Hello. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m an introvert.
For the first few decades of my life, I didn’t know I was an introvert. I knew I was quiet, intense, and sensitive. I also knew that my dream day was time alone with a book. While these skills served me well as a writer, they didn’t help much at networking events or when marketing my business.
In 2013, during a round-table discussion that was dominated by several talkers, the woman beside me looked at me seriously. She said, “You need to buy the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It will help you.” She was correct. Reading this book helped me understand that I was an introvert. It also helped me realize that our entrepreneurial world — as well as school, work, and worship environments — is designed for extroverts
Are You an Introvert?
Perhaps the quickest way to determine whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to look at how you spend your birthday. Extroverts may plan their own parties, happily let restaurant servers know it’s their special day, and generally be thrilled to be the center of attention. Introverts, on the other hand, may hide the fact that it’s their birthday, loathe large surprise parties, and can’t think of anything more humiliating than having a group of servers loudly sing “Happy Birthday” to them.
Of course, these are generalizations, and introversion/extroversion is a spectrum. Still not sure if you’re where you fall? Check out this post, 21 Signs That You’re an Introvert.
The Introvert Entrepreneur vs. the Extrovert Entrepreneur
Introverts are people who recharge their energy by being alone. It’s not the same as being shy, as there are many introverts (including myself) who are actually quite social. Many introverts are very sensitive. They listen and observe intently. Introverts also spend a great deal of time looking inward.
If they show up at all, the introvert entrepreneur is likely to be the writer, art director, or coder at an event. They may be standing alone or talking intently with just one other person. They look forward to the end of the evening so they can be alone in their hotel room. You will probably not find an introvert entrepreneur on stage singing karaoke or telling a long, involved story to a large group of onlookers — although there are always exceptions.
Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive on meeting new people, and they find group events to be energizing. You will likely find them in groups, talking and laughing together as if they’ve been friends forever — even if they just met. Instead of leaving an event early (or skipping it altogether), extrovert entrepreneurs may carry on the party after hours in the hotel bar.
Introversion Wasn’t a ‘Problem’ Until the 1900s
According to Susan Cain in her aforementioned book, there were no salespeople until the early 1900s. Public speaking was only done by lawyers, preachers, and legislators. Being an orator was seen to be a gift and not a skill needed by most people. This changed in 1908, when Dale Carnegie recognized there was a need to train salespeople. Public speaking, schmoozing, and gaining attention — the characteristic of extroverts — became desirable.
At the same time, advertising was evolving to show people who were bold and entertaining. It’s interesting how this trend has continued with media coverage. I can’t imagine Netflix filming a series about my quiet days of reading, content creation, or playing with my dogs.
How Introverted Entrepreneurs Can Thrive
In a world set up for extroverted entrepreneurs, it’s important that we introverted entrepreneurs understand our strengths and how to manage our energy:
1. Embrace your introversion.
Sadly, many introverts are shamed for being too quiet, too sensitive, or too reserved. There are biological differences between how introverts and extroverts respond to stimuli. Instead of looking at the drawbacks, focus on the benefits of being an introvert. For instance, your quiet nature likely means that you’re keenly aware of your environment, including the needs of your clients and colleagues. Use your awareness to grow relationships, improve processes, and innovate new products.
2. Understand how to manage your energy.
Even if you’re with your best friends, introverts find being around people to be draining. You may need to skip evening sessions at a conference. Or to plan for some downtime after a big meeting. If you’re starting to feel panicky or overwhelmed, it’s probably time for a break.
Whenever you’re traveling, I highly recommend investing in your own hotel room. I’ve had many experiences with extroverted roommates who needed 24/7 “background noise” from the TV or invited friends to our room. I’d also skip the carpool, if possible, so that you have a quiet mode of transportation.
Make sure to take a critical look at the conference agenda and choose when you can recharge. I will often skip the free lunch (or dinner) in favor of some alone time in my hotel room. Or I’ll make arrangements for dinner with just one other person, instead of participating in a group event.
So how do you respond when people pressure you to attend an event? Say something like, “Thank you for inviting me, however, I have other plans.” It doesn’t matter if the plans are with yourself. Reading, meditation, or a quiet walk is essential to your mental health — and does constitute a plan.
3. Manage your inner critic.
Introverts are generally very self-aware and attentive. While making a mistake — such as spilling a drink at a networking event — may be easily laughed off by an extrovert, this could become great fuel for an introvert’s inner critic. As a result, the introvert may repeatedly tell herself she’s clumsy and uncoordinated, and adds this latest experience to a litany of other events where she was clumsy. Introverts must learn to manage this inner critic. Meditation, affirmations, therapy, or coaching can help address this issue.
4. Create an introvert-friendly business.
Think carefully about a business that requires networking and cold-calling. Introverts do very well using email marketing and social media, which gives us time to think about what we want to say. Creating a business that is built on one-on-one relationships also works well for introverts. Some of the top fields for introverts include accounting, design, writing, engineering, social media marketing, and mental health.
5. Find a way to be heard.
Since extroverts like to talk, introverts can be at a disadvantage in meetings. It can feel very unnatural to interrupt a talker and share your ideas. You may need to practice confidently interjecting, “I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share.” Trust me, most of the group will be delighted to hear you speak.
If you’re not up to interruptions, ask to be put on the agenda. Make notes about what you want to say. Rehearse how you’ll explain your thoughts. Introverts do better when we are prepared.
Finally, think of alternate ways to get your opinion across. For instance, you could prepare a PowerPoint presentation for the next meeting or write an email outlining your thoughts.
6. Be patient with extroverts.
When dealing with extroverted clients or colleagues, understand that they think differently (there are actually differences in their brains). They’re energized by meeting people and near-constant activity. They are not doing this to annoy you! Listen to their thoughts (within reason) and find a compromise that works for both personalities.
7. Understand you’re not alone.
Research shows that one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts. Sophia Dembling, in her wonderful book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, describes some things introverts may hate — karaoke, audience participation, costume parties, skinny dipping, and practical jokes. I would add surprise parties and group bonding exercises to this list.
The good news? You’re not alone in your introvert needs and preferences — even in the entrepreneurial world. In fact, there may be more introvert entrepreneurs out there than you realize, as many of us “quiet ones” are drawn to the freedom and creativity that come with it.
The Introvert Advantage
I now recognize that being an introvert is a huge advantage for entrepreneurs. Introverts aren’t looking for the spotlight. Instead, introverts observe and listen, so we see and hear what our customers want. We are also really good at developing meaningful relationships that can help our businesses.
In addition, introverts generally don’t make rash decisions. We prefer to gather the facts, reflect on issues, and draw thoughtful conclusions. This means that introverts can make good, rational choices for their business.
Finally, people listen when introverts speak. Many of us have a well-deserved reputation as thoughtful communicators whose goal is to make a meaningful contribution — not to be the center of attention.
Introvert, you’ve got this!