Almost all entrepreneurs would agree: being an entrepreneur is both an exciting and exhausting challenge. And if that entrepreneur happens to be an introvert, you have a situation where one’s natural tendencies and instincts appear to go against the grain of traditional entrepreneurial wisdom. This leads the introvert entrepreneur to look at everything from sales to partnership to expansion through a different lens. That’s what my book-in-progress, “The Introvert Entrepreneur,” is all about. In it we explore what it means to build a sustainable, successful business that honors one’s introversion.
But we won’t just take my word for it; we’ll be drawing on the wisdom of dozens of introvert entrepreneurs across a range of industries and stages in the business life cycle, learning from their wisdom and experiences, failures and victories.
These stories will include more information than can be shared in the book, but why should all that introvert wisdom end up on the cutting room floor (wow, it occurs to me that there’s a generation alive today that probably doesn’t know what that means… but I digress…)? Every so often, I’m going to share the full interviews, offering you information you can use right now, as well as a taste of the bigger book to come. Today’s Q&A features financial planner Dave Grant, CFP®, founder of Finance for Teachers. Enjoy!
When and how did you learn that you were an introvert?
There have been a number of factors that led up to this realization. From loving to do activities on my own, to feeling uncomfortable in large social settings of unknown people, I finally figured it out when I was in college studying psychology. Finding out that some people require time to “recharge” from social situations fit me to a tee. When I researched this more during and after college, I came to understand that I fall in different places on the introvert-ambivert scale depending on the circumstances.
What did you do before you became an entrepreneur?
I have worked in two fields before becoming an entrepreneur. When I graduated from college in England, I moved to the USA to work in outdoor education. I did that for about two years before moving into personal financial planning. I have been doing that for the past six years, at two different companies. In the summer of 2013, I put nine months of planning into action when I launched my own financial planning firm, Finance for Teachers.
What was the catalyst for making the leap?
When I worked at my first planning company, I researched what went into putting together a firm and realized I could do better than where I currently was. But I didn’t have the finances or experience to do it. Moving to a firm that moved faster and utilized better technology was great, but there were still frustrations. I wanted to design a firm with the technology I wanted to use, serve the clients I want to serve (teachers), and work when I wanted to work. When my wife and I had saved enough money, I knew it was time. All the dreaming had turned to planning, and the rest came together pretty quickly.
Narrowing down to a target market seems to be a common point of resistance for entrepreneurs. How did you come to focus on teachers as a niche?
Focusing on teachers actually came quite naturally. I am married to a teacher whose mom is also a teacher, so there were always conversations in our houses about the issues that they were facing. As I listened to these, I realized that some of the financial issues that they came across were unique to them, and no one was available to help educate and provide answers to them. That wasn’t really a lightbulb moment for me though. As I was starting to determine who I would try to work with as financial planning clients, I took a niche marketing course and discovered that I knew a lot of teachers, socialized with them and knew about their issues (having heard them for years through my family). From that point, I decided to research the issues teachers were facing in more detail. I’ve been focusing on working with them for the last two years. In true niche fashion, I branded my company to look like I only work with teachers, and I would love to build a practice just working with this group of people. We’ll see!
What are you most enjoying about your life as an entrepreneur?
I enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and also working at home. I have been able to work two freelance jobs while putting my practice together. I do these jobs on Monday and Friday, leaving the rest of my time to write/video record my blog, meet new people, and try to gain exposure for my company. I can choose to start at 7:30am, watch a movie at lunch, and then go back hard at it in the afternoon. But if a day doesn’t flow, I know I can shut down early, because there will be days where I will work from early until late.
What are you finding most challenging?
While I LOVE working on my own, the isolation can creep up on you and make for a lonely day. Also, being an unknown company and “beating the sidewalk” takes a lot of energy – both physically and emotionally – so making sure to break these tasks into smaller pieces has helped. Finding clients has also been a challenge so far, but I know I have to keep going – producing content, meeting new people, spreading the word – and things will eventually happen. Keeping a positive attitude when things are not improving is just part of the journey I only knew theoretically!
How do you deal with those challenges?
Knowing that I’m creating this company for the long term is a helpful mindset. I know that I can make mistakes (because it’s only me who gets to see them) and then I can move onto other strategies to help my company succeed. It’s very helpful having the internet as a resource, because I can find a wide array of solutions to the business problems I’m facing. Finally, I belong to a network of young financial advisers who also run their own practices and we talk regularly – having this support has been invaluable to my journey so far.
How do you think your introversion is an asset to your work?
I spend a lot of time thinking or working in silence. This was frowned on in corporate culture, because everything was encouraged to happen in teams. While that’s not a bad thing, I work better by myself and will ask for help if I need it. My best ideas don’t come out of group brainstorming; they come out of ideas being mulled on for days/weeks/months at a time.
A big part of my job is to find out details of people’s lives, listen to them talk, and put those thoughts into a customized financial plan. While I continually work on these skills, it helps that I don’t have the urge to talk much in these get-togethers. However, when these clients turn into close friends, we both talk for hours!
What tips would you have for an introvert who’s considering the move from employee to entrepreneur?
- Know what gets and keeps you motivated, because you are the only one who will push you forward.
- As an entrepreneur, the lows are lower and the highs are higher. But the journey is your own to control.
- Find other people in your situation to lean on, and visa verse. The journey can be lonely so these people are necessary.
- You will wear multiple hats running a business – get training on those things that you haven’t done before (accounting, book-keeping, marketing, etc.)
What do you think? In what ways have you shared Dave’s experience? What tips would you have for an introvert who wants to succeed as an entrepreneur?
PS: Many thanks to Dave Grant for sharing his experience and wisdom. Please stay tuned for future interviews, as well as news about the publication of “The Introvert Entrepreneur.” Can’t wait for the new book? Consider my first book, “Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert,” as the appetizer before the main course ;-).