• Advice

Why introverts make great freelancers

I used to be afraid of going freelance because I thought talking to people and “selling myself” looked exhausting.

I’m not a master networker. In fact, I have to drag myself to events and often make up some reason to leave in 30 minutes. I’m not all that great at talking about myself. I don’t want to answer 1,000 emails a day. I can stand up for myself, but I find it much easier to negotiate over email -- the idea of a long meeting spent defending myself seems draining.

It’s not that I don’t like people or even that I’m shy. I just don’t want to spend my day talking. I like the solo, work-all-day-with-my-earphones-on kind of job.

So can I and other introverts still be successful as a freelancer? Here are a couple reasons I think we can:

1. Introverts are able to work alone.

Freelancers often must be able to brainstorm, draft, execute, and present the project alone.

As an introvert, I’m able to spend a long time alone without going crazy. I don’t need a group brainstorming session to come up with my best ideas. When I’m alone, I have the mental space to play around, scribble things down on paper, and see how things work. An extroverted freelancer might feel understimulated when they’re not surrounded by colleagues bouncing ideas off of one another.

Because I have lots of time to myself creating, I’m energized for the times that I do have to meet with clients and go to networking events.

This isolation pays off. Susan Cain, author of Quiet, argues that solitude is often essential to creativity. She cites numerous studies in which people who brainstormed alone came up with more ideas (that were more useful) than those who worked with a group. This may actually be the reason introverted workers are attracted to freelancing in the first place: they recognize the power of thinking and creating alone.

2. Introverts read social cues well.

Introverts are often very adept at reading emotions from facial expressions. Introverts can use this capacity to be more sensitive to their clients’ personalities and unspoken needs.

As I explain here, reading clients’ unspoken desires and anxieties can mean the difference between a successful project and a terrible relationship. When you can learn what clients mean but aren’t saying, you can better understand their project goals, fall in line with the clients’ communication style, etc.

3. Introverts are great at social media.

There’s no study to back me up on this one, but I’ve personally found that introverts are great at social media. Introverts seem to be more thoughtful about what they post and more aware of not overloading their followers with too much information / personal details.

Social media is a marketing channel that naturally suits introverts’ style: communicating when and where they want to communicate, in an environment that protects their personal space. (I have a sneaking suspicion that this is why writers are such a strong, tightly-knit community on Twitter!)

According to Susan Cain, one way introverts can participate in social situations effectively is around reading others’ work, a “deeply social act” -- and as we all know, the sharing and commentary on articles and writing is one of the foundational activities of most social networks.

Introverts often spend more time reflecting than extroverts, which makes them natural bloggers and writers themselves. There are many examples of freelancers who make a career out of sharing what they’ve learned about business, freelancing, or their field through blogging and newsletters -- a form of deeply social communication that doesn’t require the overwhelming immersion into social situations that introverts avoid.

In fact, Fortune’s best networker was an introverted computer engineer who had a powerful network on LinkedIn.

4. Introverts listen.

Many freelancers assume that initial interviews are all about communicating what they can do for the client: advice, work habits, what they know, etc. However, it’s actually much more effective for freelancers to learn as much as possible in these early stages and focus on repeating back information, focusing the client’s goals, and laying down expectations.

Introverts are especially good at this.

In fact, I think introverts sometimes perform more successfully on interviews than extroverts, though we may be more nervous. Clients are going to pick the freelancer who they feel deeply understands their company over the freelancer who does all the talking. Introverts who ask questions, listen, and reflect back their learning are going to more successfully ensure that projects align with the company culture.

Freelancers, what am I missing? Are you an introvert? What do you think helps you succeed?