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How to Network--Even if You're an Introvert

How to Network--Even if You're an Introvert

Kristi Hedges |

Let me start by saying that I’m not an extrovert. Every personality assessment I’ve ever taken spits out results that say I’m “in my head” or a “thinker.” In other words, an introvert.

And I’ve built my career on networking. It’s opened doors for me, given me critical advice and, when I became an entrepreneur, developed millions of dollars in business for my company.

Most of us already know we should be doing it more, but we don’t make the time because it’s often uncomfortable.

So for all you analytical types, the subject matter experts, the operationally minded or even the just, plain shy—take heart. You, too, can be a great networker, and here’s how:

1. Use a broad definition of networking.

It’s not just about generating sales. Networking yields market intelligence, business advice, new hires and leadership guidance, for starters. You can network with former and current customers, business associates, service providers—even competitors.

Many people lament having to find time for business development “in addition to my real job.” I would argue that as the entrepreneur, networking is your real job. If we consider the information and connections gained through networking as part of the client service we offer, then it’s not a matter of whether to do it, but how to do it. You start looking at it as a critical competence of your company.

For example, you might keep in touch with a reporter who covers the defense industry to keep abreast of developing trends you can share with your defense contractor client.

Of course, networking with non-clients is also important to help you resolve a host of company issues, including your leadership style and competitive positioning.

2. Honor reciprocity.

There is a currency to good networking relationships, or a give and take. Sometimes you give me leads and I give you leads. Other times it’s different but equally valuable, such as I give you information and you give me introductions. When someone does something for you, look for an opportunity to pay her back. It doesn’t matter if you’re transferring the same thing; it just has to be balanced and valuable to both parties.

If you’re just starting and don’t have much to offer, be sure to show appreciation and follow up to let the other person know what became of her advice or introductions. People are willing to help when they feel it’s appreciated.