Ten months ago, I started a new job in a new industry -- a job that required me to build relationships with people I’d never met, people who possibly knew about my company, but probably didn’t. It was the perfect role for an extroverted networking aficionado like me.
Except I’m an introvert. And I say things like, “You too!” when the concession stand cashier tells me to enjoy my movie.
But this was a fantastic opportunity to get back into an industry I loved and work with a flexible, growing company I admired. I pulled up my go-get-em pants and got to work. But when I’m launching myself into a new industry, how do I actually build my network without creeping people out?
Five contacts a day
My introverted tendencies raised their quiet and unassuming heads within weeks of starting. Wouldn’t it be easier if I just sent them pleasant thoughts and used ESP to get these incredibly busy and important people to contact me?
After coming to terms with the fact that the force is, unfortunately, not with me, I made a list of about two dozen people in my industry whom I would love to build a relationship with. This included people I could help directly as well as people who were leading the conversations that made me love this industry. I found these people by following industry big names and seeing who they mention, as well as asking co-workers who they thought were asking the good questions in the industry. Then I made a goal of contacting five of these people each day.
Each point of contact I made needed to be purpose-driven and genuine. It needed to be about them, such as helping them, giving their words a boost through my social media network, thanking them for doing amazing work or introducing them to an idea or person they would like.
I made a list of things that counted as a contact. I could email them. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Tweet out something they wrote (and tag them). Suggest an article for them to read. Send them a handwritten note. Get on a call with them or even meet with them in person. Anything to get my name in front of them, while still being genuine and helpful.
I told my boss about this goal. I told my team about this goal. I added a spot for these five contacts on my to-do list, so my day cannot be complete without this final checkmark. I also tracked these contacts in Excel (and later HubSpot) so I could make sure I didn’t contact the same people over and over.
Even with a solid plan and the line-item on my to-do list, I still struggled to overpower my introverted tendencies and fear of bothering people. Here are a few hacks and mantras I’ve used to keep me actually reaching out to five people each day.
1. Your calendar is your accountability buddy
A few years ago, I realized I was becoming a bit of a hermit, so I put reminders on my calendar to check in with friends and mentors for lunch dates and happy hours. Then I read Molly Beck’s Reach Out, and saw that she applied this tactic to her connecting strategy.
In her book, Molly suggests scheduling time each morning to knock out the "reach out" you plan to do that day. My contacts were often more serendipitous and directly related to projects I worked on throughout the day. But an “Oh, Crap” reminder about 3:30 p.m. was a good way to see how many of my five I’d completed and how much Twitter stalking needed to happen before the end of the day.
2. Email as you would want to be emailed
If you have ever filled out an online form, you’ve probably ended up in Dante’s fifth circle of bad email marketing hell. I knew I didn’t want to be that person. Landing in someone’s spam folder was not part of the plan.
In every email I sent, I tried to provide something that would help or entertain the person on the receiving side (Molly calls them “gifts” with every email). It was also important to keep the email short. If I had to explain something, I left that for a follow-up email or I linked to something that could explain it for me.
3. Embrace the social media stalking
Twitter and LinkedIn have been my best friends during this transition. I can get a little background on the person I want to contact without creepy deep-Google searches, and possibly even interact with them organically through the social media platforms.
And don’t fear the “Who’s Viewed My Profile” notification when you check out someone else’s profile. If the other person actually logs into their LinkedIn account regularly enough to see it, it proves that you are doing your homework and not just spamming a mailing list.
4. Mix it up
Email is easy to ignore. Every few months when I find the bottom of my inbox, I remember that request I was going to get back to or the interesting thread I was going to chime in on. To help stay out of the inbox oubliette, I found success by using another platform, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, to respond to or share an article by the person a few days before I sent an email. This way, the person already knows you are aware of their work and your name sounds familiar when they see it in their inbox.
5. When in doubt, use an email delay
It’s amazing how much anxiety a little blue button can cause. It seemed as though I only noticed the obvious typo (or the completely blank subject line) after I hit send. To calm that mild panic prior to each email send, I started using the Send Later function in a Gmail extension called MixMax. By giving myself a 30-minute window to review the email, I can return to it, check for typos (again, for the third time) and make the emailing process a little less stressful.
My five-contacts-a-day is a work in progress. While I’ve made some great connections by forcing myself to interact with other people in my industry, I’ve definitely gotten my fair share of crickets and the occasional “I don’t know you, go away.” But the goal is to build relationships and be genuine, and the good outcomes far outweigh the grouchy ones. I’m not an extroverted networking aficionado yet, but sometimes I look like one on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors