between audio and other media. If you’re posting text, images, or video online, you can get away with the quality being low. In many cases, there is even a desired aesthetic based around some level of sketchiness to the quality. This is not the case with audio. You will hurt people’s ears and turn them away if you produce a podcast with garbage audio quality. So there is a minimum barrier to entry.
What I mean by “interview series”
You can apply this same approach to other channels. Email people one question and share the answers on your social account. Do text-based interviews, or transcribe the audio, and post in on your blog or newsletter. Do Zoom calls and post them on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. Start with the absolute basics and scale up.
Maintain relationships by introducing people, using the double opt-in method
Lots of advice about networking will say to keep in touch or follow up with people after you make an initial connection. The obvious question here is “follow up about what?” and this is a reasonable question. Some people do this naturally by reaching out with a relevant link or article that they believe another person will find valuable. Some people do this in a spammy way by happening to reach out just in time to promote their new thing.
There is another approach we can do, that might not lead to as many instances of keeping in touch, but will lead to more good will built and even more value created for the world.
Think of this: introducing two people who end up doing business together or forming a friendship is one of the greatest ROI actions you can do. With a simple email, you can alter the course of someone’s life. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Use this information to your advantage.
When you see an opportunity to make a connection between two people, introduce them using the double opt-in method.
The "double opt-in" part means you need to check with both people first.
I don't like when somebody introduces me to another person without checking with me first. So I don't do that to other people and don't recommend it.
This will backfire if you give people to-dos
I think you have to feel it out a bit and decide how open some people will be to connect with others. If someone is doing a job search, for example, they will be more likely to want to connect with lots of people, for practically any reason, hoping it leads to a job lead. If someone is a new parent, just started a new job, and busy coaching their kid’s soccer team, they may not have the time and interest for agenda-less chats.
In these cases, save your introductions for when you think there is a specific and valuable reason to introduce them to another person. What you want to avoid is introducing two people, and one or more of them feeling like you’ve just created an obligation or to-do for them. Instead, they should feel like they’ve had a tiny gift given to them, or at least had a kind act done with them in mind.
None of this works without kindness and respect
The purpose of sharing these ideas is not to provide tricks for manipulating people. It’s to share starting points that may make you feel more comfortable reaching out.
One concern with writing a post like this is that it will attract people who are looking to connect with other people for a short-term benefit. I’ve received DMs from people who seem to be in a frenzied state asking to get in touch with somebody for public relations, investing, or user-testing purposes.
This is not the time to use these strategies. However, if you use these kinds of strategies, or your own way to build relationships with people online and in person, you won’t have to rely on last-minute Hail Marys when you have a big ask to make. You’ll have a bunch of people you can reach out to who would be happy to help.
Great article, Gerard! I consider myself an extrovert and still found this helpful. I read a lot about professional improvement and networking and found new ideas that I hadn't seen before. Cheers.