The Shy Entrepreneur


We’re all aware of the traditional image of the entrepreneur – brash, self confident, not an ounce of introspection, high dominance on the DISC profile (see me for more details!), doesn’t know the meaning of ‘self-doubt…’

But supposing you’re not like that?

Supposing you’re an introvert? A little bit shy? One of those people who could say, “I feel physically frightened before a networking event.” (And yes, that’s a direct quote.)

Does that mean you’re disqualified from running your own business – that however good your ideas, you’re destined to be a second-in-command while someone else basks in the glory? And the lion’s share of the cash…

Not necessarily. Which is good news – because I have plenty of Board members, potential members and good friends who absolutely do not match the traditional ‘entrepreneur profile.’

Some of them are running – or could be running – outstanding businesses.

I’ve just read a really interesting blog post on how introverts can get the career, pay and credit they deserve.

The article – by Tahl Raz – led me on to an interview he’d done with communications coach Nancy Ancowitz who gave three tips for introverts; ways in which they could make themselves heard “in a world where everybody is talking.”

So, for the benefit of anyone who counts themselves among this group (which apparently accounts for a third of us) and who’d cheerfully eat their thumb rather than go to another networking event, here are Nancy’s three tips:

1. Write – many introverts are naturally good writers, and if you struggle to make a case for yourself when it’s ‘sixty seconds round the table’ then write it down. Use your skills to make sure that the quality of the written work your business produces is outstanding. And people will take notice.

2. Don’t try and wing it. Let’s take a business lunch as an example – again, everyone speaks for 60 seconds. If you’re naturally shy, don’t try and make it up as you go along. Write your ‘speech,’ learn it – and then deliver it as naturally as you can. Chances are, the confidence you gain from knowing it, will allow you to deliver a stellar performance. If you’re an introvert, preparation and detail are likely to be among your strengths: play to them.

3. According to Ancowitz, “video-tape is an introvert’s best friend.” She recommends having a friend or mentor video you in a social setting. That way, she says, you can easily identify (and correct) behaviour that may cause others to see you as aloof and anti-social.

Now I can see that having someone follow you round 4Networking with a video camera might make some of you feel slightly uncomfortable! So here’s an alternative suggestion. More and more websites are now including video: if you’re someone who shies away from large social groups, make your pitch on video and put it on your website. Link to it on Twitter and next time you’re forcing yourself to eat a disappointing bacon sandwich in the company of extrovert strangers, there’s a chance that they’ll already have ‘met’ you. They might even ask for your advice…

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14 comments

  1. Rory Ryan · March 9, 2012

    Another good blog Ed. One thing I cannot stand is walking into a room of 50 plus people and trying to make conversation and connections. It is such an unnatural thing for me. Conversely, I was happy to spend a full weekend talking to strangers at a trade show. I suppose the key difference was that I knew people were interested in my sector and the conversation had a natural flow.
    I am confident that when people are interested in my sector and hear what I have to say they want more. So, excellent advice! I’ll be incorporating some blogs/posts into my new website. And to prove I’m listening; I hope to win this particular game well after full time has passed!

    • edreidyork · March 9, 2012

      Hi Rory – good to hear from the other side of the (small) pond. It certainly helps when people are interested! Speak soon, Ed

  2. demhalluk · March 9, 2012

    Glad to know I’m worthy of having my own business. I have actually been asked how I ever hope to succeed if I’m not outgoing and confident, which did make me wonder whether all felicitous entrepreneurs were essentially gobby, bolshy extroverts! If I meet someone of this ilk I pay little heed, so they’re not winning everyone over. Perhaps the most successful businessperson would be someone who’s confident but also one who’s not full of their own importance; do these two qualities exist separately from each other?!

    • edreidyork · March 9, 2012

      Hi Diane – great to hear from you too! Understated confidence (very different from arrogance), and a bit of self-deprecation is perhaps the magic formula. These qualities generally win me over if I sense some aptitude as well. Hope everything’s going well for you!

  3. Cath Blakey · March 9, 2012

    Who would rather do business with – someone who is bossy, self opinionated and full their own importance; or someone who is a little shy, quiet but you can talk to? Generally us shier types are good listeners, which makes us good to do business with! I think it is all about playing with the skills you do have rather than force yourself to have skills that aren’t natural. And I have found over time I am getting better at networking, I don’t shake quite as much as that creepy death comes round the breakfast table to my turn!!

    • edreidyork · March 9, 2012

      Hi Cath – I don’t ever remember you shaking as creepy death went round!! And I know you’re a good listener because you’re a good marketeer – can’t have one without the other!

  4. Michaela Oldfield · March 9, 2012

    Hi Ed, I read this with interest, as you know I work with many people who wish to improve their communication skills and confidence, often these people are introverts in terms of their personality types. With one in 3 of us being an introvert I would hold the mirror up to all networking groups and ask them the question, are you catering for the needs of your members? I believe that group organisers would be far more successful if they studied some simple human psychology principles and learnt to recognise and read people more effectively, supporting those who are less comfortable in these situations. I am reasonably confident myself but have walked in to some groups as a new member only to be faced with what feels like an impenetrable wall of people all busy in conversation. I have then been faced with trying to join in a conversation, this can be excruciating for shy people. I do believe that anyone, with the right support can develop their skills to be able to flex their style for the appropriate scenario but come on networking groups, please start treating us as individuals, read the distress signals and respond accordingly.

    • edreidyork · March 9, 2012

      Hi Kyla – thanks for your thoughts – well-judged as always. I agree that for a lot of people, “interrupting” existing group conversations can be daunting, but I’ve always found that “May I join you?” works a treat. As ever, simple is often best.

  5. Keith Findlater · March 9, 2012

    Dear Ed, thank you for such an insightful blog. This is a big topic and shyness can be debilitating at the worst of times, there are often huge internal battles taking place to overcome this and talk to people. Then frustration that you are not conveying the talents you possess as the 60 second soundbite opportunity is so fleeting. Rehearsal and presentation skills are a good way to get round this problem, also using props such as written material and images. I’ve come to the conclusion though that it seems impossible to convey everything in such a short period of time so you have to rely on listeners to empathise with you: they need to be proactive to get to know you. That doesn’t overcome the shyness but in the end, I currently think that good business is about building relationships and so there needs to be a willingness to interact on both sides. Hope this is of some use and thank you for raising an important topic.

    • edreidyork · March 9, 2012

      Hi Keith – nice to hear from you – thanks for contributing. Building relationships is what it’s all about, and recognising you can’t do that in a 60 second burst! It does take time to know, like and trust…

  6. Steven Partridge · March 9, 2012

    An interesting blog, Ed. It’s perhaps partly the nature of my work, but I do find that confidence does come from a mixture of experience and preparation.

  7. edreidyork · March 9, 2012

    Hi Steven – there’s a lot to be said for experience and prep; very valuable attributes in growing your confidence! Hope all’s well, Ed

  8. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · March 10, 2012

    To avoid walking in to a room full of people my tip would be to turn up early. Being one of the first means others will walk up to you and start conversation.

  9. Pingback: Don’t Hide your Light… | EdReidYork's Blog

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