When thinking of personality traits that make a successful independent consultant, “outgoing,” “social,” or “extroverted” may come to mind. While those who enjoy networking and interacting with others may be at an advantage when it comes to self-promotion or meeting new people, it that doesn’t mean that a natural introvert—or a shy extrovert—can’t succeed as an independent consultant.
The difference between introverts and extroverts isn’t that introverts are reserved and quiet while extroverts are enthusiastic and outgoing, it’s how each gains energy. While a social environment will fuel an extrovert, introverts recharge by being on their own. Here are three ways to use your unique characteristics to your advantage as an introverted independent consultant.
1. Focus on Your Strengths
Some people may find the benefits of independent consulting attractive, but ultimately conclude that their introverted personality makes them a poor candidate for this career path. However, many introvert qualities are valuable traits when it comes to self-employment. For instance, introverts may be better mentally equipped to not only handle the isolation that comes with working alone, but to actually embrace and benefit from it. Instead of worrying about what you can’t do, focus on the qualities that you do have and use them to your advantage.
Introverts may not be social butterflies, but they are able to build a large network of contacts as quickly and as easily as extroverts. Remember, introverted doesn’t mean antisocial. Introverts tend to excel at building strong, lasting, one-on-one relationships. That type of rapport can easily translate into loyal, long-term clients. Strong client bonds can also lead to referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations.
While introverts may be more reserved, they tend to be good listeners and analytical thinkers. These are valuable traits that can be helpful when it comes to selling your services. When working closely with clients to develop a solution, being able to read people using nonverbal cues can put you at an advantage. By listening carefully and using their intuition, introverts can impress a potential client with a detailed proposal, or gain their trust with a plan that speaks to exactly what they are looking for.
2. Make Your Weaknesses More Approachable
There is a reason why independent consulting is often considered an extrovert’s field: the ability to network and strengthen relationships in a face-to-face setting is invaluable. If you’re the type of person who tends to dread these situations, there are ways to successfully network without having an extroverted personality.
Creating and practicing a short elevator speech before a networking event can be very beneficial for introverts. When you know exactly what you need to say, it can be less nerve-wracking when it’s time to speak to someone.
Another helpful strategy is to have a few questions and short conversation starters in mind that you can ask people you meet. Focus on presenting a friendly and approachable demeanor through non-verbal communication; welcoming body language, confident eye contact, and a warm smile can speak volumes.
Introverts tend to work best one-on-one or in a small group setting. Apply these ideas to networking. Make the first move by speaking to the person who is standing alone, or introduce yourself to a small group. Most people at networking events will jump at the chance to talk about what they do, so ease into a conversation by asking a question and listening.
3. Use Independence to Your Advantage
While networking may be the most obvious and difficult obstacle for introverted independent consultants, challenges also exist in day-to-day business tasks. By employing strategies to manage trying activities or interactions, you can find a way to work within your personal comfort level.
Don’t hesitate to rely on technology to assist you in appropriate situations. If phone calls and in-person meetings are stressful, make email your primary means of communication. Just be sure that your responses are timely, detailed, and clear. Skype or other instant messaging services can also be useful ways to connect with clients when you need to have a more conversational discussion, so long as the client is comfortable with the technology.
Of course, there will always be circumstances that require face-to-face meetings. In these situations, meet clients in a setting that is most comfortable for you—perhaps a quiet coffee shop as opposed to a corporate-feeling meeting room or your home office.
A lot of business marketing and networking can be done online, so use this to your advantage. Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date, and use the site to connect and maintain relationships with professional contacts. You can also create a profile on an online consulting job marketplace. This is a great way to virtuallly promote your skills and build relationships with potential clients. Promote and market your services using social media, and create a personal website that describes your services, highlights client recommendations, and showcases your portfolio.
Remember, as an independent consultant you’re able to set your own schedule, decide how you run your business, and choose where you work. Introverts bring many benefits to this career path; it’s simply a matter of playing to your strengths and working with your weaknesses. Your independence is a big perk, so use it to your advantage.
Find independent consulting jobs that match your skills and strengths through MBO’s marketplace