Are you an introvert or low on the sociability scale? You don’t like small talk? Can’t stand networking events?
Don’t worry. You can still be very successful building an executive and leadership coaching practice. In fact, you can even beat extroverts at there own game. I know, because I am an extreme introvert and I’ve done it.
Here are eight ways that have worked for me:
1. Outsource your networking to a few extroverts who know lots of people. This has been one of my top strategies to get clients. I have built up trust with a few non-competing extroverts who know lots of people and refer me the majority of my clients. They know my strengths, and send me work when they meet people who have problems that I can solve. If you can find just five to ten well-placed extroverts, they can do your networking for you! Why network at all when you can outsource the work to others?
2. Use the talents and interests you do have to get clients and don’t worry about the talents and interests you don’t have. People are never going to meet me on an airplane and out of the blue say, “Wow! You have natural charisma. I want to hire me.” So I don’t try to develop that talent, nor do I waste time lamenting over the fact that I don’t have that talent. One talent I do have is the ability to analyze. I ask solid questions. I get to the root cause of problems. I synthesize. I write. I lead webinars and seminars (and take a nap after). These talents can take longer to build credibility with prospective clients, but over time they get the job done and show people that I can add value. So I rely on those.
3. Avoid the Human Resources beauty contest. I avoid getting involved in selling cycles involving Human Resources, and doing a beauty content in which coaches are paraded before prospective clients for them to choose. I rarely win those. Instead, I don’t even position myself as a coach, but rather as a leadership advisor. I target the owners and general managers of growing organizations in the smaller to mid-sized range, offering solutions to problems. These solutions can include coaching, training, facilitation, and consulting. The format is less important than deliver enormous value. While pure coaches struggle to not be commodities as they work with a smaller coaching budget via Human Resources, I get to dip into the much larger consulting budget while working with people who usually have more decision making authority than HR. And often my engagements are sold sole source — no competition. Necessity is the mother of invention. By being an introvert I have learned how to market myself in ways that are more lucrative, and teach this same method in the Center for Executive Coaching. That way you can choose to be a pure coach or use a hybrid model; you have much more freedom and flexibility.
4. Develop a persona. I can still speak in front of hundreds of people and lead three-day retreats in front of dozens of executives. I do this by adopting a persona. Afterwards, I take a long nap. However, when I am in front of the room, I’ve learned that this is very different experience than being social in a networking group. It is possible to be an extreme introvert and still facilitate or lead workshops. Now, I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder or Sybil or anything like that. It’s subtle and not that hard to do. Once you learn how to do it, you will find that even as an introvert you can get in front of large crowds. The context is what matters.
5. Focus on the many tactics to attract clients that can work for introverts. There are many tactics that are introvert friendly. They include: webinars, blogging and writing to establish yourself as an expert, speaking in small groups or on panels, getting interviewed and interviewing on podcasts, one-on-one referral conversations with people you know and trust, outsourcing your networking to extroverts (as described before), posting videos and infographics on your blog or website, forming alliances with complementary professionals you know and trust, getting involved at the leadership level in associations, teaching a course at your local college, and using linkedin to connect with other professionals online and then meeting them via phone or skype. Not all of these might appeal to you, but some can work for your style.
6. Instead of selling, coach people through the buying process. Most introverts are good at listening and asking questions in one-on-one conversations. As it turns out, research shows that this is what the top consultative salespeople do, too! You actually have a great advantage over extroverts here. Extroverts tend to want to talk and talk and talk, which can really turn off they buyer. As an introvert, do what you do naturally. Let the client talk, listen, and ask them about their problem, budget, and how they want to work with you. You might find that you end up closing deals without doing much, and also end up discovering when they aren’t serious in the first place.
7. Remember that you only need one or two clients to get going. The first client is the hardest. Once you have one or two clients under your belt, you usually start getting referrals within the client’s own organization and to other people the client knows. It is just the initial momentum that can take time. You still have to keep doing business development. However, it gets easier over time. Don’t give up. Keep up that slow, quiet, continuous calm that we introverts are known for and things usually turn out fine.
8. Finally, let those extroverts mess up based on their own Achilles’ heel of talking too much. They have their own issues. Extroverts can turn off clients quite easily. During the selling process, as already noted, they can turn clients off by not listening to their needs or by pushing too hard. During the coaching engagement, they can get too directive and talk too much. We introverts have great strengths to celebrate. We make natural coaches. There is nothing stopping us from getting, and retaining, clients and building up very successful coaching practices!