Introverts' Secrets to Running a Successful Business
Use your energy smartly to build relationships and foster teamwork.
Posted Jun 22, 2016
How can you thrive as an introvert business owner? Beth Buelow’s The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms, is brimming with tips to help you run your own show, while honoring your need to harness your quiet energy.
NA: Since our last interview, the culmination of years of your fine work has come out in book form. Congratulations on that! What got you to write the book?
BB: When I started coaching introvert entrepreneurs in 2010, I noticed certain challenges coming up repeatedly, including how to network more effectively, approaches to selling that didn’t feel salesy, and finding ways to stand out in a loud marketplace. Underneath all of these external considerations was a concern about the clients’ own internal world. They were aware that their energy and intentions didn’t always align with conventional business advice.
So I saw the need for a book that looked at entrepreneurship through an introvert lens. How can we be successful business owners while still honoring our introvert energy? What does it mean to create strategies that match our introvert strengths (which sometimes means going against the grain)? How do we move through fears and take risks in a healthy, productive way? These were the questions I sought to address, drawing on my own experiences and those of my clients and colleagues. Of course, by sharing the information in book form, I took an energy-efficient, introvert-friendly approach to reaching a lot of people!
NA: You say, “Whether you call them your tribe, platform, network, community, or peeps, you need people to create a strong and sustainable business. Yes, even introvert entrepreneurs need people around them in order to succeed!” Say more about not operating in a vacuum and why that’s important for introverts.
BB: It’s rare to find a business that can operate without people. In fact, I can’t think of one that can. I’m not just referring to the necessity of having customers for your product or service. People are social creatures, and while introverts might not be drawn to working in packs, we still need to escape – and expand – our own minds, and connect with others to stay healthy and keep perspective.
I’ll give you one example: I’m leading two virtual book groups that meet weekly for six weeks to discuss The Introvert Entrepreneur. They have been an incredibly rich experience. As the author, I get to connect directly with readers and find out what resonates with them. As readers, they have a supportive, confidential space in which to meet other introvert entrepreneurs and share their journey. When I asked them at the start why they joined the groups, a common answer was to break their isolation. The key is to find a connection strategy that works for you and feeds your energy, rather than depletes it.
I should also mention: I could not have written my book without a strong community of supportive people, including you, Nancy! The relationships were forged over a period of years, one person at a time. In the end, they added up to a wonderful, mutually beneficial network.
NA: You share a quote from Steve Wozniak: “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee…. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take...: Work alone…. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
What are your thoughts, then, about collaboration for introverts? When does it have its place? How about the role of coaches, consultants, and advisory boards for introvert entrepreneurs?
BB: We introverts tend to default to lone-ranger status; if we can get the job done independently, that’s the path we’ll try first. There’s great wisdom in what Wozniak shared. If we’re always working by committee, we don’t have time for private reflection and to go deep with ideas. And, ideas in isolation won’t go very far. Hiring a coach, creating an advisory board, or having an accountability partner starts the feedback loop that we need to move forward. It gives us a reality check and a place to bring challenges. It’s also a place to bring our wins! We’re usually not ones to make a big fuss over our success, but celebrating our accomplishments with others keeps our energy and spirits high. I’ve been part of a mastermind group since mid-2015 that has been a space for both the wins and challenges. My business is stronger because I’ve chosen to collaborate with this diverse group of trusted colleagues.
NA: What partnership pitfalls should introvert entrepreneurs watch out for?
BB: It’s more important to pay attention to energy alignment than whether you’re working with another introvert or extrovert. Any combination can work if there’s high self-awareness and open communication between partners.
NA: Great point. What are signs that a partnership could work?
BB: Pay close attention to how you feel when you’re working with someone. Do you feel like your thinking is sharper and your energy is a bit more “on”? Or do you feel overwhelmed and exhausted? Someone might look like a good match on paper, and you might even be best friends. But pay attention to the energetic exchange and don’t get too entangled if there’s a disconnect.
Once you’ve formed a partnership, openly address areas that could be potential landmines: communicating and setting clear expectations; sharing a definition of success; and clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Don’t make assumptions that you’re on the same page.
NA: You refer to a poster that has circulated widely on social media that says, “I write better than I talk.” How does that relate to introverts and social media?
BB: Social media, being largely driven by written content, plays to the introvert preference for taking time and space to think before we speak. We can read a post, let it settle in our brains for a while, then respond when we’re ready, on our own time. Introvert entrepreneurs can use social media to refine their voice and message, since there’s constant feedback and opportunity to engage with others. It’s the ultimate one-to-many! And these virtual conversations can feel as real as in-person ones. Sure, they often devolve into the realm of the superficial, almost like small talk at a party. But frequently, there’s an opportunity to feed that part of us that craves deeper discussions. We can engage as much or as little as we want. We get to connect, but on our own terms.
NA: That sounds perfect for many an introvert. In your discussion about social media, you refer to life in the fishbowl. What do you mean by that?
BB: Imagine a fish in a fishbowl. It’s on full display, and there’s no place to hide. Every move has a witness. In many ways, social media is like a human fishbowl. The personal and professional collide, and we have to be much more intentional about where to draw the line. It’s so easy to overshare online, even if we consider ourselves to be private. Give thought to how much you want to share and where. Do you want to “friend” clients and customers? How much do you reveal about your politics, religion, hobbies, and other personal information?
Pay attention to your privacy settings, and look at your social media presence through the eyes of a prospective client. People value authenticity and transparency, but it’s always important to keep your audience in mind. What do your pictures and posts say about you? Take the time to figure out what works for you and your business in finding the balance between being visible, vulnerable, and professional.
NA: That’s helpful advice. On another note, what surprises have you learned about managing your business as it has expanded?
BB: Now that there’s a certain flow to the work and processes, I find it’s a bit easier to take risks and try minimum viable products (MVPs) without attachment to the outcome. There’s one more layer of trust that I’ve built within myself and with my community. I learn that if something doesn’t work, it’s not the end of my business. It’s a lesson, it’s information. My business feels more resilient as it’s moved into this next phase in its life cycle. I’m not sure it’s a surprise as much as a relief!
NA: Thank you, Beth. Here’s to the continued success of many an introvert-run venture, often thanks to your sage guidance.
Copyright 2016 © Nancy Ancowitz