I would force myself to go to networking events. These were usually evening affairs with people standing around glasses of wine in hands, making (loud) small talk *shudder*. I would say very little and escape as soon as possible. I really did not understand how doing this would be good for my business! After a handful of attempts I stopped attending.
Over the years I have meet lovely people while freelancing as a pattern cutter and teaching at numerous colleges. I regularly meet other designer makers at shows and markets and at my studio space (initially with LYST and now with Cockpit Arts).
Without realizing it, I have naturally built up a network of contacts through just being my introvert self. In sharp contrast to networking events where I felt people assessed one another, trying to gauge the other person’s usefulness, I keep in contact with these people because I have genuinely enjoyed working with, and getting to know them.
How do my network of contacts help me?
Sometimes it is simple encouragement for what I am doing, other times my contacts can offer advice on where to source equipment or share information they think I may find useful. I know that without my network of contacts I would probably have changed career by now.
I keep in touch with most of my network via social media:
No I do not tell everyone what I ate for breakfast or go in to details about everything that happens to me each day, I not that kind of Facebooker!
I mainly share fashion industry news, and ‘look at this’ links to things I like or things I would discuss with them if we were still working together. Generally if I do have a discussion with a Facebook contact I use private messages, as I am more comfortable with one to interactions, (introvert remember!)
Pinterest J (my favourite)
Sharing pins of things I like and sending my contacts pins of things I think they might like.
Is a more professional format. I share business, education and fashion industry related news.
I often receive requests to connect with people I have never meet which I still find strange. For a while I used to accept their invitations, but I have recently decided to stop. To me, it feels as if a complete stranger has knocked on my studio door and asked to come in and sit down… I say yes, and they just sit there… * shudder*
Oh yes, while we’re here, a pet peeve of mine…
If you decide to create a LinkedIn profile, do it! There is no point in adding your name, with no picture, no details of your specialism(s) or experience.
When I have been nagging – ehem - giving helpful advice, to some of my contacts (lady with over 30 years’ experience as sample machinist yes, I hope your ears are burning!) who have half-heartedly created their LinkedIn profile I have described what they are doing as this:
“..you have set up a market stall with table rails and display props, you have put your name on the stall and then hidden behind a curtain with your stock still packed under the table. When people walk past all they see is your name and an empty display..”
As I said before, networking is not a one size fits all. I only recently realised that I had found a way that suited me, and I am so grateful for my genuine network of contacts and the no-stress method in which I have gained them!
LYST (London Youth Support Trust)
And of course my Blogging pal J .
Further reading on networking and introverts