How to Network Effectively: For the Shy and Polite

24 AUG 2010

The common wisdom is that entrepreneurs naturally like to meet people. The truth is, most would rather do almost anything else.  While some entrepreneurs are naturally gregarious, the majority seem to dislike networking so much that they will make every effort to avoid the exercise.

Yet, time and again I’ve seen that businesses led by owners who refuse to make new connections struggle rather than succeed.  Customers, strategic partners and key employees must be sought out if a young company is to thrive.

That said, I understand the reluctance people feel when entering a room full of strangers  How do you sift through a mass of people to find those who share common interests, work in similar industries, work toward shared goals?  The truth is, there are tricks and techniques you can master that make it far easier than you imaging.

If you find networking difficult, try the following:

  • Start your networking by joining groups that share your industry, your profession or your market.  You can find these groups on, and by contacting the professional organizations that certify those in your industry.
  • When you join a new group, offer to serve as a volunteer.  Try to be given a job that puts you into direct contact with every member of the group. You’ll find that the person who passes out name tags gets to know everyone.
  • Smile.  Really, it is all going to be Okay.  Networking is what we used to call “play” before we grew up.  It’s finding  group of people doing something interesting and hanging out with them while they do it.  You aren’t looking for true love or deep friendships, though over time you may find both.  You’re just looking for someone to hang out with. If you recall your playground manners, you know you have to be nice to the new kids, avoid the bullies and befriend people with a “Hello”.  “Hi!  My name’s Ted.  I’m a programmer with a start up.  What do you do?”
  • Be able to describe what you do in a sentence. The older you get, the harder that is. Find something interesting to say that gives people a general idea and then assume that you’ll have more time to fill in the blanks.  “I work in steel,” or “I’m a film producer” or “I sell things” are find handshake intros.
  • Have business cards to trade and make sure they have your email address.  One friend I know writes something he thinks will be helpful to everyone he talks to on the back of every card he passes out.  So if he meets someone that would benefit from knowing how to upload lots of videos onto the internet, he writes “ multiple video upload” on the back of his card. He writes the same thing on the back of the card they give him. That makes it easier to reconnect the next day with the folks he like.

Networking is something most entrepreneurs don’t do nearly enough of, and the more you do it the better your business will do.  People deliver opportunities.  It is unlikely that a multi-million pound customer is going to knock on your front door, but its quite likely several of them will be at the next big local trade show for your industry.  Maybe you should be a “regular” at that event for the next few years.  Maybe every week you should find a way to network with a few hundred people in your industry, in your community or among the groups that support your customers.

If you accomplish that objective, and follow the suggestions outlined in this article, I can almost guarantee you’ll pick up lots of new business and many new opportunities in just a few weeks.

  1. Pingback: Technology By Day » How to Network: A Guide for the Shy and Polite | Doug Richard's …

  2. Fantastic article Doug.

    I am a freelance musician/songwriter/illustrator/designer, (amongst many other things), and also lecture on several business and entrepreneurship modules at Swansea Metropolitan University (was at IEEC2010 in Cardiff last week – congratulations on the award – richly deserved).

    I find that, in my role as lecturer (especially with the illustration students), networking is one thing that scares the life out of them.

    I always tell them to start off on a small scale, with the other students in different faculties, and impress on them that they never know where life outside university will take these students – there will be many opportunities to be had in the future if they start networking whilst still in the educational process.

    I stress that networking is essential for any business, and even more so for them as they will inevitably have to go the freelance route if they want to make a career out of their passion. Many of them are under the misconception that all they have to do is create a website showcasing their work, then sit back and wait for the phone to ring!

    If you don’t mind, I would like to use this article as a resource for my teaching in the coming academic year – of course I will provide a link to this site (I also teach my students all about IP, and how it is one of the most important things they will ever own – so would never use someone elses material without the relevant permissions).

    Ian Simmons