It really is possible for an introvert to succeed as an entrepreneur, even though you can’t expect to start and build a business alone. You need to build business relationships with partners, team members, investors, and of course customers. In fact, all you need to do is follow the model of some famous self-proclaimed introverts, including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates.
As an introvert myself, I remember worrying that I could never be comfortable giving a sales pitch, or networking to find clients. Yet I soon found that knowledge is power, and a little training and determination goes a long way toward removing the qualms. In fact, I’m now convinced that many extraverts rely too much on their “gift of gab” to hide a lack of depth. It doesn’t work in business.
Based on my recent experience as an angel investor, and advisor to new business owners, I now recommend that all entrepreneurs, especially introverts, learn and practice the discipline they need to build and nurture relationships with key constituents through the following activities:
Formalize a mentoring relationship with someone you trust. Every entrepreneur, especially an introvert, can benefit from the perspective of another business person, ideally one who has prior experience in the domain you are about to enter. Asking someone to be your mentor is not a sign of weakness, and most mentors love to help.
Turn existing connections into productive relationships. We all know some people through friends, family, and social connections. Do your homework to determine which of these might be able to help, and make a sincere effort to turn these connections into win-win business relationships. That means proactively finding common exchanges of value.
Actively expand your business networking activities. This doesn’t mean randomly attending every networking event you can find, but it does mean joining and actively participating in a couple of entrepreneur groups in your area, such as a local business incubator, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), or The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).
Increase your visibility and expertise in your domain. These days, by starting a blog or publishing on the Internet, you don’t have to be a social butterfly to get supporters and be recognized as an influencer. By helping others, and participating in online debates and industry events, you will find that productive relationships emerge naturally with peers.
Develop and practice your business vision and story. This message, usually called your elevator pitch, should be a short and compelling description of your your startup, that can be delivered with conviction in the time it takes to ride up an elevator with a potential investor or partner. It should end by asking for the next step in the relationship.
Use personal discipline to step outside your comfort zone. Entrepreneurs can’t be innovative or successful without taking business risks, so practice the discipline of stretching your personality, as well as business norms, on a regular basis. Speak out in meetings, or say what’s on your mind, even when it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Capitalize on your strengths, and forget weaknesses. Many introverts are afraid to take the lead, knowing they have weaknesses. For example, you may be good at active listening, analyzing data, and making logical decisions. These and other strengths may actually give you a competitive edge over your more extroverted constituents.
Surround yourself with allies who have complementary skills. In business, I always say that two heads (or more) are better than one. If your strength is technology, find a partner who can complement you with marketing and financial skills. Each of these allies will also bring their own network, growing yours, and multiplying your power and growth.
As a technologist at heart, I am particularly disheartened to see so many bright but introverted engineers who never get their business off the ground, due to pride or fear in getting the help they need, or not having the professional relationships with others to overcome business hurdles.
Now is the time to take a hard look your own personality and strengths, as well as the number and quality of your current business relationships. Don’t let any easy excuses keep you from achieving your full potential.
*** First published on Inc.com on 08/20/2019 ***