By Sharon Davis
It seems odd to think of a person opening a shop, knowing that they're not at all interested in selling or in face-to-face interaction with customers. But that's exactly what many Internet business owners have done. And they've done it well.
The Internet has opened doors to a new breed of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who don't feel comfortable selling, or who aren't good at expressing themselves verbally. Many of these people would never have opened a traditional business, whether due to shyness or being introverted; it's the anonymity of the Internet that has enabled them to do what they would otherwise not be able to achieve.
Take Barb Niehaus. Barb is the founder and owner of Moms@ Home Working, a website dedicated to finding a balance between work and family. She handles every aspect of her business from marketing to customer service She's also painfully shy.
Prior to launching her web-based business, Barb worked at home for over 13 years. "This was an ideal situation for me as I could never envision myself in an office setting with a large number of colleagues. I did own a consignment shop for 5 years but actually hired sales personnel to handle the customers as I was uncomfortable with that aspect of the business," she says.
So how does a person who shudders at the thought of selling something in person run a business from soup to nuts?
"The Internet has definitely enabled me to complete tasks that I would never have the confidence to complete in a 'real' brick and mortar business or job," says Niehaus. "A web-based biz is perfect for me. In everyday business transactions, I have to 'sell' ads to potential sponsors, network with other online business owners and correspond with dozens of readers and clients. The beauty part of the Internet is that I do not have to communicate face-to-face at all," says Niehaus. "In an email, I can appear brimming with self confidence that in 'real' life I sorely lack. My business has grown and thrived despite my shyness."
Lisa Simmons can relate to that. Lisa runs Ideal Lives.com, a website that offers resources and ideas for parents & professionals supporting someone with special needs. Formerly a professional therapist in the human services/disability field, Lisa agrees that the Internet offers a comfort zone that allows introverts to shine.
"...it's much easier to be myself when I'm capturing my thoughts in an article for my site or responding to a visitor's email," says Simmons. "If I was required to meet each of my visitors face to face my life would be much more stressful. This way I don't have to have an instant answer or feel like I'm on the hot-seat."
Through the Internet, Simmons can achieve things that she couldn't imagine doing in a traditional business setting.
"Public speaking has always given me a case of nerves and the idea of speaking to thousands of people is very intimidating... yet that's what I do through Ideal Lives. I'm able to share the tips & practical resources that I know about with 6000-8000 people every month."
And Lisa and Barb aren't alone. According to a survey by California-based Hagberg Consulting Group, nearly 70 percent of today's CEOs describe themselves as "introverted".
Certainly entrepreneurs are no exception. Says the group's President, "A lot of entrepreneurs are borderline extrovert/introvert who can put on a mask and appear to be very outgoing."
Mike Banks Valentine, of WebSite101.com knows all about that. "...the web allows me to be able to toot my own horn when I can't or won't do that in the 'regular' world. I've been self-employed for over 10 years because that lifestyle builds and promotes my self confidence like nothing else. I am a recognized expert in several places online where in the 'real' world, few people pay attention because I'm quiet and unassuming, reserved and introverted."
Being introverted can also mean valuable attributes for a business owner. Introverts tend to be calm, rational and to think things through before acting.
Susan Carter, an auther and consultant (www.successideas.com) says, "When I began consulting, it was on a one-to-one basis and I discovered my quiet demeanor was an advantage. I found a comfort level being on the *asking side* of an article interview or conducting individual interviews for business assessment."
Recognizing this in herself, it's no accident that Stacy Brice created a business that revolves around a "virtual" career. Stacy is the President and Chief Visionary Officer of AssistU, an online training and coaching center for Virtual Assistants.
"Owning a virtual company that provides virtual training, coaching, support, and referrals allows me to impact the lives of people I'm not sure I'd be able to touch if I *needed* to do it all [face-to-face]," says Brice. "I think that my having formalized the Virtual Assistance profession speaks directly to how I feel about finding terrific work that allows people to be productive, efficient, and absolutely introverted!"
The Internet has opened up a whole new world that was previously out of reach for many people. Introverts can find some traditional business situations to be exhausting and draining, while for a shy person these same tasks can be downright terrifying. The extrovert doesn't have any trouble with what they consider routine- selling, fundraising, finding new clients, marketing. These can be insurmountable hurtles for an introvert. With the Internet however, a shy person can assert themselves because of the added comfort that anonymity provides.
Dawn Rivers-Baker, Editor of Wahmpreneur Magazine agrees. "Writing Wahmpreneur News Magazine involves making a lot of telephone contacts with people, and some of them can be pretty intimidating just because of what they do. I guess it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pick up the telephone and call the press contact in Senator Tom Daschle's office, but I'd probably have to talk myself up to it for a week and a half if I had to do it in person."
According to Niehaus, her success is due to the fact that she can maintain a distance from her clients. "I can project a persona of a confident business woman while in reality my knees are knocking together!"
Some introverts are even surprised to find themselves in business.
"I didn't set out to create an Internet business - it was a quirk," Niehaus insists. "After losing my telecommuting job of 13 years due to downsizing, I began frantically searching the net for other at-home positions. I encountered scam after scam. My frustrations developed into, 'Hm-m-m, I think I could fill this obvious need for a legit [work-at-home] site'. I don't think I would be a business owner if not for the Internet - too overwhelming drumming up business via networking, meetings, etc."
And according to Simmons, "I can say with total confidence that I wouldn't be a business owner if it wasn't for the Internet.... I certainly didn't start this adventure with the confidence to say 'invest in me' I can make this business a financial and commercial success."
While the Internet can enable many business owners to foray into areas previously unknown, there can be times when complete anonymity sacrifices success.
According to Susan Carter, "As I evolved into a book author I began to get invitations for radio interviews and to speak in front of groups at seminars and workshops ... I've done one radio interview (my heart pounding so hard I was sure the listening audience could hear it) and, to date, have avoided personal speaking engagements, which I know hurts sales."
Niehaus feels that her shyness has cost her on at least once occasion. "I turned down several requests from a local newswoman who wanted to come to my house with her camera crew for an expose` on Moms@ Home Working," she admits. "The very thought almost paralyzed me with fear."
Though you may not get to see Barb featured on the 6 o'clock news, you definitely won't see her in a cubicle, and that's just fine with her.
These entrepreneurs show us that introverts have a lot to offer the business world, and the Internet has enabled them to grab a little spotlight from behind the computer screen.
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