“Lawrence, it’s not who you know, but who knows you!” Those were the words that my Uncle Chuck told me as I was sitting in his office last week. We were talking about the key ingredients needed to become a successful entrepreneur. Actually, Uncle Chuck was making fun of me because I told him how happy I was to have a gym and Starbucks in the building in which I live. “You need to get off your butt, quit drinking lattes, and get around Atlanta to meet as many people as possible.” Uncle Chuck retorted.
Uncle Chuck is a master salesperson. Very rarely do you hear him not sound confident. This is one of the reasons why he and my aunt have been successful in the shipping industry for 18 years. But, is the formula that he outlined the only way to achieve success as an entrepreneur? Chuck is definitely an extrovert, so does this mean that only extroverts can be successful in growing a business?
As soon as I returned to Atlanta, I came across this TED Talk by Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. The video reinforced what I already knew: introverts and extroverts are both needed to grow a successful business and society. Much of the old school advice that is considered common knowledge about being successful in business comes from an extrovert’s perspective. I want to counteract that advice in this article. Below are some of the things that I have done to become a successful entrepreneur as in introvert.
Susan Cain’s video above explains introversion. She states that “introversion is how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation. Introverts feel that they are most alive, switched on, and capable when they are in low key environments. We all have to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is best for us.” There is no such thing as a person being completely an introvert or an extrovert. We all can be both under the right circumstances, but usually a person identifies with one or the other.
The culture of the United States is definitely more geared towards extroversion. Everything from constant group work in school to the constant pressure to going to big parties on the weekend. Introverts need to quit buying into this social norm and do the things that make them the happiest/most productive. One of the most liberating things that I have done is the New Year’s resolution that I made to myself 5 years ago. I promised that I was going to quit doing things just because all of my friends were doing them.
A good example is the fact that I hate going to clubs. I don’t drink, like standing in long lines, like loud music, or like being around lots of people in crowded environments. One day I asked myself “Why am I doing tihs?” I then made the conscious decision to stop going and filled that time with things that I loved (i.e. reading). I became more energized, creative, and productive.
One of my greatest strengths is the ability to consume large amounts of information and synthesize it into a form that people can understand. This skill was honed by constant reading (audiobooks included) and then going off into “Lawrence Land” to just think. This sounds boring to most people, but it is the lifeblood that makes me want to wake up every single day. My core strength also translates into how I run my company, which is very systems focused and relies heavily on technology. I have some competitors who do very well by going to all of the trade shows and making 50 phone calls per day. That is just not what I’m good at, so I decided to build my business around my core strengths.
What are your core strengths and how can you structure your venture around those attributes?
I believe that an entrepreneur needs to build around his/her skills as much as possible when creating a company. This strategy still can leave strategic holes regarding what is necessary to grow a successful venture. Your options are either to develop those skills in which you are deficient yourself or find someone else to help fill in the gaps. I prefer the latter.
I cannot automate every single part of Great Black Speakers nor would I want to. But, I also don’t want to talk to people all day long. Solution? Find someone who likes to converse. I started working with Diana Atkinson, Executive Director of GBS, immediately before I started business school. She likes to talk and sell, but hates doing the things that I’m good at. It’s worked out well as GBS has grown substantially and she has been with the company over 3 years now.
I think Uncle Chuck was right about the importance of people knowing who you are, but that doesn’t necessarily have to happen in an extroverted type of way. These are just three of the things that I did to structure my life around my strengths. What are some of your tips on being successful introverted entrepreneur? Please place them in the comments below.
Also, here is an awesome slide presentation by Sacha Chua on introverts and how to be shy effectively: