Argh! Networking. The bane of introverts everywhere. For some, just mentioning the word “networking” can lead to cold sweats, hyperventilation, and a mad dash for the most secluded table at the local coffee shop or the basement. This natural reaction to the prospect of spending time talking to complete strangers is probably related to the fight or flight reflex that has preserved humanity for its existence, but when it comes to building a photography business, it becomes problematic.
So, how can an accomplished introvert overcome the natural instincts that keep us safe? That’s what we’re going to discuss for today. Take notes and apply what we discuss as soon as possible! (Maybe WPPI this week?)
Examine Your Motives
A big part of networking is learning exactly how you should approach it. Most often, networking is spoken of in terms of how it can help YOU accomplish a goal, build a clientele, grow your influence, etc. Obviously, everyone wants their efforts to result in these outcomes, but you have to ensure your motives are not completely selfish. If you go into a networking (or mentoring) relationship completely focused on how the other person can help you accomplish your goals, you are destined to fail and ruin what could be a fantastic connection.
Tip #1 for Networking: You must clarify your motives and relegate your primary drives to #2 on your priority list. What’s number one?
Help Others First
My dad has told me countless times (and I’m pretty sure he heard someone else tell him), “If you help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.” He’s proven the accuracy of this statement with his business success and I am finally starting to understand the lesson enough to start implementing it in my life. For the longest time, I avoided networking with a fervent passion because I didn’t want to feel like I was taking advantage of people. Once I made the switch and began interacting with people in an effort to make their goals attainable, I started making valuable connections and my trepidation subsided. Switch your focus and think about your relationships with people from a different perspective. Think about how you can help them achieve their goals and talk to them about it!
Tip #2 for Networking: Help enough other people get what they want, and you’ll get what you want. Go against the “every man for himself” mentality and work to help others succeed. I think you’ll be surprised at the positive things that will happen to you as a result!
Prepare Yourself Mentally
Now that you have an overarching strategy, how do you put this into practice? Much like marketing, you have to determine your target market. If you are going into a networking meeting or happy hour, determine (as best you can) who will be there and what you want to accomplish. Who do you want to meet? What types of connections are best for you? Once you have a general idea of who will be there and what connections you would like to make, think through it. For me, it helps to mentally visualize the conversation and work through possible questions, topics, and just give myself a mental pep talk. Taking the time to take a mental “breath” prior to going into a scenario like this is certainly invaluable.
Side note: Do the same with your appearance. Like it or not (and I don’t), we are judged by our appearance. So, dress in something you feel comfortable and confident in that represents you and your brand well. It’s important to take away any excuses or distractions that might interfere with your mental game.
Tip #3 for Networking: Look your best and take a mental “breath” to visualize your conversations and role play your interactions.
Find the Fun
Now that you are in the midst of those you want to connect with, relax as much as you can. There’s not much that’s more disconcerting that a conversation with someone that looks like they are going to bolt for the door at any second. If you are the super nervous type, take some time to find a quiet spot in the room and get a feel for how things are flowing. Eavesdrop on others’ interactions and use what you hear to ease into your own introductions. Find a drink (if appropriate) and sip on it from time to time to distract yourself from your nerves and to give your LEFT hand something to do. Just like in the movies, keep your right hand free for handshakes.
Ultimately, this step comes down to you. Find a way to distract yourself from your introverted tendencies and preferences. See how many people you can meet, play a silly word association game to help remember people’s names (Loopy Larry, Tall Tom, etc.), keep an internal dialogue going to keep yourself focused, pretend to be James Bond, whatever! Just work toward enjoying this short period of time while you make connections that can completely change the course of your business or endeavors for the better! As a fellow human suffering (not really) from introverted tendencies, it is important to realize the importance of networking and to find a way to make it tolerable enough to do on a regular basis. Besides, you know that once the event or meeting is over, you can retreat to the safety of home with your favorite TV show, book, or beverage. You’ll survive!
Tip #4 for Networking: Have fun! Find the interesting stories and people around you, work hard at it and the results WILL come.
Keep Your Goals in Mind
What are your goals? Promotion? New job? Successful photography studio? We’ve all probably heard the phrase that it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Making the right connections via networking can put your career on the fast track, skyrocket your photography business to heights you never expected, or help you meet that guy or gal of your dreams. It might seem pat or cheesy, but it is true nonetheless.
Tip #5 for Networking: Focus on what you want to accomplish, find the people that will help you accomplish those goals, and then help THEM accomplish THEIRS!
If you do this consistently (without stopping!), you will eventually help the right person with the right connection that can help move you closer to your goal. So connect with your fellow photographers in the SLR Lounge Photography Community, get involved in local organizations, meet another photographer (yes, even a competitor) for lunch. It will be worth it!
What are some of your favorite ways to overcome reluctance to interact or nerves in a networking situation? Help the rest of us out and share it in the comments!
CREDITS: These INCREDIBLE photographs by Sunshine & Reign Photography are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.