Running a business, and being an entrepreneur is hard.
When it comes to finding work, and growing your business, there is so much advice out there, it’s hard to hear through the noise and find the information that works for you.
But, one thing that we do hear, time and time again, is to network. And that’s because it is pretty much unavoidable if you want to increase your exposure, and gain clients.
As a small business owner, networking plays a huge part in getting our name out there, letting people know what we do, and building connections with potential clients. There are networking events held daily, all over the country, from some larger groups such as BNI and Local Women In Business and smaller specialist groups, like Handbags and Briefcases (great name!), a Manchester based women’s networking group.
However, as great as they sound, these events can strike fear into the heart of a classic introvert.
If you are one – you’ll get it.
Making small talk with strangers?! Meeting so many new people in one go?!
Straight home to lie down in a dark room for the rest of the day! <Only half joking>
So what is an introvert anyway?
Despite dictionary definitions of ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ being about how outgoing and sociable you are, modern thinking on this subject suggests that differences between the two can be more subtle; with some basis in our individual arousal levels.
For example, an introvert is more likely to have a low arousal level – they will enjoy subtle flavours, find loud music intrusive, and find busy places a sensory overload. Extroverts will need a louder sound, a heavier touch, and stronger taste to pique their arousal.
Our energy levels and the way we preserve and use our energy are also now thought to be linked to our introversion or extroversion, with extroverts gaining energy from socialising (networking events anyone?!), and introverts finding the same social situation draining.
So the common misconception that introverts are unsociable does not hold true – some introverts consider themselves outgoing and love to be in social situations; but they also find this leaves them with depleted energy levels, and they need time alone to rest and restore their energy afterwards.
How does this affect your business?!
I believe that many entrepreneurs are introverts. From the moment we start school as children, we are expected to behave as extroverts. Speaking in front of a group, being around lots of people, working in teams, – these are all great character building exercises; but can be stressful to a natural introvert. Why do we encourage our children to be ‘confident’ rather than ‘shy’? We are giving them the message that we must behave like an extrovert to be successful?
For those of us who have lived our lives pretending to be extroverts (anyone ever said yes to an invitation, when they really wanted to say no?), I think we come to a point where we want change. We need to step off the corporate ladder, or leave our stressful vocational career, and shape our lives to fit in with our true nature.
This may involve being able to work alone, in quiet.
Or work with the natural ebbs and flows of our energy levels, rather than forcing ourselves to sit at a desk between 9 and 5 (and really, how many of those hours in a busy office are spent doing truly productive work?).
We can schedule meetings when we know we will be at our best, and take an afternoon off when we need some head space.
Paying attention to your energy levels, and the ways you work best, is one way to really maximise your output as an entrepreneur. Spend a week making a note of your hours of work, and your energy levels, and you are likely to see a pattern emerging. Pay attention to this pattern.
Are you a morning lark who would benefit from a 5am wake up and a few hours of focused work before the day starts (Well, if it’s good enough for Richard Branson!)?
Or do you prefer to spend 5am actually sleeping (!) like Mark Zuckerberg who wakes at a more palatable hour of 8am? If your most productive hours are after dark, when the kids have gone to bed and the house is quiet – that’s ok too!
The important thing is that you pay attention to these natural cycles, and don’t fight them.
If we go back to where we started – networking; we can apply the same thinking. No one is disputing the fact that networking is a valuable way to build up your business.
But it helps to plan it for when you know you will have the most energy. Luckily, there are plenty of networking group that meet outside business hours; with breakfast meetings, or evening meal outings commonplace, as organisers acknowledge that people work on different schedules and time constraints.
And if you just can’t face a room full of strangers, well that’s OK too – because the online networking world is just as wide reaching and beneficial, with LinkedIn, FacebookGroups, and Twitter – all highly effective and easily accessible networking platforms.
It’s OK to create your work life to fit your personality – it can help you focus, and will in turn increase productivity. And don’t forget – you turned your back on the 9-5 for a reason!
Melissa is a Writer & Social Media Manager
She works with small businesses, and has a special interest in health and wellness.
Check out her blog for more.