7 Tips for Painless Holiday Networking – especially for introverted entrepreneurs

Woman with long brown hair has her face in her hands seated at her desk facing her laptop. She's unhappy with or doesn't like what she sees.

Is this you when you get an email to a holiday mixer?

It’s the holiday season and that means lots of parties and networking opportunities.

Did I just hear you groan?

I get it.

As an introvert, I’ve never liked going to rubber chicken lunches or dinners, sitting next to people I don’t know, and feeling like everyone I was talking to was either trying to impress me with their amazing background or was trying to sell me on working with them.

Most of the time, both of those things.

As if that’s not bad enough, then there are the events we have to go to during the holidays with our significant other.

Theoretically we know these are great opportunities to make connections and we know we need to approach these things with a positive mindset, it’s still hard to muster positive feelings when our past experience has been negative.

Like the time I was at an event and a guy walked up to the group I was in, handed us all his business card (like he was a walking poker dealer), and then just walked away.

Or the time when I got home from an event and discovered 3 people had added me to their newsletter list without asking.

Sigh…

But, you can really turn these events into a positive one (or at least make them less painful) by trying one or more of my favorite strategies.

  1. Set a positive intention. Often we go to these things because we feel we have to or we tell ourselves we haven’t been to anything in a while and the holiday event is when lots of other people (who also haven’t been to anything in a while) will come to. So we really don’t have a good reason to go. Or it’s one of those “duty dates” we go on with our significant other. (That’s what my husband and I call an event one of us attends to support the other one.) My positive intention is typically that I’ll have a good time, eat some good food, and make my husband happy (for those duty dates). For my events, I set the intention that I’ll meet some nice people and learn about what they do.
  2. Set a specific objective. I know there are people who use goal and objective interchangeably but here’s how I differentiate them. An objective is the really big picture goal. “Fill my coaching group” is an example. A goal then is a milepost on the way to reaching the objective. “Have an information session with 20 people” is a goal. Goals are more measurable in my mind. So my objective at an event is to meet good potential referral partners.I always focus on referral partners rather than finding prospective clients because if I can increase the number of good referrals I get it’s like other people are doing my marketing. And no one wants to feel sold to at these events anyway.
  3. Set a reasonable goal. Maybe you want to meet 2 potential referral partners. Or you need a graphic designer. Or you want to learn more about the organization hosting the event. Take some pressure off of yourself and recognize the event is just one small step in the whole process of connecting with people And if you’re going on a “duty date” then maybe your goal is to learn more about the people your significant other works with (because they might be able to refer you to clients or opportunities too).
  4. Wear (or carry) something unique. I’m super uncomfortable approaching people I don’t know and introducing myself. I know…the hallmark of an introvert. I love vintage pins though and have a pretty nice collection. I even have vintage holiday pins from the 1960’s. I always wear a vintage pin — something big and eye catching. Sometimes I’ll carry a really unique handbag (I don’t do both). I also love vintage handbags and have some pretty cool ones, but my favorite one to carry to an event is one that was made from a Sherlock Holmes book.  Someone always comments on the pin or the bag and introduces themselves. Ice broken!
    woman's handbag made from a vintage Sherlock Holmes book

    My Sherlock Holmes handbag. Isn’t it awesome?

  5. Have a couple of versions of your introduction. Please don’t think of this as a commercial. You don’t want to hear one anymore than those you’re talking to do. There are a couple of different styles of introduction you can use. And depending on the group or the type of event you might be limited to just 30 seconds or you might have slightly more time. The best thing to do is to talk in terms of the problems you solve and the people you serve. You probably know you never want to lead with your title. That leaves people to define you based on others they’ve met in your past.You could start with “I..what you do…who you do it for…so they can…”But my favorite way to introduce myself is with my Big Idea.You start out by either stating the problem you solve (“You know how….) or state a belief you have (“I believe..). Then give a short sentence or two (no more) about the impact of that problem. You then talk about the general solution most people try to solve the problem; and transition into a sentence or two about your specific solution.

    Here’s a quick example for a tax accountant:
    “I believe small business owners should definitely pay all the taxes and fees they owe the government. But not a penny more. Entrepreneurs have enough to do trying to run and grow a profitable business. Trying to manage the financial end of things and keep track of when to make tax payments is not something they want to worry about but missing a payment can lead to a big penalty and a lot of stress. They try using an accounting software and may even have a bookkeeper but as the business grows and becomes more complex, more attention and focus is needed specifically on the tax situation. That’s where my firm comes in. We help small businesses of up to 50 employees pay their local, state, and federal taxes easily and without a hassle. And our focus often helps clients save money.”

    If that seems too long for you then try simplifying your introduction to focus on just the problem or just the solution.

    Our accountant would say “My firm helps small businesses save on their taxes.” That would lead someone to say “Wow. How do you do that?”

    And suddenly you’re in a conversation and actually talking about your offerings.

    Just keep your statements brief, and focused on the problem and those you solve it for.

  6. Ask lots of questions. I despise talking about myself. So when I’m at an event I ask as many questions as I can without making a person feel like they’re on 60 Minutes and the clock is ticking. So even if they’ve been asking about you and things are going great, start asking them questions about what they do. Resist the temptation to start grilling them about how they handle the problem you solve. Instead, make a genuine effort to learn about them and their business and what they need. This can lead to a good reason to reach out to them after the event is over.
  7. Follow up. This is the only thing business cards are good for. You can write on them about what you talked about and what you want to follow up with them about. If you use something more high tech…like an app or a notes function in your phone…that’s great. The point is to follow up with them in a way that’s appropriate and encourages a deeper conversation. Focus on sharing something useful like an article or resource that could help them with whatever you two talked about.

If you’re really uncomfortable about going to an event, here are two bonus tips that work for me.

First, reach out to a well-connected friend who may be going and ask him / her to introduce you to specific types of people who will be there. This could be owners of certain types of businesses…people who live near you…etc.

And if you don’t know anyone going, then reach out to the organizer of the event. Explain your situation and ask for them to introduce you to some people to help you break the ice at the event. You could ask them to introduce you to the best connected person in the group or someone they think is a natural connector.

Holiday events can be great opportunities to make new connections for the coming year, so don’t dread them; embrace them. The tips I shared can help you stand out and connect with others easier.

What strategies work for you?

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