I recently launched an online business, and in the process of sharing it with the world I found myself bumping up against an all-too-familiar problem: I'm an introvert. Like most introverts, constant social engagement tends to drain me of energy, whether it's online or off. Reading a novel on the couch might have the opposite effect, but that isn't going to help me market and grow my business – right?
Introverts are clearly having a cultural moment, thanks largely to Susan Cain, whose bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking has galvanized introverts around the world. But we still live in a hyper-connected world that favours those with sprawling social networks, fearless salesmanship, and quick fingers. What's a quiet entrepreneur to do?
Through reflection, advice, and strategic choices, I've learned it's more than possible to effectively market your business as an introvert. Here are ten tips to help introverted entrepreneurs grow their businesses online – without pretending to be someone they're not.
1. Play to your strengths. The days of dictating letters to the receptionist are long gone. Now, every business owner must constantly express themselves in writing. Luckily, introverts tend to excel at this. By creating high quality content for your blog and e-mail list (and you really should have an e-mail list) and by crafting personal e-mails that not only convey information but also help build relationships, introverts can set themselves apart from their extroverted counterparts.
2. Use the stealth tactic. This is something every introvert learned way back on the playground: wallflowers notice things. Listen carefully to your clients, and keep a close eye on industry leaders and competitors. Know that through active listening, introverts are great at noticing patterns and making connections. This gives you a competitive edge.
3. Get clear on what is holding you back. This advice comes from Wokie Nwabueze, a communications strategist and coach from New York who works with many introverted, shy and highly sensitive women leaders. "There is an important difference between feeling energetically drained by self-promotion and being uncomfortable with visibility," Nwabueze tells me. She says the former requires a balanced game plan, while the latter requires deep self-reflection, confidence building and courage.
4. Like in real life, value quality over quantity in relationships. Instead of uncomfortably gunning for followers, focus on developing meaningful online relationships with key influencers and complementary businesses who will help you grow your tribe. In my business, this has meant using online networks to forge strategic partnerships and developing a referral program -- instead of trying to be the next big thing on Twitter.
5. Be selective about social media networks. This is something a lot of business owners –introverted or not – learn the hard way. Choose one or two social media networks you and your ideal clients both enjoy, and ignore the others. If you try to do it all, you'll run out of steam and the quality of your updates and overall online presence will suffer for it.
6. But remember to engage, and to give. If you're on the shy side, you might be inclined to pop into your social media network of choice only to nervously post your latest blog post before disappearing. Unfortunately that can make you look kind of self-centred, which I know you aren't.
Instead, be generous. Remember social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk's give, give, give, ask rule: give three times as much as you ask. Generate good karma by being helpful.
7. Take a leadership role. Create communities on your own terms. If you are feeling uncomfortable in or exhausted by rambunctious forums and groups, for example, considering starting your own and inviting people with similar outlooks and personalities to join you. Or start a mastermind group with other introverts, and strategize ways to support each other in business and marketing.
8. Try video. Videos are a great way for introverts to connect online. My former client and self-proclaimed highly sensitive person Nathalie Lesage is a good example: her YouTube jewellery-making tutorials have received as many as 29,000 views.
"You record something once but share it multiple times or indefinitely," Lesage points out. For introverts who find social engagement tiring, this can help you engage with a wide range of clients and fans – without burning out.
9. Take time out. Don't make the mistake of thinking you're alone when you're online, and later wonder why you have nothing left for your real-life family and friends. You might be spending more time socially engaged than you realize -- especially if you obsess over every post and update. I find that when I abstain from social media on the weekends, I enter the new week feeling more positive and energetic.
10. Make face time. Introverts engage best one-on-one. Supplement your online interactions with real-world encounters and intimate video chats to show how deeply social introverts can be – under the right circumstances.
Nicole Baute is a copywriter, storyteller and story coach. She helps small businesses tell their stories online through her business, the Story Factory. Although she lives in Vancouver, B.C., thanks to the virtues of online marketing she works with clients from all over the world.