Thanks to the blogosphere and TED Talks (Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts is the one everyone knows) we introverts no longer need to apologize for or excuse particular social preferences to society at large. Unsurprisingly, introverts account for a vast portion of the freelance and consulting realms.
We use our creative inner dialogues and personal space to drive our output. It works for us and other people like the results of our processes. Unfortunately, there are some areas where our inward focus doesn’t always help — marketing ourselves can be one of them.
While being our own advocate can initially feel uncomfortable, there are a number of ways for shy freelancers to strategically overcome these barriers. We’ll tackle them below. But first, a deep breath . . .
Let your true voice guide you
Because self-promotion feels so counterintuitive to many introverts, you might sometimes affect a voice in your emails, blogs or social media posts that you think other people want to see. Maybe you’re overly bubbly with lots of exclamation marks or excessively “professional” with heavy jargon-laden language.
Instead, let your personality to shine through — not a stock photo’s.
Julie Parker, life coach, magazine editor and founder of Beautiful You Coaching Academy, captures this inner conflict very effectively in her blog post for DailyWorth, How to Brag About Yourself — Shamelessly.
“When I started my coaching business, I created a brand that was very corporate in look, feel and communication,” says Parker. “I genuinely thought that was what people wanted from a business coach.”
She quickly came to realize this wasn’t what clients were looking for — they wanted a real person. By shifting her branding to focus on the big-hearted, feminine individual she is at her core, she found the confidence she needed to market herself in a way she felt good about.
Let the narrator of your inner dialogue guide you.
Share yourself with others and let your friends help you
For creatives and consultants there are no shortage of ways to share the fruits of your labors with others. Often, many of these “others” will be very enthusiastic about helping you in this pursuit.
Whether it’s sharing your photography on Pinterest, your insights on your personal blog or your design work on Behance, it’s important to find a medium where your work can “live” and find its audience.
This platform will boost your perceived credibility and will give your friends and connections the content they need to promote you to their networks. Never underestimate the power of good will.
Outline your thoughts
One of the most difficult things for shy freelancers is pitching themselves by phone or in-person to potential clients. The stress levels can be astronomical, especially if you’re put on the spot. So, avoid this.
If you have a call coming up with a prospective client or plan to attend an event where you might meet important contacts, jot down an outline you can pull out to keep yourself calm and on-track. This can be a small physical notecard in your hand or bulleted outline typed on your phone.
What makes you different from anyone else in your niche? What kind of roadmap can you offer a new client? What kind of “hard questions” do you expect? And practice answering these questions out loud — to yourself in the mirror or to a close friend on the phone. Talking through your ideas ahead of time will bring you more confidence when it’s time to speak to the client.
Think ahead and avoid being caught off guard.
Do some “LinkedIn Peeping”
This is something people generally realize accidentally, if at all. I didn’t realize the passive self-promotion potential of LinkedIn myself until reading Amy Dunn Moscoso’s excellent and excellently titled article “One Shy Writer’s Lazy LinkedIn Strategy for Landing Great Freelance Clients.”
Moscoso, who writes for the Make A Living Writing Blog, calls the strategy “LinkedIn Peeping,” which entails visiting profiles of CEOs, marketing directors and other heads of business development at companies you would ideally like to work with.
Because no visit is truly anonymous on LinkedIn, these individuals who often hire freelancers will take notice of your proactive interest. They may then check out your page and solicit your help, especially if you have taken the time to build a great profile and engage with them in their LinkedIn groups.
Block out time to be daring
Lastly, schedule some time each week to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It isn’t easy to act in ways that feel contrary to your instincts. Picking regular times each week when you are energized and ready to take on a challenge will help you conquer that big client pitch or do the social media work you’ve pushed off indefinitely.
You may also care to try a flavor of Albert Ellis’ famous “exposure therapy,” which the renowned psychologist used to overcome his own fears of public speaking and asking young women out. How exactly did he do this? By talking to every woman he saw sitting alone on a bench in New York’s Botanical Garden until he was no longer phased by this act or the rejection he might incur from it.
While you don’t necessarily need to start asking strangers for dates, applying the principle to your own fears can be very productive. Choose some tasks that, in a vacuum, might terrify you — striking up a conversation about your work with each person that sits next to you in the coffee house, sending out a few emails to some designers you greatly admire, contacting several local businesses about working with them. Do these until they’re no big deal!
As Kristen Tobias of the Albert Ellis Institute recounts, the purpose is to “face your fears head-on and deal with the consequences. And hopefully . . . get a date!” Or a new contact! Bravely embrace your introversion and thrive.
Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician, and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond (ask him about tracking drums in the studio where Europe recorded “The Final Countdown”). Ben is a tried and true “coffee rings on his notepad” freelancer, and wouldn’t have it any other way.