In many ways, society seems to favor extroverts: Outgoing, confident people who thrive on social interaction. And since freelancers’ success often lies in their ability to network and generate referrals, extroverts seem to have a real competitive edge. Does that mean that introverts can’t be uber-successful freelancers too? Not at all.
For starters, successful introverts like J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Gandhi and Warren Buffett prove that you don’t have to be the life of the party to get ahead. Word on the street is that Barack Obama is also an introvert. Personally, I’m an outgoing introvert, so I don’t fit neatly into either camp. I thrive in certain interactions and social contexts, while others drain or exhaust me, so I can relate to both.
Why Introverts Actually Have an Edge as Freelancers
A Strong Ability to Work Independently
Introverts value their alone time and the constant noise and disruptions of a job in an open office plan could stress them out. In fact, research shows that background music has a greater negative impact on the cognitive performance of introverts versus extroverts. While some extroverts would go stir-crazy working from home without coworkers to energize them, introverts might find that freelancing from a home office or other quiet setting gives them the solitude they crave. Marilyn Monroe summed up the spirit of an introvert, saying “I restore myself when I’m alone.”
Amazing Listening skills
If you’re always trumpeting your own accomplishments and achievements, you don’t have time to listen and understand the other person’s point of view or observe their non-verbal signals like body language. Not that all extroverts are bad listeners, but by being a little more reserved and warming up over time, introverts give themselves the chance to think deeply and absorb what other people are saying. Understanding a potential client or business partner’s approach or needs could help an introvert land a deal and forge a strong relationship. Many introverts hate of small talk, and that preference can actually help them form deep and meaningful connections that truly last.
Introspection Lends Itself to Creative Solutions
In addition to observing and listening to those around them, introverts think deeply and possess a rich inner world. This could be especially useful to freelancers in creative disciplines like writing, design or musical composition. Their introspection can help generate new creative ideas that wouldn’t have happened without the space for reflection. As Susan Cain wrote in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
While introversion might benefit your work product, they can sometimes be a hindrance to running (and growing) a business. After all, beyond doing amazing work, business owners need to hustle for sales, provide stellar customer service and even network and speak at events.
These things may not come as naturally for an introvert – in fact they can be downright terrifying. But never fear, they are not deal-breakers to running your own business.
Ways Introverts Can Learn to Network More Effectively
Choose the Right Setting
In an article on Networking for Introverts in Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark stresses the importance of networking in spaces where you feel comfortable. Many introverts would get overwhelmed trying to make chit-chat in a crowded, noisy bar but they could make useful connections in a smaller, quieter environment. “If it’s an intimate dinner, I’ll almost always say yes,” she writes.
“If it’s a raucous roofdeck gathering, I’ll probably sneak out the back.” Clark also encourages introverts to think about the time of day they’re networking. I’m not a morning person, so I rarely schedule an early-morning coffee meeting, because I know will deplete all of my energy just to get to the coffee shop on time, much less to actually listen and contribute to the conversation. Lunchtime or evening events are more my speed.
Factor in Downtime to Recharge
Trying to be “on” 24/7 is exhausting, even for some extroverts, so don’t over-schedule yourself. Especially at conferences, there’s a tendency to feel like you have to talk to as many as possible and attend every single event to get your money’s worth. But for many introverts, it’s more effective to space things out and give yourself a break so you can give your all to the events that do you attend.
“If you know that you are going to allow yourself to leave early, it’s a lot easier to be fully present and engaged for the time that you’re there,” says Susan Cain in a Harvard Business Review article on How Introverts Can Make the Most of Conferences. When I attend conferences that run for multiple days, I’ll sometimes register for the day that has the most interesting panels scheduled, because I know I can’t be my best self for several long consecutive days of small talk and schmoozing.
Tap into Online Networking
The beauty of social media is that you can network with others without putting on a suit or sipping coffee in a room full of strangers. Join online forums or LinkedIn groups in your industry, engage with customers and colleagues on Instagram or Facebook, and participate in Twitter chats that relate to the type of work that you do. While most in-person networking is limited by geography, online networking is not, which means you could get referrals or advice from people all over the world.
Personally, I’ve made some of my best connections through online groups for writers who share ideas and refer each other work. Making these connections online also gives me the confidence to walk into a conference where I’ll meet these people in person and deepen that rapport.
Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs consider themselves introverts. When you’re terrified about attending an event, odds are many people in the room feel the exact same way. The key is to not let that fear hold you back and to develop tools and strategies for overcoming those nerves.
Introverted freelancers may work and network differently than extroverts, but by tapping into the strategies that make sense for them, they can be every bit as successful.
About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter@UrbanMuseWriter.