The Reluctant Entrepreneurs

new wisteria bud

I’m a copywriter so I write for a living. It was a logical progression in my long food career. I’ve gotten good at it and it suits me. The problem is I’m terrible at selling myself. I knew that. Oh well (I said), I would take care of that later and I hung out my shingle and waited.

Well, it turns out you can wait a long time, forever actually. Write it and they will not come. No matter how good it is. Few people in business, or in literature, or anywhere, pay attention to invisible. How can they?

I knew I wasn’t supposed to hide behind my skill. Every start up businesses book and course I’ve taken says so.

I am not alone. There are other entrepreneurs like me – shy about our offerings (not necessarily about ourselves). This isn’t just being an introvert (we’re that, too), but about being light on the chutzpah. Maybe we’re this way because of age, gender, religion, upbringing, or culture. It doesn’t really matter; it’s what we are. We don’t need fixing.

We are happy to be in business. We’re just as passionate, just as invested in making people’s lives better with our product or service as any gregarious entrepreneur. Yet, to comfortably exist in the small business world, the expectation is to be outgoing.

Take Steve Wozniak, the engineer who founded Apple with Steve Jobs. He says in his biography, “iWoz: “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists”.

I think we are brave. We are in an environment counter to our nature.

About Being Invisible

A business advisor I once had said it was just too bad that business was hard for me. Do it this way and you’ll see it works. And if I didn’t do anything he couldn’t help me (he was right about that). He didn’t ask me why it was hard for me. Fair enough, it wasn’t a counselling session and he wasn’t the analyzing type, but I could have done without his disgust. He said I had to market and market and market some more. It’s fun. He said. Like a game. Whose game? The one where the shy introvert goes to the networking event, hopes they won’t have to talk, hopes they’ll find another introvert who hopes the same thing, and then goes home?

Being invisible is easy and natural. Copywriters don’t get a by-line and that’s okay with me. My work does the communicating. Like it does on my own website (if anyone knew it was there).

I have a client who recently said to me that the About Page on his new website was like bragging. I felt for him. Too much self-promotion made him uncomfortable. Marketing, persuasion, and promotion all feels like shouting and he felt like he was shouting too loud. Even though his personal story was integral to his product, I changed the balance with the next draft and made his product be the focus.

Saving Asses

Business is often noisy and thanks to digital media the noise is noisier. Sometimes the frenzy reminds me of middle-of-the-night TV ads, where the announcer shouts, IT’S AMAZING!!! (because we wouldn’t otherwise know).

The business world prizes extroversion. It likes excited dogs fetching balls and panting for more. In business, contemplation (shy people do this cat-like behaviour) is seen as inaction. It is more acceptable to be the risk-taking extrovert. Yet, one doesn’t work without the other. Charles Darwin, Marcel Proust, Albert Einstein were accomplished in their output, yet contemplative by nature. Need a modern, wealthy example of a contemplator? J.K. Rowling.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist in the management department at the Wharton School, writer, and Ted Talker, said something in one of his talks, “business self-help guides will often suggest that introverted leaders practice their communication skills and smile more… But, it may be extrovert leaders who need to change, to listen more and say less”. He didn’t say it, but I will: watching and considering often saves asses.

The Great Compromise

The entrepreneurial spirit is exactly for me. Except for that advisor, people are kind and helpful. They cheer on anyone who dares to have an idea and see it through. They are champions of passion. I am too.

I can see now that I let that advisor and all those courses and books guide me down too narrow a track. Business people are all over the road, everywhere, all over. The best know that a mix of temperaments yields good business. So, if you overlook some people for your team because they aren’t dynamic enough, you may want to rethink this.

I’ll readjust, too. I’ll start with working harder at self marketing (damn, I hate it when the bad guy is right). Though I doubt I will ever see marketing myself as fun. Fun is going to Mexico City and eating a lot of tacos and drinking artisan tequila.

The shy are not really reluctant entrepreneurs, only budding ones. We blossom into beautiful flowers and we do it again and again. Like spring. Only more often. What an asset.