Ep121: 14 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Build Your Business
Chicago 7/7/16 Meetup with Beth Buelow and Dave Stachowiak (Coaching for Leaders podcast host)
The Introvert Entrepreneur (Book)
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The Introvert Entrepreneur Mastermind GroupsBrené Brown
“Revenge of the Introvert” by Laurie Helgoe, Psychology Today
There’s no shortage of advice on how you “should” build your business. Common sense, “you should do this” advice can be useful in the beginning. At some point, however, things start to shift, and what worked on day one doesn’t work on day 1,000.
Remember that 1994 episode of Seinfeld, “The Opposite,” when George decides to do the exact opposite of what his instincts were telling him (and it worked)? Well, we’re going to embark on our own journey of opposites, exploring a few business development ideas that turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Never let them see you sweat, right? Choosing vulnerability in business doesn’t mean baring our souls or opening ourselves up to attack. It does mean that we give ourselves space to be human. According to author and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown, vulnerability is the heart of relationship and connection. She defines it as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Sounds a bit like entrepreneurship to me!
TIP: As you allow for vulnerability in a healthy way, you’ll form deeper connections with your clients. People do business with people, not perfection. A little sweat never killed anyone.
Promote your competition
Unless your ideal customers are women named Iris who were born on December 5th in a leap year, chances are high that there are tens of thousands — if not millions — of people who would be a good match for your business. How can one person possibility serve them all? How can hundreds? Rather than see your similarly-niched peers as competition, see them as colleagues. Release any scarcity mentality and recognize that there’s enough for everyone.
TIP: Swap blog posts, podcast interviews and articles; share their posts and tweets; and trust that your voice is different enough that you’ll attract exactly the right people to you.
Limit social media
Social media is both the best gift to introverts and entrepreneurs and the biggest time waster ever invented. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our online presence, sometimes to the detriment of our off-line relationship building. It can be tempting to lean on social media – and by extension email and texting – for all of our communication, instead of picking up the phone or meeting for coffee. We also fail to recognize that even if we’ve spent an entire day “alone,” but have been active on social media, we haven’t been alone. We’ve engaged in social interaction to a degree that exceeds most in-person events. The constant information flow and virtual conversations can be as energetically exhausting as the average networking event.
TIP: Use social media strategically — as a catalyst for in-person connection — rather than see it as an end in itself. Resist the bright shiny social media objects that enter your orbit almost every day. Stick to the strategy and platforms that give you the most return. It’s a great way to pace yourself and connect with anywhere from one to thousands of people on your own terms, with just a click, but be mindful of when it’s serving as a substitute for human contact.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re in sales. What the best sales people know is that the sales process isn’t about the financial transaction we often get stuck around (money issues, anyone?). It’s about listening, curiosity, and educating. After that, it’s about problem solving, influencing, and making another person’s life a little easier. Few people enjoy being sold to, but everyone appreciates and remembers the person who listened to them.
TIP: Let go of “making the sale” and exchange it with sincere curiosity. Invite others to learn about your solution. If it’s the right fit, the sale will happen without any hard sell at all.
Make it easy for people to say “no”
Do you define your ideal client as “anyone with a pulse?” Are you worried that if you limit your market, you’ll leave out countless people that you could help? If so, you’re wasting precious time, energy and resources trying to be all things to all people (and thereby being little-to-nothing for anyone). Ideally, prospective customers will visit your website, scan your social media, or read your blog, and they’ll quickly feel a resonance or dissonance with you.
TIP: Give people clear information that makes it easy to self-select in or out. This way, you’ll spend most of your resources on your ideal prospects and convert more of them to customers.
Don’t betray your excitement
One of my coaching colleagues has a memorable way of making this point: be the “hot girl” at the dance. The hot girl knows she’s hot — she doesn’t follow people around hoping someone will throw her a bone. So play it cool when you receive an inquiry. It’s a fine line between professional enthusiasm and over-the-top flattery: one cultivates a peer-to-peer relationship, the other smacks of desperation.
TIP: Show genuine interest and gratitude, but refrain from gushing about how you’d be “thrilled,” “super excited,” or “absolutely love” to work with someone. Be enthusiastic, but avoid an over-the-top tone.
Don’t reply too quickly
Do you check your email, voicemail, blog comments or social media every few minutes? And then, at the first sign of life, do you jump to respond? At 2 a.m.? On a Sunday night? Stop the madness! Responding immediately to communications, day and night, sends a message that you have nothing more productive to do than wait for the notification “ding” to ring.
TIP: Establish some healthy, professional boundaries around your time, and don’t train people to expect you to be responsive 24/7 (unless that’s your business model).
Focus on one-to-one
When I’m coaching my introvert clients, we often talk about getting the most bang for our energetic buck when reaching out to people. We look for highly efficient, one-to-many communication strategies. And yet, while it’s much more labor intensive to meet with people one-to-one, it can actually yield higher return. Why? Because you’re being very specific with those conversations, focusing on mutual champions with whom you have a strong synergy. And champions don’t keep the good news to themselves. They tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on, and so on.
TIP: Identify five champions and commit to a conversation in the next month. Exchange information that makes it easy to spread the word about each other’s businesses.
Focus on one-to-many
Yes, I’m contradicting myself, but this is a both/and situation, not an either/or. When it comes to the services you provide, one-to-one isn’t necessarily the best model for an introvert entrepreneur. We can quickly burn out if we’re only reaching one person at a time with our work, especially if the model equates to trading time for money. And as an introvert, I see time as energy, so that means I’m trading energy for money, and that’s only sustainable if I find efficient ways to do it. This is one reason why I balance my one-on-one coaching schedule with one-to-many revenue generating activities such as podcasting, writing, virtual book groups, masterminds, and public speaking.
TIP: If your revenue generating activities primarily happen one-to-one, look at additional ways you can serve a larger audience. In addition to the ways I just mentioned such as writing or public speaking, you can teach online classes, offer webinars, conduct in-person trainings, or create passive income through downloadable information products on your website. Find inspiration through a bit of research on the websites of your colleagues to see what their business model looks like.
Release expectations of success
Setting specific goals is an integral part of any business strategy. However, we can become very attached to those goals, thinking that they are the true and only definition of success. Then every move we make becomes a win or loss, good or bad. We end up judging each experience (and ourselves), rather than learning from it. I’ll take this opportunity to share my favorite guiding mantra: I’m open to outcome, not attached.
TIP: Be open to a range of outcomes. Some will be better than you can imagine, most not nearly as terrible as you dread. Release attachment to exactly how you’ll get there or what it will look like. A magical thing happens when you release strict expectations: failure evaporates, and you’re left with valuable information.
Have a beginner’s mind
As entrepreneurs, we’re expected to be experts in our chosen field. But many times, we might be only a few steps ahead of our clients. To keep that edge and confidence, we must keep learning. We must be willing to be the student, to have a beginner’s mind, even about things that we feel like we know inside and out. Otherwise, we become complacent and eventually irrelevant.
TIP: Take refresher courses, attend workshops and conferences, and read the latest books with the same curiosity you had when you were just starting out. Innovation happens when we set aside what we think we know and see things with fresh eyes.
Give it away
We can gather a lot of information and build our lists by offering certain products or services for free for a limited time. You might be thinking, “But what about the revenue we’ll be missing? Don’t people value what they pay for?” It’s true: we’ll be sacrificing some revenue, and people won’t be as invested in our business. That said, when done intentionally, strategically and for a carefully selected period of time, giving it away expands our reach and allows for idea testing.
TIP: Make sure each give-away is appealing to potential buyers and ideal clients, not just people who love free stuff. Free should serve as an easy point-of-entry into doing business with you.
Don’t give it away
Wait, didn’t you just say to give it away? Yes. But if we do it for too long, without a clear plan, we condition the market to expect it for free. We inevitably undermine the value of what we — and by extension, our peers — have to offer. We respect ourselves, our business, and our customers when we provide ample opportunities for a mutual exchange of value.
TIP: Believe, with no room for doubt, in the value of your offer. People will surprise you by stepping up and responding to your confidence with their commitment.
Stop shaming your comfort zone
I’m closing this post with what might be the most counter-intuitive statement of all. So I’m going to spend a bit more time unpacking this idea than I did the other ones.
Google the words “comfort zone,” and the vast majority of results are all about getting out, stepping out, and crushing it. Over time, particularly in our Type A, high achieving, go-big-or-go-home culture, the idea of being in one’s “comfort zone” has been maligned and shamed. It’s seen as a place of stagnation and sloth. It’s certainly not a place where highly successful people hang out for very long, if at all.
Forgive my language, but I call BS. Our comfort zone plays a powerful role (especially for introverts) in our sustainability and happiness as entrepreneurs, leaders, colleagues, and friends.
The true definition of comfort zone is “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” For the introvert entrepreneur, our comfort zone is both a soft landing and a launching pad. I see value in honoring our comfort zone from two perspectives: it’s where we recharge, and it’s where we find our footing.
Our Fuel-Up Station
Our comfort zone is our recharging station. It’s where we replenish our energy. There’s space for bold ideas and new connections to take root and grow. Why? Because we’re not over-stimulated by the stress we feel when we are in unfamiliar territory. There’s a sense of freedom in our comfort zone. We’re not on high alert and can be alone with our thoughts, things, people, and places that feel like home. With the energy and ideas that are born in our comfort zone, we can then stretch without breaking.
Your recharging station is anywhere you feel free and relaxed. It might entail walking in the woods, staring at the water, spending time with pets, exercising, meditating, coloring, journaling, daydreaming or even napping. In our go-go-go world, these nourishing activities often take a backseat to being “productive.” My experience? I come up with my best ideas and amplify my courage when I’m in my personal comfort zone, minus the distractions, stress, and silly societal pressure to “go big or go back to bed.”
Our Launching Pad
It’s where we find our footing and take those baby steps everyone always says are so important. Here’s an example: you want to start a blog, knowing it’ll be a great way to engage with your clients and customers. So many questions, though! What platform to use, how often to post, what topics to write about, where to promote it, how to engage your readers… depending on your strengths, the entire endeavor can be way outside your comfort zone. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the discomfort and confusion. So the “start blogging” to-do item is recycled week to week, month to month.
This is where the comfort zone is your friend. Without the external “you should be doing this” messaging, there’s space to ask: what are you most comfortable with? What’s a reasonable, set-yourself-up-for-success baby step? It might be researching platforms. You could brainstorm a list of topics, without censoring or thinking about the details. Many people find comfort in structure, so you could set some simple parameters: one post, 300 words, 60 minutes, one main point to make or piece of information to share, write with one person in mind (preferably your ideal reader). Remember: you don’t have to tell your life story, cover every possible angle, or write the next Pulitzer Prize-winning article. By stripping the activity down to its essence and temporarily suspending your emotional attachment to an outcome, you can increase comfort enough to break the paralysis.
When it comes baby steps, I find comfort and inspiration in the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
A New Language
Perhaps if we refer to our comfort zone as “home base,” “base camp,” or a “rest stop,” it would remind us of the healthy necessity of spending time there. We would never go on a journey without taking timeouts to rest and refuel, so why do we send out messages that if you’re not “going big” or “living on the edge” all the time, you’re taking up space?
This does not mean we should avoid any and all situations that bring us fear, stress, or discomfort. The comfort zone should be part of the journey, not the final destination. However, we will experience more success in those stretch situations if we’ve first honored our introvert need to recharge and take baby steps within the quiet and friendly confines of our comfort zone.
As entrepreneurs, we always have to question the status quo. As Christopher Reeve put it, “Never accept ultimatums, conventional wisdom, or absolutes.” Take advice and “common knowledge” with a grain of salt. Sit with it long enough to draw your own conclusion. Learn to listen to your intuition, especially if it’s counter to everyone else.
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