How to Network As An Introverted Small Business Owner

How to Network As An Introverted Small Business Owner

Do you hate the idea of "networking"? Me too! That word conjures up images of salesmen, business cards, and firm handshakes. As an introvert, the idea of giving anyone the "hard sell" makes me want to throw up. I'm slowly learning how to overcome this so that I feel more comfortable getting my brand out there. No one is going to be more passionate about what I do than me, and it's time for me to make that known!

I generally avoid approaching other people, especially more “established” artists. Due to a few previous experiences, I always have it in my head that people won’t remember me, even though I definitely remember them and/or their artwork. The unlock for me: changing my mindset. Instead of "networking", I focus on "connecting to a community". Since creating community is at the core of what I care about, it has been a lot easier to try and introduce myself to people. This simple shift in perspective reminds me that I belong in the space that I am in, and that it is okay to take up space.

I decided to push myself to really embrace this idea of connecting with community at an event I had a booth at in March, the SJ Made Friend Fest.

Sticker Swapping

Did you know: stickers are the friendship bracelet of today's small art vendors!

I learned this when I had a happy accident - my sticker supplier sent me a few more stickers than I had actually ordered. I decided to take the extras and give them out to other vendors, both ones I had met before and those that I hadn't met before. Many of them seemed genuinely excited to receive one of my designs.

I 100% did not expect to receive anything in return, but I ended up with a nice little haul of stickers from other vendors! I was not able to make my way to give out stickers to all of the people that I wanted to, but hopefully I will see them at future events.

Swapping stickers gave me a reason to approach people, which is often the hardest step for me.

Scavenger Hunt

I also participated in an activity that ended up fostering friendships with both customers and fellow vendors. Two of my friends spearheaded a Friend Fest Scavenger Hunt. Participants had to find all 12 participating booths and collect stamps from them, then turn their card in to receive an adorable button pin, designed by Chanamon Ratanalert. Plus, everyone was entered into a drawing to win a gift pack from all of the participating vendors.

This brought some people to my booth who might not have otherwise stopped by - we gave out over 500 scavenger hunt cards - and since they had to interact with me to ask for a stamp, that gave me lots of practice with talking to potential customers. I'd be willing to bet, most of these people had no idea about me before this. In the context of the other vendors who were also in the scavenger hunt, my product offerings were really unique, so I hope that I made a good impression.

I understand that not every single person is going to buy from me right now, but I can still build a relationship with them. You never know who might end up being your next commission or a future collaborator!

I also printed out a "I'm a participating booth" sign for all of the vendors who were in on the scavenger hunt, so I got to go around and drop them off right before opening; this allowed me to put some more faces to names and vice versa. It's likely that I would not have introduced myself to those people had I not had a reason to. 

Hop Ons

One thing that I’ve stumbled onto is simply introducing myself to the people that are already talking to a vendor friend when I go by their booth.

I used to be like “Ope, this person is far too busy talking to someone much more important to me, I’ll come back later."

Please tell me I am not the only one who feels like this!

I am trying to at least say hello, and immediately introduce myself to whoever else is around. Then I feel out how I'm being recieved and decide whether to leave them alone or continue to engage with them. This is how I ended up meeting and talking to Alecia from Lulu Bean Boutiques in person. She had stopped by to speak with Jasmine from The Knotty Corgi, one of the vendors who participated in the scavenger hunt. We had a lot to talk about, and I felt like I made a genuine connection with her!

In my brain, I now call this tactic the "hop on" technique, which is a reference to a bit on the 2000s TV show, Arrested Development. 

Breaking Bread

A few of the people in a vendor chat group I’m a part of decided to organize a dinner meet up after the first day of the event. In retrospect, I feel like I was terrible company because I was SO tired from the day.

I think all of us were probably tired from setting up our booths and selling things all day, so it's likely I was not the only one who wished they were a little more lively. Still, I was able to put some faces to names, and we talked about our smol biz life (it's so nice when someone can relate to your challenges!) as well as our interests outside of selling stuff.

If you decide to do something similar, I have a couple of tips for you:

When deciding where to meet up for a meal with a larger group, pick something that can fit a variety of budgets and dietary restrictions. We chose to meet up at a food court in a mall, which allowed everyone to get what they wanted and without having to figure out how to split a check. Other flexible options include a coffee/tea shop for a more casual hang out, or a place with a few food trucks. If your group is smaller (less than 8 people), a restaurant would work fine, but with larger groups it can get a bit unwieldy.

The second thing to consider is your environment. If you want to talk and get to know people, don't choose a trendy restaurant that is loud and crowded. We made the mistake of choosing a location that was very busy, so while we were able to find a place that was pretty quiet within the mall, the overall environment was still a bit chaotic. It took me ten minutes just to get into the dang parking lot! 

Is This Working?

I have a tendency to be pretty hard on myself (hence the "I'm super forgettable" self talk), so I wasn't sure if pushing myself to get outside my comfort zone was having any effect. Upon reflection, I think I am growing in the right direction.

During a "hop on" conversation, someone actually said “oh, you have the business with the cool orange logo!” and I was like “oh….maybe people do remember me!” As dumb as it sounds, my default is to believe that I've gotten lost in the crowd. Every time I'm proven wrong helps me to realize that I am not forgettable.

Another person that I met on Saturday came back to my booth on Sunday and called me by name, more evidence that people do, in fact, remember me. My journey in self-confidence is ongoing, but I do feel that I made some progress in the right direction during this event.

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