From one introvert to another: I get it.
Putting yourself out there and meeting new networking contacts can be nerve-wracking.
The whole networking idea sends shivers through your spine, gives you the willies, and leaves you begging to call in sick. Except for the whole issue of you being your own boss…meaning, calling in sick would just be you calling yourself trying to convince yourself you really DO have a serious cold or something. That probably ain’t gonna work.
So what can you do instead, when the networking is unavoidable yet still icky-feeling?
First Off, Call It Something Else Entirely
Words carry meanings.
For most introverts, “networking” carries heavy overtones of “awkwardly standing in a corner at a wine bar trying not to make eye contact” or “sweating profusely while trying to make small talk with that Doctor who owns the office over there.”
The point is: networking as a concept feels daunting.
So, let’s call it something else instead. Something much more accurate.
Instead of “networking,” think of it as “relationship building.”
Even the most die-hard introvert enjoys relationships. Friends, colleagues, acquaintances. They’re the rich soil of a life well lived.
So, let’s recontextualize the entire idea of you needing to network to generate referrals for your practice.
Instead, what you’re doing is building relationships that, sure, can have professional benefits…but you might also make some lifelong friends, or maybe you’ll just meet some super interesting people who teach you about what they’re already experts at.
Networking is way too heavy for what it really is – which is you, a person, going out and cultivating some interesting new relationships with other successful people.
Seek First to Be Genuinely Interested
Here’s a simple secret of making friends: if you’re genuinely interested in what another person is up to or cares about, it’s incredibly easy to get the ball rolling with them.
When you’re genuinely interested, you ask questions. “How does that work?” or “Tell me more about that.”
One question leads to an interesting answer – which leads you to more questions – and before you know it, you actually ARE interested in what this person is discussing with you. Because interesting people talking about their deepest interests tends to be pretty dang interesting.
Also, when you’re genuinely interested first, it takes all the pressure off of you trying to get something from someone.
Another reason networking feels so heavy so often is that we equate it with going around to other people and basically asking them to send us clients.
Well, of course that feels yucky.
Instead, just seek to be interested in others. Ask questions. Follow the conversation where it goes by continuing to ask questions.
And then, watch in astonishment as magically the person you’re speaking with will become more and more interested in you and what you’re doing.
The deep-seated law of reciprocity leads most people to realize when they’re dominating a conversation. They’ll start to want to rebalance things by asking YOU some questions.
Your interest in them will ramp up their interest in you. And who knows? You might even discover unexpected areas of commonality or shared interests. From strangers to acquaintances to friends – the road of relationship building is built by you first seeking to be genuinely interested in the others you’re meeting.
Seek Then to Be Genuinely Useful
Once you’ve started learning about someone else, that doesn’t mean it’s time to go in for the kill and ask for a hundred referrals.
Whoa there, slow down, Tex!
The next step in successful relationship building is looking for where you can be useful to the others you’re meeting.
This is exactly backward from the typical ham-fisted approaches that pass as “networking” in most of our minds.
If you seek next to be useful, you’ll look for opportunities to send clients someone’s way. Or you’ll think of a book or article that they might like. Or you’ll connect them with another acquaintance you know who you suspect could really help them in some aspect of their work.
When you’re genuinely useful, now you’ve completely blown the whole concern about “what can you do for me?” out of the water.
Believe it or not, leading with this sort of focus on being insanely valuable will result in you receiving far more in the way of opportunities and referrals than if you go in and ask for referrals directly.
But don’t trust me on that – actually try this approach and see for yourself.
Reinterpret Discomfort and Learn to Love Your Growth Edge
Strategic networking – er, excuse me, relationship building – is absolutely effective at helping you build your caseload.
The specific nature of therapy – its intimacy, its delicacy, the way it involves people’s deepest darkest secrets and pains and problems – all of this leads to direct personal referrals as being one of the most reliable ways people look for a therapist.
If I’m having a hard time and need some help, I will first and foremost go ask my pro-therapy friends who they recommend.
Since relationship building gives you access to more ways for people to refer into your practice, it’s hugely important.
However, it’s also hugely uncomfortable for most introverts (and even for many extroverts).
So, what’s an intelligent introvert to do?
The best option, since relationship building isn’t going away anytime soon despite our best efforts with social networks and dating apps and all manner of software-as-friendship initiatives, is to recognize that this is just another area of discomfort that promises you huge benefits if you’ll lean into that discomfort.
The things that grow us the most are often the least comfortable.
Waking up early.
Eating salad instead of a hamburger.
Reading a challenging book instead of surfing Facebook.
Attending a class instead of watching TV.
Discomfort is often (but not always) a hint that you’re leaning into some good growth.
As an introvert, self-knowledge is probably a strong suit. You know yourself well because you aren’t afraid of sitting in silence with just you and only you.
So, leverage that internal intimacy. Recognize how discomfort serves you in so many areas of your life.
And now, embrace this relationship building discomfort and really go for it so you can benefit from this key vector for growing your practice.
Recognize That “Passing Out Business Cards” Is Pointless
I’m astonished at how many therapists I see espousing the old trope that “if I go pass out my business cards at doctors’ offices, I’ll get a bunch of referrals.”
This isn’t how it works, folks.
Note: I’m calling this approach “relationship building” rather than “passing out a huge stack of business cards.”
You don’t need business cards if you’ve built relationships. Sure, they’re fine to have and you can pass some around…but the business card will do nothing for growing your caseload.
It’s the relationships that will grow your caseload.
People who know you and trust you referring their contacts over to your practice.
THAT is how you grow your caseload organically.
So get rid of any weird ideas that passing out cards or brochures or pamphlets will do anything for your practice if you don’t also build up some strong relationships first.
You, Too, Can Generate Tons of Networking Referrals for Your Practice
That’s right – you, yes you, can do this.
You can go out there and cultivate some amazing new relationships that grow your caseload and enrich your life.
Don’t believe me? Or, just want every possible advantage to help you grow your practice as fast as possible?
We work with therapists all over the world to help them succeed in their practices. We’d love to talk to you about what you do and show you how we can help.