Thoughts on freelancing as an introvert

Self-employment was something I had dreamed about for years. It took me a long time to find the courage to quit my job.

I was scared. What if I don’t earn enough to pay the bills? What if I’m just sat around while my wife is at work? What if I’m just not built to run my own business? What if I’m not good enough?

There was another fear I had at the back of my mind that I haven’t talked about. I’m an introvert. I’m shy and I like my own space. Space for thinking, reading, and being alone.

I regularly asked myself: as an introvert, how will I cope?

I’ve pitched for work in the past but I was always part of a team. I could let someone else take the lead until it was my turn, say my piece, and then back out. On my own, I’d need to take up the mantle.

I think there’s a misunderstanding of what introversion and extroversion is, so let’s start there.

Introverts can be just as sociable, just as good friends, and just as fun at parties. The difference isn’t necessarily in those things. The difference comes from how they gain and use energy.

An introvert will likely feel exhausted after a social event and will need to recharge their batteries by being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, recharge their batteries in social environments (and need to recharge when they don’t socialise enough).

We all fall somewhere on the introversion/extroversion spectrum; we are neither one or the other. As Carl Jung put it, “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”

It’s easy to stereotype too. Many introverts love partying and socialising, while many extroverts enjoy time to themselves.

The most important thing is to know yourself. You’ll probably already have some idea of where you are on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Building a business with that in mind will help you leverage your own tendencies.

It’s possible, even encouraged, to act out of character: for introverts to act in an extroverted way and vice versa. But only for short periods of time.

I’ve blocked out time into my schedule to allow myself to ‘recharge’. I spend a lot of time thinking, planning, or ‘being in my own head’ as some would say. Giving myself space to do that is important.

I work mostly from home and that helps. But I also work in some of my client’s offices and have face-to-face meetings. I’ve learnt that I need to allow myself time to prepare. I focus on minimising stressful situations. Simple things like allowing plenty of time to get there, making sure the car has petrol, making sure I have directions ready, and knowing what I need to talk about. If it’s an important meeting, I’ll try to fit a half hour walk in first to clear my head. I’ll try to avoid too many consecutive meetings. Preparation, at least for me, is key. These little things all help reserve my energy for what matters: being present and attentive with the person I’m meeting with.

Of course, extroverts don’t need to do this. Perhaps they’d want to arrange consecutive meetings. Or perhaps they’d rather work in a shared workspace. It’s important to know where you get your energy from and build a business around that.

We live in a golden age. Unlike generations before us, we have everything at our fingertips. It’s easier than ever before to build a business around who you really are. If you never want to leave the house or speak on the phone, I still think it’s possible to build a sustainable business that supports that lifestyle.

In the excellent book “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”, Susan Cain encourages you to stay true to your own nature:

“If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.”

There are many introverts who I admire; perhaps none more so than Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. When he was younger, before starting his own businesses, he wanted to work at Netscape (who were big at the time). He didn’t get a reply to his job application – probably because he has a background in Physics, not Computer Science – so he hung around the lobby. Despite making his way to the lobby, he was too shy and too scared to talk to anyone so he left. Here’s a guy who is an introvert and, without a doubt, is changing the world.

If you’re an introvert, take heart from these wise words from Gandhi: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”