Gain three lessons in networking from a former introvert.

By Becky Carruthers

Photo by Christina @wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Until recently, the thought of networking sent a shiver down my spine.

The trauma of being the awkward, ignored introvert at too many teenage parties would come rushing back to me —standing at the edges of conversation, waiting for someone to talk to me, giggling uncomfortably to try to fit in …

I didn’t want to suffer that feeling again.

For ages, I thought that this was what networking would be — where the in-crowd would talk about their latest achievements, laugh at their inside jokes, and schmooze their way to new contracts and positions.

If you weren’t part of the cool crowd or didn’t have something impressive to show for yourself, you’d be left on the outside, ignored.

I couldn’t think of anything worse.

Fast-forward to two years later and I can’t believe how wrong I was.

If you’ve read my articles before, you’ll know that I like talking about my mistakes and misconceptions, and this article is no different.

I realised that my own fearful imagination was the biggest barrier to getting ahead through networking, and all of those ideas about who these people were and what they would be like were totally incorrect.

Networking has now enabled me to:

-Finally step into the life I want — as a full-time freelance writer

-Find confidence in myself and my abilities, and truly back myself

-Charge higher rates, knowing that I’m worth it (and they’ll pay it)

-Have consistent clients and work coming my way, so I never worry about quiet periods

-Make wonderful friends across the industry

-Get jobs I never would have imagined, and love to be a part of

This transformation didn’t happen overnight, it started slowly with dipping my toes in the networking waters for a full year before finally diving in.

There are three key lessons I learned that enabled me to succeed at networking, illustrated here by three events from my journey. Here’s how I went from knowing no one to building strong relationships with editors, clients, and leaders across the industry.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” — The Essence of Networking

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

God, I used to resent that saying. It’s the reason why the boss’ kids always got hired, even though they had a terrible attitude and couldn’t keep up with the work.

Why couldn’t hard workers get hired, instead?

The fact is, you can be the most hardworking person in the world, but if no one knows who you are or what you can offer, they won’t know to hire you. Getting seen is half the battle.

This is why personal recommendations carry such weight, and why 85% of jobs are filled by networking alone: it removes the risk involved in hiring an unknown entity and can save the business time, money and effort.

When you need to see a dentist, you could spend hours looking through Google results, checking each website out one by one, comparing their years of experience with their testimonials, and asking for prices.

Or, you could ask your network of friends if anyone has a good recommendation. It would save you a lot of time, and you’d go to your appointment feeling confident that your needs will be met.

In a world of choices, people tend to take endorsements from friends or family seriously: 83% of Americans say that they are more likely to make a purchase or sign up for something after a recommendation from a friend or family member.

Most of my work now comes from personal recommendations and referrals, from people who have either worked with me before or met me through an event. When someone asks: “Hey do you know any good copywriters?” My name comes up because I’m a known entity, and they can trust that I’ll get the job done well.

The simple fact is: Networking is the fastest route to finding good work, and if you’re not networking you’re missing out.

Taking the First Steps to Break Through From the Outside

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

I first moved to Auckland a couple of years ago. I had been living overseas for several years, so I didn’t have any useful contacts or any local work experience.

I tried applying for jobs over and over again but didn’t get anywhere.

What I really wanted to do was writing, but mostly those jobs weren’t being advertised. Eventually, I had to settle for a job I wasn’t really interested in, just to keep me going.

I needed to crack into the industry somehow, but I couldn’t find my way in.

I didn’t know where to start: what were the expectations here, the standard prices and procedures? What direction should I upskill? Where would I find my place in the market? I needed advice from someone on the inside.

I decided to start on LinkedIn. I’d been working at a recruitment agency, where it was compulsory to be on LinkedIn, but I was still in the early stages of growing my network — I think I had 10 contacts at the time, all just colleagues from the recruitment agency.

I searched LinkedIn for the job I wanted to be in: copywriting. Narrowing it by location to just Auckland, there were about a dozen hits. Among them was a young woman who looked not much older than me, with a lovely warm smile in her profile picture.

“She looks cool,” I said to myself, and sent her a message:

“Hey (name), I came across your profile and I love the work you’re doing. I’m trying to break into the industry as a copywriter myself, and I wonder if I could take you out for coffee sometime and ask you some questions? No worries at all if you’re too busy — I totally understand! Thanks, Becky.”

Short, sweet, and giving her a way out if she wanted to say no. I had nothing to lose, so I ate up my anxiety and clicked send.

She replied almost instantly:

“Hey Becky, thanks for your message. I’d love to meet for a coffee, when are you available?”

I jumped for joy — I’d made my first contact!

Our meeting was great — casual, friendly, filled with useful advice about how to start (just start cold emailing clients, charge an hourly rate you’re comfortable with), where to start (who do you want to write for?), and tips about the market in Auckland (there’s so much work! You just have to know where to look).

I was brimming with confidence from this first successful encounter. Networking might not be too bad, after all, and LinkedIn could be quite a good tool.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers, but remember to be respectful of their time and grateful for any help they can offer.

The price of a coffee isn’t much in exchange for insider knowledge and a friendly connection and can be the fastest route to getting a foot in the door.

Don’t use this opportunity to pitch for or ask for a job, instead, treat it as a fact-finding mission to take the pressure off both you and your contact.

Staying in Touch with Old Contacts

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

Later that year, an editor for a magazine hit me up online:

“Hey Becky, are you still writing travel articles? I wonder if you could pitch me a couple of things about Tibet for our latest issue.”

I’d worked with her a few years earlier in a different capacity, but it hadn’t occurred to me to keep in touch with her for future opportunities. We hadn’t even been that close before but now, out of the blue, here she was with an awesome opportunity for me to get a couple of pieces published and paid for!

Once we’d re-established connection and those pieces were done, I made the effort to stay in touch from time to time — following her on social media, liking and commenting on her posts — and she did the same.

Since that re-connection, I’ve helped her into a job and she’s also sent referrals to me. When I started full-time freelancing, she was able to offer some great tips for finding support (join Facebook groups for freelance writers), getting paid (look overseas: American businesses pay way more than Kiwi ones do), and pitching (just be casual and be yourself).

I thought of all the opportunities I might have missed, simply because I didn’t stay in touch with people, and vowed to do better at being online.

Lesson 2: Keep up relationships through social media — you don’t have to be online every day or replying to every post, but remind people that you’re still around by liking, commenting, or sharing your own work/thoughts.

If you’ve worked with someone before, add them on LinkedIn. If it’s appropriate, follow them on Instagram or Twitter.

You also have to be patient — these relationships and efforts won’t necessarily pay off overnight, and some may take years, but when the opportunity comes, you’ll be thankful for it.

Learning to Be Confident in the Crowd

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

After a year of building slow contacts and connections and growing my self-confidence, I decided I was finally ready for the big one: a networking event.

If you’d told me once that I would love being in a room of strangers and talking myself up, I’d have laughed in your face. “No way”, I’d tell you, “I’m an introvert, I’m so socially awkward, I never know what to say, I hate talking to strangers …”

A million excuses.

But now, something had changed. Every little experience I’d had with reaching out to strangers, nurturing relationships with past connections, and putting myself out there in the world had given me confidence in myself and my abilities.

Mostly, it had torn down the illusions I’d previously held about these “cool kids” in the industry — they weren’t magic or special or in any way different to me just because they had more experience or awards.

They were also just finding their own way through, battling self-doubt and stress, making it up as they go along, and wondering if anyone would read their new article. They were kind and generous and shy, they were all just normal people who have to force themselves to get out there and meet others, just in the way that I was now doing, in order to keep on living the life they want to live.

They were no longer something to be intimidated by — they were just new friends who didn’t know who I was, yet.

The networking event was on Zoom because of the pandemic, so it didn’t naturally lend itself to easy chit-chat, but it allowed me to join from the comfort of my own apartment (with a gin in hand for extra confidence).

It. Was. Wonderful.

Here I was talking with seniors in my industry, sharing challenges, experiences, and wins. Although I haven’t stayed in touch with everyone from the group, I’ve been able to access opportunities for more work, learning, and development through the members I got to know.

The more people I met, the more I became comfortable talking about myself and my work. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a traditional background, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t won any awards, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t even been in the country until recently.

I stopped thinking of networking as some scary professional beast that I wasn’t yet ready to fight and started thinking of it as an informal chance to chat with new people and make some like-minded friends.

Lesson 3: You have nothing to be afraid of — everyone is figuring things out as they go, just like you. You have value to share, and ideas to contribute, and they want to hear them.

Enter the room as an equal, because that’s what you are. Even if you don’t have a decade of experience behind you, you’ve done projects that no one else in that room has done, and you’ve got a perspective that no one else can replicate.

You’ll get better at sharing your ideas if it doesn’t come naturally. Practice makes progress, and the more events you go to, the more comfortable you’ll become.

3 Things to Never Forget When You’re Networking

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I look back now on how many jobs I had tried to apply for when I first came to Auckland. How many hours I spent writing cover letters and hoping to make it to the top of the pile, wondering if I was good enough to get a callback.

Now, I have offers of work coming into my inbox every week. The jobs chase me, not the other way around.

I’ve built not only my confidence but also my client list and contact list within the industry. People know who I am and what I do, and if they need something done, they call me up.

I still send cold emails and messages to strangers on LinkedIn — you can never have too many contacts— and I invite out plenty of people for coffee. It’s become a regular part of my monthly routine, to reach out and make the effort to connect.

I’ve learned some important things through this journey, but there are three keys to successful networking that I’ve stuck by through it all:

Be kind — no one will want to see you again if you’re rude, mood-killing, or arrogant. Kindness goes a long way.

Be generous — don’t just think about what people can do for you, think about what you can offer too.

Be patient — things won’t necessarily happen overnight, but they will happen.

Good luck on your networking journey, I know you can do it. 🥰