Networking for the nervous

A group of professionals talking.

Read time: 3 minutes

No matter how much you love what you do, sometimes it’s tough to be a small business owner. You work hard, put in long hours and because you’re the boss, everyone looks to you for answers—even if you don’t have any answers to give.

Wouldn’t it be great to have other small business owners to brainstorm with, to commiserate with, to celebrate with? Someone who actually understands your experiences because they’ve been there, too?

That’s the beauty—and the anxiety—of networking. You can connect with other business owners and new customers to get some serious word-of-mouth going about your business.

Of course, in order to do that, you have to…you know, network. As in, attempt to meet new people and tell them about your business while your tongue is tied, your heart races and your palms sweat. Because let’s be real: Networking can be nerve-wracking.

That’s why we have some tips for the nervous networker, which can help you make connections that will serve you well for many years to come.

1. Don’t feel pressured to speak to everyone in the room.

It only takes one connection to find a valuable business ally, a new customer or even a friend. If you’re intimidated by the thought of approaching strangers, don’t stress yourself out by feeling you must hand out a business card to every single person at an event. Instead, set yourself a realistic goal; for instance, “I will talk to five people at this event.” You may find that once you reach your goal, you’re done for the day…or you may want to keep going. It’s up to you!

2. Be selective about your networking events.

Just as you don’t have to speak to everyone in the room, you don’t have to attend all networking events. Would an industry or organization conference with informative sessions be more useful to you than a meet-and-greet at the local Chamber of Commerce? Networking just to add business cards to your pile is…well, a great way to grow your pile of business cards.

3. Be prepared.

Your game plan doesn’t have to be elaborate; just know what you want to accomplish before you go into an event. Would you like to partner with other small business owners for support and advice? Are you hoping to land a customer or two? Do you need a vendor to help you print flyers and banners? Whatever your goal, it’s easier to stay focused—which in turn can help calm your nerves. 

4. Take a friend with you.

Team up with a fellow business owner, conference-goer or another nervous networker to start conversations and help introduce you to their own connections. Try not to be attached at the hip, though; go off on your own occasionally and meet up again when you’ve worked the room as much as you can.

5. Consider a 30-second elevator pitch.

The elevator pitch, a quick summary of your business, is your best defense against stumbling over a description of what you do. You’ll find excellent examples and templates online by Googling “30-second elevator pitch for small business owner.” With some practice, you’ll become comfortable talking about what you do.

6. Take a break.

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it can be exhausting to be always “on” for networking. There’s no shame in taking a break someplace quiet. Duck into the nearest restroom, go out to your car, return to your hotel room, take a walk outside—anything that can help you recharge.

7. Network online.

Whether from your community or your industry, connect with other small business owners online. A good place to start is by using your business’s social media accounts to follow the social media feeds of other small businesses. Engage with them by commenting on their posts and mentioning their business, product or service in your own posts to create a little goodwill.

If it helps, know that you’re not alone; networking is out of most people’s comfort zones. But if you start with a few of these tips to help you overcome your fear of networking and build on the small successes, you’ll build your self-confidence, your professional network and your business profile.