How I Navigate Entrepreneurship as an Introvert
Owning your quiet power and building a small business that aligns with your gentle strengths
I studied entrepreneurship in the creative industries for my post-secondary education and grew up surrounded by a community of entrepreneurs. I heard the words “risk-taker,” “bold,” “resilient,” “energetic,” “adaptable,” “persuasive,” “tolerant of ambiguity,” “and “natural leader” to describe the small business owners around me. I always loved the idea of building something out of nothing and carving my own path in the world, but none of those words were ones I would use to describe myself. Preferring listening to talking, carefully thinking things through before making decisions, growing up a dedicated rule-follower, craving a sense of stability, and needing ample time by myself to feel most productive, creative, and refreshed, I didn't — and still don't — check off the list of traits of a successful entrepreneur. As a result, I spent a lot of my young adult years thinking I may be better off applying my ideas within an already established organization with set hours, steady pay, and a clear hierarchy of decision-makers rather than building something on my own. I even tried it for a while, but a few years in, I was led back to that instinct I held to start a small business of my own.
The beautiful thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship is that you can make it whatever you want and need it to be. You don't need to be the boldest personality in the room, be full-time with your business, or live up to an external image of success. You can build a business — or any creative pursuit — that is slow and steady, makes you feel fulfilled, and aligns with who you are and your goals. To delve into how introverts' quiet power may be an unrecognized strength in the world of entrepreneurship, this blog post is all about how I navigate entrepreneurship as a high-scoring introvert while building a small business that works for me!
Shaping Your Small Business to Your Quiet Strengths
1. Giving Yourself Time to Think Things Through: Communicating How (and Where) You Express Yourself Best
One of the ways that I manage my energy and prevent social burnout is by choosing how and where I communicate. Outside of running a small business, my preferred way of communicating with others has always been through writing. In contrast to speaking in person or over the phone, expressing my thoughts, coordinating with others, and making decisions through writing allows me to think my response through. I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I have the time to craft a thoughtful response and show up to that conversation with a clear mind without the pressure of thinking on my feet. While connecting with others in person can be incredible (and important), when it comes to navigating entrepreneurship, email, contact forms, and private messages are where I connect with others most!
Luckily, one of the best parts of entrepreneurship is that you can shape your processes according to what aligns with you and suits your lifestyle most. There are no rules telling you that you have to take client meetings over coffee, schedule Zooms, or chat over the phone! Of course, there are many situations that better suit connecting person, but I find that keeping the majority of my communications (when appropriate) to writing is key to maintaining my energy levels throughout the work day, getting into a creative workflow, and having the alone time I need.
2. Creating Calming Rituals Around Meetings & Interactions
When the situation does call for a coffee meeting, Zoom call, ring on the phone, or an in-person visit, I have a few rituals that help me navigate social situations with more confidence and less stress. Whether I’m scheduled for a virtual meeting or meeting someone in person, I carve out time before the meeting starts to get settled and create an ideal environment that makes me feel at ease. For Zoom meetings and phone calls, this means adding a half hour before my call starts to set up my laptop and charger, test out my camera and microphone, create a calming environment, get out my notebook and pen, review my notes, and pour myself a glass of water. While it may seem insignificant to some, these rituals help me feel more prepared and comfortable so I can be fully present with the person I’m chatting to!
When I’m planning to meet someone in person, my routine looks a little bit different. I always try to arrive at the destination early to get a good feel for my environment. I tend to get overwhelmed in places I haven't been before, so scheduling a bit of extra time to walk around and get situated before I have to jump straight into a conversation gives me time to settle into the space and feel calmer by the time the meeting starts!
Once my virtual or in-person meeting ends, my routine isn’t over: to recharge my batteries, I schedule time after my meeting to do a restorative activity. Whether it’s going for a walk, spending some time outside, watching an episode of a tv series I’m watching, journaling, or laying down for a rest, taking some time to reset is crucial to bringing my energy back up to its baseline.
3. Carving Out Alone Time to Get Into a Creative Flow
While connecting with others is one of the things I love about having a small business, as an introvert, I must remain in tune with my energy levels and be mindful of how much time I’m dedicating to interacting with others, whether that’s responding to emails or scheduling meetings.
To manage my social energy, something that works for me is spending a half-hour to an hour at the end of my work day responding to my emails, comments, and messages. One of my hidden “secrets” is Gmail and Slack’s scheduling feature. Using this tool, I’ll hop into my inbox in the evening when I have a clear mind to dedicate to replying with thoughtful responses to everyone who reached out to me that day! Once I’m happy with my reply, I’ll schedule it to be sent the following morning so I don’t have to think about the pressure of hitting “send” and I can sleep knowing that my emails are taken care of. This helps me balance the alone time I need to get into a creative flow while remaining responsive and sending thoughtful replies. When a message pops up, I can have peace of mind knowing that I have a dedicated time to get to it.
4. Building Connections (and Marketing Your Business)
I remember one of the things that made me nervous about entrepreneurship was the idea of networking and marketing my small business. I was familiar with networking groups and events that offer ways to connect with other entrepreneurs in the community, but the thought of going into a room where I knew nobody and talking about what I do was definitely not an environment I was comfortable in. But since starting a small business, I’ve learned that there are so many different ways of networking and marketing your business that align with you — so many of which don’t involve speaking in a busy room buzzing with people or even leaving your house.
One of the most obvious ways to do this is through social media. While I go through bouts where being active on social media feels overwhelming and I need to take a step back from it to reset, social media offers enriching ways to connect with like-minded people and build authentic relationships within my small business. In “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” Susan Cain finds that in contrast to what you may think, many introverts tend to be more comfortable sharing things on social media than they are with others in real life. While introverts also appreciate time offline, many find that the online world is an environment where they can share their thoughts or creative work in a more prepared, thought-out, and intentional way. It’s something that I resonate with in my own practice: I often find it easier (and more creative) to share what I’m working on on my Instagram feed than it is to explain it to a family member or friend.
Another way I love to build connections and share my story is through other online mediums, including email marketing, writing blog posts, sharing my work on Pinterest, and emailing others whose work inspires me (I think of it as having a virtual coffee)! All of these avenues are in the realm of writing, but they’ve all resulted in deep connections (and even business partnerships) I’ve always dreamed of while drawing on my strengths as an introvert, creating spaces that make me feel safe, and offering alternatives to traditional networking that help me communicate with a clear, present mind.
5. Tuning Into When It's Time to Recharge (and What That Looks Like For You)
While working an office job and attending in-person classes throughout University, I remember being so confused when my coworkers and classmates talked about the plans they had when the day was over: going out with friends, visiting a new restaurant, heading to an extracurricular, or seeing a new movie or show. I thought there must be something wrong with me because all I had the energy to do after 5 o’clock was to make myself dinner, pack my lunch for the next day, and head straight to bed and read for a little while or watch a few episodes of whatever tv series I was watching on Netflix. Now, I understand that being surrounded by other peoples’ energy for eight hours a day drained my social batteries and I needed time to myself to recharge. While others’ idea of recharging was relaxing with friends, as an introvert, I need quiet time to myself to fill my cup. Both are okay as long as we know what works best for us.
In running my small business and navigating the busy days, it’s important to carve out time for activities that help you recharge. If it helps, try making a list of “restorative activities:” or little things you do that make you feel relaxed, refreshed, and inspired. For me, going for a walk outside, reading a few chapters from a book, journaling, painting, cooking, tending to my home and indoor garden, or laying down to rest my eyes does the trick. While I always make room for these activities when my work day is done, I try to incorporate some of these throughout my day as well when I have a lunch break or need a few minutes to recenter myself between tasks.
Owning Your Gentle Power
While the picture of a successful entrepreneur often describes an extrovert — “risk-taker,” “bold,” “resilient,” “willing to fail,” “competitive,” “energetic,” “adaptable,” “persuasive,” “tolerant of ambiguity,” “natural leader” — I believe that introverts possess gentle strengths that make them successful small business owners, too. Introverts are expressive and creative thinkers, allowing them to develop imaginative ideas, think deeply, deliberately, and intentionally, and empathize with others through listening and observing — all traits that are valuable in building a small business. Both introverts and extroverts bring strengths that allow them to find success in the entrepreneurship journey, making being in tune with what you bring to the table, what success looks like to you, and how your business aligns with you all the more important!
If you’re also an introvert, let me know if this resonates with you and if you have any tips of your own for navigating entrepreneurship and owning your quiet power!