Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is known for launching cars and rockets – sometimes cars in rockets. He described himself as an "introverted engineer" and added, "It took a lot of practice and effort to get on stage and not just basically stammer … As a CEO you kind of have to."
Other hugely successful business people, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, are also considered introverts, which seems to go against the public demands of them (and others in similar positions). Their roles require them to stand there, build relationships and networks.
That such titans of the industry have been successful shows that introverts are able both to put their best foot forward when the situation calls for it and to build their personal brands. They just do it differently than extroverts.
Introverts are more methodical, follow a plan, and build their networks one at a time.
Here are four lessons that successful introverts can learn through networking.
1. Build on your current network
Micah Baldwin, a self-described introvert and executive director of Seattle-based entrepreneurship center Create33, told Huffpost that when touring a space at a business conference, he divides people into three groups: friends, people he wants to meet, and people he does Not. He attracts his friends in the hope that they will know the people he wants to connect with.
The lesson here is simple: your current network can serve as a foundation on which to build. Start with former co-workers or classmates who you haven't spoken to in a while, whether they're old bosses, alums, or neighbors. Get in touch. Find out what they are doing. You don't have to start over just because you've decided to take networking seriously. Use the snowball philosophy: take advantage of the small network you already have, maintain it, and gradually build it into a massive, dense list of high quality connections.
Researchers who wrote a Thomson Reuters white paper found that one of the most important success factors is the ability to strategically network. Instead of hosing down everyone they meet with business cards and banalities, the most successful people take the initiative to methodically search for potentially important contacts.
Baldwin has a proven approach in reaching out to a friend who is familiar with a desired connection. First, he selects his friend's brain to learn more about the contact so that he can have the most informed conversation possible. Second, he keeps the conversation with the new connection short, hoping to continue it in a smaller location at some point. Lastly, he leaves the conference after only making a new acquaintance or two, since introverts only have enough stomach for such interactions.
There is a significant difference between business card sharing and strategy-driven networks like Baldwins. The latter means building mutually beneficial relationships that you want to work on. You need intent and focus, but at some point the effort will pay off.
Before you start networking, you need to know what you want – this is how you are narrowing your list. Connect with people who can teach you something. Be ready to learn and grow. Spend time with people you enjoy and who share common goals.
3. Be proactive
Notice how the word "work" goes in "network"? You have to work in real time if you want to build a robust network. A strong relationship requires communication, patience, and trust, with the final piece being a combination of the first two.
You can't build trust overnight. It takes time and constant communication. But once it's in place, you will know that you have a strong relationship.
Karen Wickre, co-founder of Newsgeist, who has also worked at Twitter and Google, recommends staying in touch with various contacts over time – sending a text here and an email there – to keep lines of communication open. The example she offers is a PR guy she met through a former Google colleague. The two only had one face-to-face meeting, but they stayed in touch, which over time led to a business opportunity for Wickre.
Investors enjoy working with companies they know, but not necessarily because of nepotism, notes Evan Baehr. "Investors in early-stage companies don't just evaluate your business acumen," he writes. "They also evaluate your personal characteristics." If it's your first meeting and you're already asking for money, it can affect a potentially good relationship. The best time to meet potential future investors is when you are not raising money.
If you do decide to start building your network, beware of the temptation to focus your job on people who are just like you. Be ready to explore new areas. Effective networking is not just about finding common interests. It means meeting new and different people, which can potentially get you out of your comfort zone.
A research report from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business said: "Indeed, it may not be who or what you know who creates an advantage, but more simply who you become when you depend – the disadvantaged with people like yourself, while the beneficiaries engage people with different opinions and practices. "
You're not looking for your next best friend; You are looking for people with whom you can grow professionally. That said, you need something to bring to the table for the other party. Networking is not a one-way street. You want it to be mutually beneficial. And as you build your network, your connectedness in and of itself can be valuable to the relationship: people will admire you not only for what you do, but also for who you know.