If the idea of networking makes you sweat, try these alternatives.
I’m an introvert. Extended social interactions exhaust me and, after awhile, I hit a wall. There are so many things that terrify me about networking. I agonize over the best way to approach people, and then wuss out and don’t approach anyone.
I assume that, when people see me cowering in the corner alone, at that evening’s media party, they instantly know I’m lame. I worry that my obvious social awkwardness is turning off anyone I happen to be speaking with. I berate myself for being so completely boring.
Luckily, I’m a writer, and where I struggle in person, I shine on paper. Instead of small talk, I tweet. Instead of appearing on panels, I blog out my expert advice. Additional marketing? My portfolio speaks for itself. That and I give good email.
Writing — it’s how I’ve managed to build up a business in which the work practically comes to me. So where can you let your writing do the talking?
1. Your website copy. Your website is like a virtual storefront, and is often the first look prospective clients and customers have at you and your abilities. So in addition to listing products and services, providing a portfolio or client list, and offering up a slew of glowing testimonials, you also need to shine on the pages that showcase your bio and company history, your mission statement, and your sales pitch.
When developing your website copy, take care to show that you understand your customer, and that you understand what led them to seek you out. This will let them know they’re in the right place, which in turn will keep them reading. Then, instead of listing out product features, pinpoint the benefits that clients will derive from hiring you. How will their life improve because of your service? After that, establish your credibility, while still taking care to focus more on them than you. Finally, and above all else, tell a good story. Readers will respond positively to a narrative that really speaks to them.
2. Your blog or newsletter. Of course, most people will only visit your website once, unless you give them a reason to keep coming back for more. So ask yourself: How can I provide even more value to my clientele? The answer may be a regularly updated blog or monthly newsletter, wherein you can both provide value to readers and further establish yourself as an expert. Platforms like WordPress.org make it easy and cheap for you to set up a dynamic site, while email marketing services like MailChimp and AWeber are popular among young entrepreneurs. Just be careful to provide value in everything you write, rather than selling, selling, selling in every blog post and newsletter issue. But you should also feel free to include that call to action. Most people won’t buy from you unless you ask them to.
3. Your social media activity. I’m a Twitter nut. Others swear by Facebook or LinkedIn. Brazen Careerist has Gen Y in the bag. Don’t panic. You don’t have to be active on all of these sites. But you should find out where your target audience has been hanging, whether it’s on one of these well-known social networking sites, on a smaller online community, or even on an industry-specific forum.
And once you have your account all set up? For the love of god, don’t spam everyone with an automatic feed of your blog, or repeated entreaties to Please buy my latest product! Instead, actively engage with the community. In addition to sharing your latest content and linking to info on your most recent event, have conversations. Ask people questions. Answer other people’s questions. Share interesting content you find around the web, giving props to those who created it. And show a little bit of personality! People may not want to see photos of every single meal you had in the past week (unless you’re a food blogger, I suppose), but they could be interested in the last best book you read, that coffee-of-the-month club you’re so signing up for, or the hoop dancing class you’re attending after you file your last few invoices. People like to buy from people. Show you’re a person, too.
4. Guest posts, press releases, and published articles. Of course, you can raise your visibility by appearing in other media outlets. And mass emailing a well-crafted press release isn’t the only way. If you excel in the writing department, expand your reach by pitching guest posts to blogs whose audience overlaps with your own. It will drive traffic back to your blog and site, and get your name in front of a wider range of readers. Or pitch a story to a newspaper or magazine as a means of showcasing your expertise within a certain topic area.
The more often people see your name — and on more than just your own site — the more they’ll start to associate you with the knowledge and expertise they’re looking for. (If writing isn’t your greatest strength, you can still be quoted as an expert in others’ articles. Subscribe to a service like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) in order to be informed about the experts writers are looking for.)
5. Additional information products. Finally, if you can produce the word glitter, go all out! Think of what your target client needs and, in addition to the products and services you’re already offering, create an ebook, tip sheet, or full-on workbook. Depending upon its size, you can either offer it as another paid product, or give it out as a freebie in order to create buzz and inspire greater interest in your other offerings.
Once you’ve done all this? Well. You can’t hide behind your computer forever. But if you’ve done your job right, your writing will have already broken the ice.
Steph Auteri is the founder of Word Nerd Pro, a one-stop word nerd shop offering a variety of writing, editing, and coaching services. She has been published in Playgirl, Time Out New York, Nerve, The Frisky, and other bastions of fine writing.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.