I have a confession to make.  I am an introvert.  For people with my particular type of personality, networking can be anywhere from exhausting to downright terrifying.  Unfortunately, networking is an essential part of any organizations marketing plan, especially in a town like Savannah where it’s all about who you know.  So, what is a girl to do?  The only thing to do is dive in to the networking pool!  In an effort to help my fellow wallflowers, I’m going to share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way in my networking journey.

Know why you are there and set expectations.

If the thought of walking into a crowded room full of strangers and selling them all on your product or services scares you to death, relax.  That is not what networking is all about.  You are not there to “work the room.”  First of all, not everyone at the event is your customer.  They are not all going to buy from you.  It’s just that simple.  What networking is about is forming relationships, sharing ideas and building connections.  If you happen to meet your “unicorn” client, then great!  But chances are you’re just going to meet some interesting people and learn about their passions and interests.  Every contact is valuable.

It’s about quality, not quantity.

The point of networking is not to “deal” out and collect business cards in a mad dash.  You are not playing a card game.  Take the time to get to know a few people.  Once you have established who you are and what you do, ask them about things that aren’t work related.  What are their hobbies, interests and past times?  Find something that you have in common.  They will remember you for common interests and thoughtful interactions.  Have a few questions prepared ahead of time so that you don’t get flustered in the moment.

Share the wealth

Help others make connections, people will appreciate your generosity and remember you for it.  If you have made quality connections, opportunities to make introductions for others will fall in place.  All of a sudden you have gone from wallflower to super networker!   As I said before, every one you meet has value, even if they are not your ideal customer.  Who knows, maybe they will refer someone to you in the future.

Finish the drill.

So you have successfully negotiated your networking event and made a few quality contacts, now what?  Have a system for appropriate follow up.  It sounds old fashioned, but take notes on business cards.  Ask your new friends how they would like to connect with you outside of the event.  Would they like to receive your newsletter, follow you on Facebook or Twitter, join you on LinkedIn?  Maybe it would be more appropriate to set up a meeting for coffee?  Either way, follow through.  Don’t let a good connection slip away.

Practice Makes Perfect.

As with anything, networking becomes easier the more you do it.  Be consistent with the events you attend.  The more you go, the more people you meet, the smaller the room becomes.  Ultimately networking makes you better at your job and helps you come out of your introvert shell.  Heck, I’m even doing karaoke now!  So, for those of you wallflowers afraid to dip a toe in the networking pool.  Don’t be shy, dive on in, the water is fine.

Liz Overstreet is the Program Coordinator at the UGA Small Business Development Center at Savannah.