Challenges and Considerations of the Introvert Entrepreneur
There is a flip side to the strengths; almost any of them can be turned around and become exactly the thing that holds you back from success. While everyone with an entrepreneurial mindset has concerns and challenges as they embark on their journey, there are certain areas that are worth extra attention for the introvert.
Finding Your Voice
Until recently, being an introvert was something that most people didn’t want to embrace; they wanted to fix it. The messages that it’s not OK to be an introvert meant that many people spent enormous amounts of energy trying to be extroverted. The result? Besides some very tired, burned-out introverts, we had people whose voices were not ringing true.
An introvert entrepreneur needs to be clear from the start on several things: values, purpose, goals, and vision. From that clarity comes the ability to own who you are, thereby claiming your unique voice and marketplace niche.
Our truth is discovered when we’re quiet and when we embrace what’s true for us, not what’s true for someone else.
You can do all of this from the comfort and safety of your home or office, away from people asking you questions and giving you advice. But there comes the day when you have to step outside and into the public eye. You realize that people don’t buy from websites or promotional flyers; they buy from people. That means you have to see and be seen on a regular basis, which means networking. Lots and lots of networking.
We usually prefer to deflect the focus onto other people or topics so that we can maintain some level of personal reserve. After all, if we have to talk about ourselves, we’re bringing what was previously internal and making it external, which means it’s open to judgment, scrutiny, and misunderstanding. Because we live from the inside out, we’re especially aware of the ramifications of sharing our inner world.
The business development activities of networking and self-promotion have the potential to be the biggest energy drains of all. They require a level of social presence and being “on” that does not come naturally to the average introvert. We have to extrovert (as a verb—we don’t have to become an extrovert) and develop a personal presence that is both genuine and powerful. To be out and about, we have to go inward and nowhere, recharging our batteries so that we have enough energy to make it through the next event or meeting.
Fear, Doubt, and Other Icky Stuff Most Entrepreneurs Don’t Want to Talk About
It seems that so many people are always on the verge of total overwhelm. They’re always in the throes of a big goal or project, and the enormity of the task casts a shadow over them that feels dark and ominous.
We know intellectually that the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces. This is not only common sense, it’s an advantageous approach for introverts who want to pace their energy so they have enough internal resources to finish strong. So why do we run into trouble? Why are we weighed down by the shadow rather than buoyed by the dream?
our first instinct is to break the big task down into small pieces, assuming that there’s nothing else getting in our way besides the sheer size of it. It’s a solid approach: Figure out what your end goal is, then figure out the first steps that need to happen to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. Focus on only one step—one bite—at a time. When you finish one thing, move on to the next.
Stepping Out of the Shadows
Even if you’ve confirmed your goal, broken it into smaller chunks, and set clear intentions, there are still times when you’ll forget that where there is a shadow, there is also light. Here are a few additional tips for making sure the shadow of your goal doesn’t leave you in total darkness.
The more your goal truly arises from your authentic self, the more likely you are to be committed and take action. This is particularly important for introverts as they decide how to accomplish their goals.
Know When to Just Say No
You have choices about when you say yes and no. Be mindful of how those choices affect your introvert energy; if you say yes to one thing, you may decide to balance it out by finding something of equal value to say no to. By always evaluating your energy expenditure, you’ll be better able to keep everything moving forward without sacrificing your sanity.
Celebrate Your Wins
Each time you reach a milestone, celebrate it! We tend to be content with feelings of internal satisfaction when we’ve accomplished something, and we move on without giving it full acknowledgment. Then a few days, weeks, or months later, we’re wondering why we feel so tired or like we’re not making any progress.
Enlist Kindred Spirits
Surround yourself with people who will support you. They may be friends, colleagues, family members, a coach, mentor, or adviser. Keep connected to people who inspire, encourage, and challenge you.
Trust the Process
By focusing on the experience you want to have and making choices based on your intention, you can trust that you are moving toward your goal, even if things look different from what you anticipated. Acknowledge that the process you have chosen—being an introvert entrepreneur—is not the path of least resistance.
When Two Heads Are Better Than One
Introverts and independence go hand in hand. It doesn’t mean that other people aren’t important to us; we simply are more deliberate (and even cautious) about who we invite into our inner world. We see it very simply: people in = energy out. We can absolutely love and adore those people, and they can still exhaust us.
When that pride is part of our identity, it’s easy to make the mistake of waiting until we’re practically in crisis before considering a collaborative solution. There are a few business markers that might indicate it would be a good time to rally some troops:
You’ve reached your expertise ceiling. There may come a point when you receive a request from a client or customer or have a fabulous idea that’s beyond your scope of knowledge.
You want to reach new markets. What if you decide that you’re ready to get your message out to a new group of potential clients or customers? It’s easy to become market myopic when you’re operating in a silo.
You’re craving the possibilities of collective brainpower. Even for solitude-loving introverts, it can be refreshing to find a thought partner with whom you can brainstorm ideas and connect disparate dots. A bonus to involving someone else in your process: The right person can help you to break out of any hamster-wheel thoughts you might be having about a particular challenge or opportunity.
You’re secure in your business and ready to expand. You’re coming from a place of power and success and ready to reach out to others. The right kind of collaboration will serve to complement what you have to offer, not dilute it
The decision to involve another person in your business is not one to take lightly. It can be a bit intimidating because you’re entering into new agreements and even developing a new vocabulary to explain how you operate your business. There are a lot of details to discuss, expectations to clarify, and the need to come to a common understanding about how you’re going to work together. Not only that but each person in the collaboration is bringing his or her own biases, experiences, beliefs, fears, and strengths to the table.
The Different Faces of Collaboration
There are numerous ways you can expand your business by widening your circle of resources, support, and influence.
Coaching Isn’t Just for Athletes
A coach—whether it’s someone who focuses exclusively on your business or someone who does a hybrid of personal and entrepreneur coaching—can become an invaluable part of your team, offering an outside perspective as well as drawing on experiences from working with different types of clients and business models.
Hiring a Consultant
Some situations call for the more hands-on, directive approach of the consultant. Unlike coaches, consultants advise you on what to do. Some consultants will look at every aspect of your business and advise you on strategies, potential obstacles, and opportunities. Others have specific content-area expertise, such as marketing, social media, licensing, and expansion. If it’s important to you that the consultant speaks your industry-specific language, it might be advantageous to hire a consultant who has experience with your particular business or has provided similar services to yours in the past.
What if you’re not ready for a coach or consultant? The next best thing is having a trusted, reliable accountability partner. An accountability partner is another entrepreneur, preferably someone not in the same industry or target market as you. The basic purpose is to share goals with one another—either on a daily or weekly basis—and commit to accomplishing them within a certain time frame. You email or call one another to share your goals, then agree on when you will reconnect to report back.
If you want more people involved, consider putting together an advisory board. It doesn’t seem very introvert-like
But it’s a low-risk way to gather a variety of opinions and create a cadre of champions for you and your business.
Six Best Practices of Highly Effective Collaborations
A partnership between two introverts doesn’t mean you’re going to instantly understand one another and never have issues. Nor does pairing up with an extrovert mean automatic craziness. Either partnership combination can result in success or misery. What will make the difference is the degree to which you adhere to some best practices.
Engaging in Open, Frequent Communication
Establish consistent communication, whether it’s by email, phone, or in person. You can call them check-ins or process checks, whatever seems appropriate to your work. Of course, there will be situation-specific communication that happens outside of set times, but those discussions are usually limited to the scope of the issue at hand. They aren’t designed for addressing bigger-picture concerns, opportunities, or questions that come up as a project progresses.
Having a set structure for regular check-ins is advantageous for the partnership and especially for you as an introvert. Preparation time allows you to think through what you’re going to say, which is particularly important if you need to share something that’s sensitive or emotional. The check-in meetings give you a safe, ready-made place to do that and allow everyone to take the pulse of the collaboration and make sure things are going smoothly.
Identifying and Challenging Assumptions
Professionally, it’s critical to identify any assumptions related to the who, what, when, where, and why of the collaboration. Introvert entrepreneurs are creative and thorough and might have fleshed out every detail and action before even consulting a partner. That can potentially lead to blanks in the conversation that are never filled in out loud, only in the introvert’s head. As with so many other instances, the internal needs to be made external. Effective partnerships are based on clear role definition, with each person being 100 percent certain about his or her responsibilities.
Sharing Expectations and Definitions of Success
As Peter Drucker remarked, “What gets measured gets done.” Successful collaborations have clearly defined measurements of success. The core metrics—financial, reach, engagement, growth, quality—should be outlined and agreed on. Others, such as strengthening a particular skill or making meaningful connections with new people, might be harder to measure but are no less important to articulate. You don’t have to share every expectation; the more critical point is that you’re each aware of the other’s expectations and its level of importance to the partnership. Then you can have open communication about how things are proceeding and whether each person’s needs (professional or personal) are being met.
Being Equally Invested in the Work
All of the partners need to be clear about their commitment to the collaboration from the start. Neither party should ever feel taken advantage of. Each person has to be equally invested, with the same to gain or lose as the other. An exception might be if you know from the beginning that one person might benefit more than the other, and you’re both in agreement with that.
In addition, no one has a crystal ball or can predict the circumstances under which a commitment might change. “You want to know that you’re generally on the same page,” offers Cate Brubaker. “Open and transparent communication throughout the process is almost more important than having all the ‘what ifs’ worked out in advance.”
Coming from Strength
Setting up your partnership for success means that you both believe success is possible. You’ve each experienced success on your own and are ready to expand your knowledge, reach, or work in ways that will be mutually beneficial to others. There is a sense that 1 + 1 = 3, because each business has an opportunity to magnify its capacity more than it could on its own.
This doesn’t mean everyone is Pollyanna and avoids the difficult conversations. There may be moments of relative weakness or feelings of scarcity. But an effective collaboration has the transparency and resilience to work through them. Feelings of fear or anxiety are addressed directly and compassionately. This is only possible when the people involved are working from a healthy, confident state of being. For introverts, this means trusting our own voice and authority and being able to speak out proactively, when needed.
Having an Exit Strategy
It may be advisable to set a term limit on the partnership from the beginning. If you are an introvert who appreciates structure, this lets you put some boundaries around the arrangement. You can anticipate how you will pace out your work and, therefore, your energy. You can also consider mimicking the lifestyles of the rich and famous and drafting a “prenup” agreement before any financial or legal resources exchange hands. Clearly outline what will happen and how work, clients, customers, information, finances, and so on will be divided in the event of a dissolution, whether planned or unexpected. This one move will save you tremendous stress during a time that’s already inherently stressful.