My family branded me an extrovert early. They saw that I wasn't shy with strangers but overlooked all the hours I spent alone reading. I tried to live up to their expectations. My first job involved fielding phone calls all day, and spending two or three nights a week at events. My next jobs were equally social. When I started my own business, networking was the primary way I promoted myself.
By my early thirties, though, it became hard to keep up the act. When my work required evening events, I countered by scheduling me time and spending whole weekends alone. I worried that if I stopped pretending to be extroverted, my business would suffer and I’d have to go back to working for someone else. Finally, I rebelled. I knew I had to change the way I sold myself. I had to rebuild my marketing efforts on a new foundation.
Living in an extroverted society, we’ve been taught that promoting ourselves requires "people skills" like schmoozing with strangers, small talk, thinking fast on your feet, and in-person sales meetings. These rules tend to penalize introverts, pushing us into situations where we aren’t likely to excel. So many introverts leave the selling to someone else, toiling away in some back room or cubicle. If we choose to work for ourselves, we obscure a big part of our true personalities in order to get along.
Maybe you’ve always been an introvert or tuned into those tendencies as you've gotten older. Can you still promote yourself professionally in a world of extroverts without feeling like an alien? Unequivocally, yes—and you don't have to have a personality transplant. Here's what I've learned.
Extroverts are the blonds of the Myers-Briggs world—we think they’re supposed to have more fun. We also tend to think there are more extroverts out there, even though as many as half of us are introverts. These beliefs often encourage introverts to put on an act. Trying to be something you’re not makes you look awkward, pushing people away.
When I stopped trying to pass as an extrovert, embracing my introversion—surprise, surprise—I became more comfortable with myself. Rather than fumbling, I was more confident. My business grew rather than floundered.
While extroverts are lauded, introverts have plenty of qualities in their marketing arsenal. Introverts are great listeners who think deeply about things, which means they have well-rounded and well-reasoned arguments, often making them excellent writers. Don’t buy into the myth that to sell yourself you need to change who you are. Own your traits proudly.
It’s hard to talk and listen at the same time. By talking less, introverts give their full attention. They may be short on conversation, but introverts are highly observant. You pay attention to what others are saying—and what they’re not saying. Use those keen skills of observation to your advantage, seeing subtleties and opportunities that more talkative people might overlook.
It's no secret that content creation has exploded in the past few years, much of it surface-level platitudes. Your watchful temperament lets you penetrate further to make others think more deeply. If you like to write, use those finely honed skills to write insightfully. Finding unexpected perspectives will help your work stand out—you don’t even have to leave your desk.
After realizing I was actually an introvert, I dreaded meeting new people. I hated having to answer, "What do you do for a living?" Having to prepare an elevator pitch made me feel like a phony. Instead, I told people about my latest project. "I’m working on a book about how pricing is really about mind-set, not math." Answering this way led to far more interesting conversations and no torturous discussions about weather or the latest sporting event.
Introverts are notorious for hating the small talk common at large events. But conferences can be incredibly helpful for connecting with colleagues and for prospecting. Skip the small talk by doing interesting things. Channeling your curiosity into your own creations will make you feel more fulfilled—and give you something to talk about.
Most marketing and personal branding experts will tell you there’s a good or right way to promote yourself. They may wind up frightening you with stories of ruination when you don’t follow their ways. Whether it's intentionally propagated or otherwise, this is a lie.
It’s true that there are some best practices, but there isn’t only one approach that works when it comes to advancing your career. Podcasting, writing, tweeting, and email are great ways to promote your work, even though none of them are especially showy. And you can do each of them without stepping a foot outside or shaking a single hand. Experiment until you find the methods you enjoy, and that resonate with your audience. Never mimic others; find your own way.
Don’t worry about becoming a super salesperson, running all over town to get business. Marketing is really just about connecting with others about something that matters. And that's something introverts are actually really good at.
Suzan Bond teaches professionals how to gain independence by working for themselves. She is the author of The Anti-Goals Guide and is writing a series of books called Bet on Yourself. Follow her on Twitter at @suzanbond.