Does being an introvert make it more difficult to start your own business?

As I navigate the transition from an office job to self-employment as a life coach, I seek strategies for launching my services to the wider world. One way is to take the project on the road, so to speak. Talking to people about it. And while doing so, perhaps not just accumulating clients, but also asking friends and acquaintances for advice, references, and connections.

In other words, networking.

Networking scares those of us who feel disadvantaged socially. Some of the disadvantaged are introverts like me, people who naturally prefer smaller circles of influence. Introverts would rather watch and observe groups of people talking than participate in conversations. 

But networking is essential if you want to meet anyone you haven't met before. People are more likely to do business with you or hire you if you're someone they already know, or you're someone who knows someone they already know.  

To be told that networking is essential to getting my next job or client, you might as well be suggesting that I jump off a cliff and get it over with because nothing sounds more painful. Why is this so hard to do for an introvert?


The book Quiet, by Susan Cain, reviews the psychology and the characteristics of introverts and extroverts. 

Extroverts can think on their feet and are therefore more charismatic; they have an innate sense of confidence around other people; they have more friends and casual relationships; and they get energized by talking and making connections. They identify themselves by their relationships, something that is key to running a business.

You would think that for introverts, it would be much better for us if we took jobs that didn't require the skills that extroverts have naturally. But this doesn't mean that introverts can't be as successful as extroverts in those jobs. Susan Cain offers introverts some hope. Apparently, we have our own wonderful set of skills.

Surprisingly, not all introverts are shy and so introversion is not synonymous with shyness. Introverts ask great questions and are wonderful listeners; they tend to be more deeply informed, because they take the time to do their research; they are a calming influence to other people; they show an authentic interest in others; they are empathetic and tend to have a strong conscience; they tend to be loyal and selective with their friendships. They identify themselves by their values.

Eleanor Roosevelt was an introvert.

Eleanor Roosevelt was an introvert.

Apparently, there are a lot of successful introverts: Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Christina Aguilera, Courtney Cox, Emma Watson, Audrey Hepburn, Rosa Parks and J.K. Rowling. 

Susan Cain offers this advice:

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.

And if you're still not sure that you are cut out for entrepreneurship because you're an introvert, she says:

The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.

If you are an introvert, what have you found yourself struggling with that others seem to do so easily?