In high school, when my friends and I would go to a restaurant, we’d give our name to the hostess as Papa. We’d clutch our stomachs with laughter when it was our turn to be seated and the hostess called out Papa-party of 5, your table is ready!
Well, guess what? As a freelancer, you’re a pa-pa-party of 1 and that means everything in your business falls on you. Your brand image, your sales, your work product, your marketing message. You’re it! In order to find new business and generate leads, you’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to network.
If you’re an introvert, the idea of going to a networking event might make you seize up with anxiety or give you sweaty armpits. Even if you’re an introvert that doesn’t cringe in a crowd, the idea of “putting yourself out there” may still give you the dreads and make you leery about showing up at a live event.
The good news is: You’re an introverted freelancer, but you’re not alone.
In this article, I’ll share with you some strategies to help you not only survive your next networking event but also walk away feeling like a boss (albeit a boss that needs a break from humanity).
4 Things an Introverted Freelancer Can Do to Survive (and Thrive at) the Next Networking Event
Networking, according to author Derek Coburn, is any activity that increases the value of your network and/or the value you contribute to it. It’s not about passing out (and collecting) as many business cards as you can. That’s old-school and largely ineffective.
The type of networking that’ll help grow your business is based around forming relationships. Your success is tied to your ability to interact with other people trying to do the same things as you (i.e. grow their businesses).
“Every relationship, every opportunity starts with making a connection.” — Carrie Dils (yep me)
Relationships happen with time, but they start with connections and the next networking event you go to is where you’ll make that first contact.
Here are my four tips to ease even the most introverted freelancer into those events.
1. Have an Elevator Pitch
Inevitably, someone will walk up to you at a networking event and ask you what you do. Do you flounder? Do you geek speak so hard that the other person’s eyes glaze over and then they run away? Or do you answer in a way that doesn’t give your listener a chance of formulating a good follow-up question?
You can fix that with an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch simply does three things:
- Tells who you help (your target audience)
- Tells why they need help (their pain points)
- Tells how you help them (your solution)
Let’s look at an example and I’ll use myself as the guinea pig. Go ahead, ask me what I do:
You: Carrie, what do you do?
Me: <You’ve probably met people who hate their day job (pain point) and dream of opening up their own online business (target audience). I help those folks make the leap into full-time self-employment by teaching foundational business skills (solution).
As an introverted freelancer (or maybe just a human?), I have a hard time talking about myself and making myself sound good. That means I’ve struggled for ages to create a solid elevator pitch. But I’ve done it. With a lot of practice you can get comfortable telling other people what you do in a way that both highlights your expertise and helps your listener understand who you serve.
“A primary reason that many service professionals fail to build thriving businesses is that they struggle to articulate–in a clear and compelling way–exactly what solutions and benefits they offer.” –Michael Port, Book Yourself Solid
When people know what you offer and who you serve, they can make referrals!
2. Have a List of Go-to Questions
Finished that elevator pitch and ready to get the focus off of yourself? It’s simple to do.
As an introvert, you’re probably somebody who already has good listening skills. You can leverage those listening skills by keeping the conversation focused on the other person. To do that, all you need is a backpack full of good questions you can use to keep the other person talking.
Now, what do I mean by good questions? Good questions encourage open conversation. They’re open-ended (can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”) and invite people to share about themselves and their work. Good questions frequently result in ideas you can use for follow-up questions.
Here are a few to get you started:
- What brings you to [insert event]?
- What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
- So what do you do with [insert event topic/industry]?
Jot down some additional ideas for questions and review them before you walk out the door to go to the event. Then, if you find yourself in an awkward spot and aren’t sure what to say, grab one of your questions and throw it out there.
3. Scope Out Attendees Ahead of Time
Most networking events or conferences publish an attendee list. Use this to your advantage by skimming the list ahead of time and taking note of the people you’d like to connect with at the event.
Once you’ve identified those people, use social media or LinkedIn to find out a few things about them. I’m not talking about stalking people (no creeps aloud!), but learning a little about the work they do and their areas of expertise.
Then, when you see them at the event, you walk up to them, introduce yourself, and make a personal connection. Let’s look at some examples.
Hey, I’m Carrie. I’ve been super excited to meet you – you’re the whole reason I came to this event. I saw on Instagram that your daughter won her soccer game yesterday. She’s a cutie! Was that your husband in the background?
Hey, I’m Carrie Dils and I wanted to make sure I got to meet you and just say that I think you’re awesome and I enjoy reading your blog.
Hey, I’m Carrie Dils and I wanted to make sure I got to chance to meet you and say hello. I thought your article about surviving networking events was excellent. I coach freelancers and knew this article would resonate with many of them, so I included a link to it in my last newsletter. Thank you.
The bottom line to making a connection here? Show genuine interest in them and appreciate their contribution to [event/industry/topic].
4. Volunteer at the Event
This is one of my favorite tricks. If you’re nervous about attending an event where you don’t know anyone, find the contact info for the organizer and ask them if they need any help.
The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t need help. No problem. But the fact that you asked? That makes a big impression. It also gives you an “intro line” for introducing yourself to the organizer in person:
Hey! I’m Carrie, the one that asked if you needed volunteers. Thanks for all your work putting this together – it’s great. If I can ever help in the future, just let me know! By the way, I don’t know a soul in this room, would you mind introducing me to someone?
So that’s if they don’t need a volunteer. But what if they do? Well, then all of the sudden three things will happen:
- you get to see “behind the scenes”
- you get to meet people before the event
- you have a purpose and increased visibility on the day of the event
When the event rolls around you’re guaranteed to be a little more confident and at ease because you’re an “insider” who’s helped with the event and you’re already familiar with a few faces. You also automatically have something in common with any other volunteers, which makes it easier to connect.
Wrap it Up
How do introverted freelancers make their next networking event a marketing success? Take the time to formulate your elevator pitch, think up some good questions to facilitate conversation, and do a little research on attendees ahead of time. And don’t forget that you can always get an extra boost by volunteering.
Go forth and make great connections!