Is it time for you to run your own business? Let’s say you dream of making a fortune manufacturing whizbang gizmos to make millions of lives easier. Or maybe you would be happier with something more pedestrian like running a dog grooming business or offering consulting services on your area of expertise.
If you’re an introvert, you may be depleted from the open office environment that has long been in vogue. Why not create your own enterprise, complete with your own workspace, hours, and a mission that so excites you that you can’t wait to get to work each day? More perks: no more fear of pink slips, no more busybody cubicle mates, and no more noise box of a boss. Not to mention how you can now avoid those big, boisterous back-to-back meetings that drain you.
Of course, if it were that rosy, more of you would quit your jobs and strike out on your own. What should you do? Adelaide Lancaster, co-owner of In Good Company, a collaborative women’s workspace I belong to in New York City, is going to tell you what every introvert needs to know about running a business. Lancaster, an introvert, and her business partner, Amy Abrams, an extrovert*, recently wrote a book, The Big Enough Company.
NA: What’s the scariest part about running a business as an introvert?
AL: Maybe it’s short-sighted or foolish, but I don’t feel scared running a business as an introvert. Most of the things I find scary would be scary to any person. Five years ago I would have felt more nervous about my ability to make connections with people and market my business given my preference for e-mail communication. However, with the advent of social media, marketing has actually switched from one of Amy’s responsibilities to one of mine. I enjoy Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, and my time spent on these forums contributes to the business. I wouldn’t love doing all of the sales, which Amy still does, but I wouldn’t be scared if I had to do it; I’d just organize my time differently. Social media has been a tremendous asset to introverts and people who like to consume information. I find it incredibly informative and empowering.
NA: What strengths do introverts have that give them an edge in running their own businesses?
AL: Self-reliance. Most introverts trust their own opinion and don’t need to solicit the advice and help of lots of others. This can save a lot of time and aggravation. While, of course, it’s important to solicit feedback and input of others, it’s also important to put things in motion and make things happen. Too many opinions can be paralyzing. I have always appreciated my ability to get a lot of work done on my own. In my mind it’s part of what gives me my freedom!
NA: How do you get time to yourself which introverts, in particular, need to recharge?
AL: For me the train can be incredibly restorative. I often leave specific reading or work for that time but other days I will just sit with my calendar and to-do list—thinking things through and planning what to do when is very helpful. Outside of work I especially enjoy listening to NPR. It’s on in the car and at home. I get to be quiet but thinking which I love. Also the variety of topics gives me a break from my normal work but still feels like brain food at the same time. I don’t need a lot of social activity. I think the amount I get through work and my family puts me at near my limit by the end of the day.
NA: Give examples of entrepreneurs you interviewed for your book who are introverts. What are the keys to their success?
AL: Several of the people we interviewed were more introverted. Quite a few of them were designers—both graphic and fashion. The challenge for them was to balance their craft with running their businesses, especially the sales and community building pieces. I think that’s true for many of us introverted entrepreneurs—we just want to spend time with our craft and not worry about the selling, schmoozing part of things.
The problem is that often we don’t know what we don’t know, and as introverts we are generally comfortable relying on our own opinion and information gathering. We spend way too much time reinventing the wheel and learning lessons the hard way.
So if lots of in-person networking isn’t your thing, you need to find other ways to make connections to colleagues. For example, one person we interviewed was a product designer who loved making things by hand. Entrepreneurship was a new and unexpected path for her and she didn’t have many peers who were also entrepreneurs. She knew that she didn’t have an efficient way to get answers to her questions. She ended up cultivating an online cadre of other Etsy sellers for support and information. They’ve been a great sounding board and source of resources as she has grown her business. The key is not avoiding something but instead finding the most comfortable way for you to do it.
NA: Last time we talked in this forum, I interviewed you and Amy about how introverts and extroverts can work well together. Given your radically different styles, what was it like writing a book together? Or should I guess who did more of the research and who did more of the schmoozing with agents and publicists?
AL: Actually, I’m not sure that our roles broke down in completely typical ways. Amy, as a strong extrovert, doesn’t like writing, so I did that part. However, most people would be surprised at how little of the “producing a book process” is actually about writing. The life of our book will span more than two years and the writing part only took about four months, maybe five with some editing. However the whole experience has been incredibly interactive. We conducted 100 interviews in about 10 weeks. It was fascinating to hear how Amy and I heard the same information differently, and to see what kinds of different questions we would ask. We collaborated on the architecture of the book and on the promotion. Although I think most people would also be surprised how appealing promoting a book can be for introverts as well. I enjoy the book talks and workshops because there is a structure and I also enjoy the online promotional aspects too. What I don’t enjoy is how much there is to do at once!
NA: In The Big Enough Company you talk about your altruistic reasons for writing a book. Can you address what’s in it for you and Amy? A lot of people dream of writing a book. Why might doing so be useful to entrepreneurs looking to build their business?
AL: Sure! We decided a couple of years ago that we didn’t want to open additional locations of In Good Company in other cities. In part because it would have given us jobs that we didn’t enjoy – more landlord, less thinking/writing for me and less engagement for Amy.
However, we wanted to be able to do two things. Share our business philosophy with a larger audience through writing, speaking, and various teaching opportunities. These opportunities are a lot easier to get if you have a book, if for no other reason than writing a book is an extended exercise in formulating, crafting, and positioning your philosophy.
We also wanted to reposition ourselves for the next phase of our business. I’m not totally sure where we are going next. However, I know that The Big Enough Company has opened a lot of doors and given us the opportunity to experiment with various platforms and activities—many of which we could continue to build our business around.
NA: Anything else?
AL: One thing that has been really important for me is to hire the right people, especially vendors. As an introvert I care a lot about attention to detail, thoughtful communication, and consistency. It drives me crazy to have to manage other people’s details and follow up with them about things they owe me. However, I also need people who are strong extroverts so they can do the things I don’t like to do. I have found that I have to do two things for successful partnerships. First, be clear about how I like to be communicated with as the client. And second, look for a baseline level of responsiveness and thoroughness even among those people who will be doing extroverted tasks like pitching.
*Also spelled “extravert” by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.
Copyright © 2011 Nancy Ancowitz