Word of mouth is one of the most powerful and inexpensive means of marketing.
According to a recent poll by Alignable, an online small business referral network, word-of-mouth referrals are the most effective way to drive local business. That means the best way to increase those referrals is by creating a strong network of people who trust you and are willing to recommend you.
Not only does that net you those prized referrals, but a good network can also help you move your career forward in multiple ways, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a salesperson or an employee. It can shed light on a world of new possibilities you never even knew existed, such as new clients, job openings, or even mentors who can help you succeed.
For extroverts, this is great news because it means their superpower (a.k.a. talking to people) is going to help propel them to success.
But for introverts who clam up at the sight of a room full of people, it can feel like another hurdle on their road to success.
To help all those dismayed at the thought of networking make those first steps, we’re going to cover a few ways you, as an introvert, can start building those relationships without trying to become an extrovert.
What is a referral network?
Traditionally, a referral network is a web of connections with people and organizations that recommend business to each other. This can take the form of a formalized or a more informal network.
A formal referral network is a group of business owners or salespeople who have agreed to refer clients to members of their group. Many BNIs fall into this category, and they often require members to refer a certain number of new clients each month.
An informal referral network is simply a web of natural relationships an entrepreneur (or salespeople, business owners etc.) has made through business ventures, sales or other daily interactions.
For introverts, a formal referral network seems like the easiest answer – you simply sign up and get the benefits of that all-powerful network. However, this also means you’re locked into a network that may or may not meet those other needs mentioned above, such as finding a mentor. You may also find yourself on the hook for referring people who trust you to people you don’t fully trust. While these formal networks can be helpful, they are not as useful as more natural networks.
With an informal referral network, you meet people organically – people who may be adjacent to your industry, who you find interesting, or who already do business with you – and that kind of network can bring extra value.
Tips to create a strong, informal referral network
The first step in creating any relationship is to get out of the house (or office) and into the real world. Once out there, you don’t have to compete with the ever-talkative extroverts. All you need to do is find an industry-specific meetup or other gathering that interests you and be there every time. After a while, people will start to recognize you, and you’ll be more comfortable. You’ll also have a better idea of the people you want to pursue, and those who might not be as attractive to you. Then, conversations can start happening a little more naturally.
After finding those gatherings that will serve you best, do your best to serve them.
While you may not want to wade into a group of people and start chatting, showing up early to set up, or staying late to help organizers takedown allows you to engage with fewer people, and also start creating relationships without talking.
When you set out to create a network, it’s easy to get stuck in a transactional mindset – as if all you want from everyone around you is for them to refer business your way. That can feel like sales, which is often an Achilles heel for introverts. However, building a referral network isn’t sales – it’s building relationships.
Start by inviting people out to coffee and have a real conversation. Maybe you’ll talk about business, but it’s just as valuable to talk about everything else in life. Find out where you can add value to their life, or put them in touch with someone who can, and you will add strength to this budding relationship.
Stay in touch
Once you’ve made that first touchpoint, make sure to stay involved with people. Get the contact information of everyone you talk to, and then follow through and actually contact them. Don’t worry about seeming overeager or cooking up some reason why you need to talk to them, just send a simple, one-sentence message to say ‘Hi, it was nice to meet you.
Then, make sure to keep those contacts engaged. One great way to do that is to celebrate any professional wins by taking one of those people out to lunch. Not only does it allow you to strengthen your network, but it also gives you a chance to celebrate life’s big moments which can encourage you, too.
Finally, when someone does refer you, make sure you follow through, reach out and stick to your word. The fastest way to sink any relationship is to fail them in their time of need.
When you make your contacts look good, they won’t soon forget it and will be even more liable to refer you in the future.
A few tips to make conversation easier
There are few things more draining to many introverts than starting a conversation with a stranger. So, here are a couple of tips to get through that dreaded first meeting with fewer awkward pauses:
- Almost everyone likes to talk about what matters to them the most – which is often ourselves and our experiences. So, when the conversation hits that inevitable lull, stop worrying and start asking the other person questions about themselves.
- If you don’t know how to exit a conversation elegantly, let your phone do the hard work. Set a timer for three minutes before talking to someone. When it goes off, excuse yourself by saying you have to deal with something on your phone. Or, if everything’s going well, ignore it and keep talking.
- Breath through it. If you’re uncomfortable, chances are, it’s worse in your mind than it actually is. Give yourself mental pep talks (even when you’re in the middle of a conversation!), telling yourself, “You got this.” Soon you’ll calm your mind, and get into the rhythm of the conversation.