While a solo practitioner may not necessarily be an introvert, having your practice certainly comes with its fair share of lonely nights. According to Beth Buelow, introverts can be ideally suited to a career in law, due their preference for solitary research and writing so it should come as no surprise that many solo practitioners identify themselves this way.
Whether or not you consider yourself an introvert, the alone time necessary to be a solo practitioner can make meeting people, boosting your contact list, and general networking a bit more intimidating. Luckily, you are not alone. Experts on introverts, entrepreneurship, and networking have weighed in many times on the best paths to painless networking. These tips can help anyone meet the right people without sounding or feeling phony or uncomfortable.
Preparation is Key
One thing that can help turn an uncomfortable networking situation into a productive one is preparation. And this doesn’t just mean making a mental note of the nearest exit. If you are attending a large networking event or conference, make an effort to find out who will be there ahead of time and scheduled time to meet with them, if possible. This will give you incentive to actually show up and peace of mind that you won’t be standing around alone, staring at your smartphone.
Play to Your Strengths
If you find yourself most at home with a large group of strangers, making them laugh and pontificating on your practice, this article probably isn’t for you. But if you’re among the millions of people who find striking up a conversation with a complete stranger to be only slightly preferable to lighting your hair on fire, it is a good idea to play to your strengths and not force the issue. Many people whoa re uncomfortable networking are really good listeners. Believe it or not, this can be a truly valuable networking skill. Karl Stark and Bill Stewart, managing directors and co-founders of strategic advisory firm Avondale, note, “most people enjoy talking about their job, their life and their concerns, and will gladly lead the conversation if you let them. Empathize with and actively listen to your conversational partner, and you may have a great networking conversation without saying more than a few dozen words.”
Just because you are a solo practitioner doesn’t mean you always have to be on your own. Next time you have a networking opportunity, try to enlist a friend to come with you. Having a “wingman” who is familiar can help you to feel more comfortable and confident. Entrepreneur and Forbes contributor J. Maureen Henderson advises that you “choose someone who is happy to make intros and grease the conversational wheels, but knows enough not to hog every spotlight and will happily stand back and let you shine.”
Make a Friend
One of the most exhausting things about trying to make business contacts is feeling like you have to be “on” at all times. The good news is, that’s not the only way to network. In fact, it will serve your practice much better if you make an effort to make a friend before you make a sale. Get the dollar signs out of your eyes and approach networking as a chance to meet new people with whom you share common interests. The result will be more genuine conversation and stronger relationships. From these personal connections, business connections will come naturally.
Listen to Yourself
Perhaps the most important advice for a reluctant networker is to listen to yourself. While it is important to make the time to meet people and develop your business, you don’t have to attend every event. And when you do attend, don’t beat yourself up if you decide to arrive a little late or slip our a little early. Not everyone thrives in the networking environment and while stepping out your comfort zone can be helpful, setting up camp there is going to hurt you in the long run.
Whether you’re an introvert at heart or just someone whose networking skills are a little rusty, practicing your networking skills can have huge rewards. When you are comfortable meeting new people and building relationships in a business environment, you will quickly see your practice begin to thrive.