The popular image of the entrepreneur usually involves a lot of hustle, glad-handing, networking, and nonstop pitching. But what about the people who prefer quiet and solitude to a crowded room? Can they be successful in starting and running their own businesses, too? Does the introvert entrepreneur exist?
Yes, according to author, podcaster, speaker, and coach Beth Buelow. Her bestselling book, The Introvert Entrepreneur, explains how you don’t have to be loud and outgoing to be a successful entrepreneur.
What is an introvert?
Before we get into how introverts can be great business owners, let’s define some terms. After all, despite having been around for almost 100 years, the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” are still sometimes misunderstood.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung popularized the terms “introversion” and “extraversion” in Psychological Types, published in 1921. (Though Jung spelled “extraversion” with an “a,” following Latin logic, the “o” spelling has become more common in America today.) Though introversion is often confused with shyness, that’s a misconception.
Introversion is not shyness
“Shyness is about fear of social judgement. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation,” says author Susan Cain in her popular TED talk, “The Power of Introverts.” “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive, and their most switched on, and their most capable, when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”
It’s a spectrum
It’s important to understand that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. No individual person is a “pure” introvert or extrovert—everyone is both, to some extent. In fact, Cain notes, Jung himself dismissed the possibility of a person embodying just one tendency or the other: “Such a man would be in a lunatic asylum, if he existed at all.”
It’s about energy
Essentially, introversion and extroversion come down to energy—where we get it, and how we spend it.
“An introvert gains energy during solitude, and drains energy during social interaction,” Buelow explained in a The Creative Penn interview. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t do the social interaction, or that we don’t enjoy it, but in order to get up the energy to do it, we need ample alone time, quiet time, low stimulation time.”
Extroverts, meanwhile, “get energy through social interaction, and higher stimulation environments,” Buelow says, “and they will get drained if they spend too much time alone, or they don’t have enough stimulation coming their way.”
What introverts bring to entrepreneurship
Both Buelow and Cain argue that our society has some bias against introverts and introverted behavior. People who exhibit these qualities tend to be told they need to come out of their shell, be more outgoing, and so on. They may find that their louder colleagues command more attention and see their opinions embraced more often—regardless of the actual value of their ideas.
“Groups famously follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room,” Cain says, “even though there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…You might be following the person with the best ideas, but you might not. And do you really want to leave it up to chance?”
Business strengths of the introvert
On her website, Buelow suggests several strengths introverts bring to the workplace. Whether you consider yourself an introvert or not, these are qualities you can seek to embody as you work on your business and grow as a leader.
Introverts, maybe because of their affinity for quiet, tend to have a strong ability to focus. When they can find the right work space—such as a home office or other relatively private place—they can be very productive, generating deep insights.
An entrepreneur needs to be comfortable going it alone. After all, that’s a big part of starting your own business. For introverts, this sense of independence comes naturally. They don’t depend on social interaction for their energy, so they may be less afraid of launching a new project or becoming a solopreneur.
For the most part, an introvert’s first instinct is not to talk. That can mean they develop good listening skills—an important quality for any leader.
When you live inside your own head much of the time, being creative comes with the territory. Anyone can be creative, but tapping into your introverted side can help you come up with new ideas. Sometimes just carving out some quiet time opens up the space for a new way of looking at something to emerge.
Buelow says introverts are driven by a desire for knowledge. They’re always learning. That can be a great strength in business, where innovation requires us to keep up with changes and master new developments quickly.
A startup or fledgling small business can be a crazy place. Often, people wear multiple hats, playing different roles in an effort to keep costs down and give the new business a chance to thrive. Introverts can be a calming presence, helping the organization stay the course and keep making iterative progress towards important business goals.
Introverts don’t seek the limelight—quite the opposite. As a result, an introvert entrepreneur might not have much trouble allowing other team members their moment in the sun. Creating space for everyone on the team to shine can be a powerful form of leadership, making everyone better and enhancing everyone’s daily experience at work. In her TED talk, Cain mentions some research from the Wharton School of Business to support this. Introverted entrepreneurs, she says, are “much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things. And other people’s ideas might not as easily bubble up to the surface.”
How remote working works for the introvert entrepreneur
Working in a shared office, especially if it is large and based on the increasingly popular open plan model, can be hard on introverts. Not only does remote working provide the privacy an introvert entrepreneur often craves, it can save money, too—a huge benefit for a startup or new business.
Effective remote working makes use of various forms of communication. When you can’t have everyone in one physical room for a meeting, you tend to explore different ways to collaborate.
One such way is asynchronous communication modes such as email, chat, or instant messaging. Introverts tend to be comfortable with these forms of communication, since they can usually take the time they need to reflect and respond when they’re ready.
While there will probably always be a place for face-to-face conversations (in person or on video), asynchronous communication is a valuable part of the introvert entrepreneur’s toolkit.
Introversion and extroversion are about how we respond to stimulation and where we draw our energy from. “The key, then, to maximizing our talents,” Cain says, “is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that’s right for us.” Having the option to work from home in addition to a busy, open-plan office, for example, can give people the ability to pick the work environment that will enhance their energy level at a given time.
Again, no one is a “pure” introvert or extrovert. Most people appreciate some social interaction with their colleagues but also value the opportunity to hunker down and get things done alone. Remote working can be a simple but powerful approach to providing that flexibility.
Live answering to the rescue
If you’re an introvert entrepreneur or are thinking about starting a business, it pays to think about the customer experience you’ll be offering your customers. And if the thought of frequent interruptions and spending a lot of time on the phone makes you want to set your life to “do not disturb,” a live answering service can be a great solution.
When your customer service is handled by a team of experts, you get an instant “first line of defense” against distraction and energy-draining interactions. You can still give your customers everything they need, but you won’t sacrifice your own productivity and peace of mind to do it.
Introvert, extrovert, entrepreneur
Remember, introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. No one is just one or the other—we human beings are more complicated than that. Still, understanding these tendencies, in yourself, in your team, and in your customers, can help you be a more successful entrepreneur.
So if you thought that your personality wasn’t suited to the entrepreneurial life because you tend to be quiet and appreciate your solitude, think again! No less an authority than Gary Vaynerchuk, a renowned marketer and notorious extrovert, has something to say about the potential of the introvert entrepreneur. “Because of technology, there are so many ways to build a company now, talk to people and make connections in the business world; all without leaving your desk,” he says. “Social media, technology, and the current precedent being set all put things in your favor. The scale is tipped. Bet on your personality. Don’t fake it.”