How I network (as an introvert)

I attended a gathering this week that some have described as a “networking event”.

I’ve been to this particular meetup 3 or 4 times now and, I’ll be honest, it doesn’t feel like networking at all.

That probably says something about the event itself and how it’s run, and those who attend; but, thinking about it a little more, it’s dawned on me that I just don’t do “networking” anymore.

I’ll try my best to explain…

I remember attending events during my years of working in the City, or the so-called “business networking” events I attended when I was dabbled in freelancing.

It all felt very… transactional. Business-y. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of work went into the running of these events, both in putting them together and during the events themselves. I even made some warm connections from these events.

However, there was still an undertone of “business” and “I’m here for myself, and to get clients”, over and above simply connecting for connecting’s sake.

This brings to mind a memory from 7 years ago when, whilst building my first business, I reached out to someone in the States with an invitation. It was someone building a business in the space I was building in, who was further along in the journey. We had exchanged emails here and there over the course of several months, and I thought I’d reach out and propose catching up over a call.

“Hey Jas”, the reply read, “I don’t make it a practice to schedule calls without any purpose.” Or something like that.

Ouch. To be honest, reflecting on it now, I completely understand. If an entrepreneur’s, if anyone’s, day was filled with open-ended, intention-less conversations, I’m not sure many businesses would get built – or many things would get done at all.

If I am being honest, in my heart I did wonder – depending on how such a video conversation might go – if this person might become a mentor of mine. In some ways, he already was.

But, really, this was just someone I’d enjoyed back-n-forthing with over email, and who I was open to connecting with over a call. It speaks to an innate curiosity with, and openness to, other people I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

I recall being like this as a kid, mostly observing other kids (and teachers) during the school day. This interest translated into my first “proper job” as an adult, in a customer services team. And in my second “proper job” as an adult, I would spend many client meetings talking about everything under the sun… and often forgetting to directly address the reason we’d agreed to meet up, until a few minutes from the end of the meeting.

I’m not saying this was wise, or that this approach (if you can call it that) is for everyone, but by the time I left that company, I was a top-earner and employee-of-the-year. I can’t help but feel that my way of “networking”, of connecting with people, played some part.

This brings me back to IndieBeers, the meetup I attended this week. In years gone by, I’d have turned up to these sorts of events suited-and-booted, pressuring myself to have as many interactions as possible.

On Wednesday evening, I showed up in what I’d chosen to leave the house in that morning (shorts, t-shirt and a cap, for a warm day), arriving early to a bustling pub that was spilling to the street outdoors given the nice weather.

Now that I’d been to these meetups a couple of times, I already knew some familiar faces, and I enjoyed checking-in with a couple of friends I’d not seen in a while, before just letting myself gently mingle.

No pressure to have a certain number of conversations, or talk about my business, or reach any particular outcomes of a tangible nature.

Just an openness to chat, 1:1 or in a little group, simply showing up as myself and being curious.