How Introverts Can Thrive In Consulting (And As Soloists)

There is a stereotype of the rainmaking senior consultant as a slick-talking, extrovert. He or she is instantly able to command the room by the sheer force of their presence.

They easily talk the CEO into seeing things their way and close million dollar deals on a handshake. They build and maintain a voluminous network over years of conversations, industry parties and meetings that make introverts cringe.

Stereotypes often exist for a reason—in this case, extroverted rainmakers are not infrequently at the top of the heap in large consulting and advisory firms.

But does that mean a quieter—more introverted—personality can’t make it in consulting?

And can they build their own independent business without extraverts to sell for them?

No and yes. With the right conditions, even a classic introvert can create a rocking business for themselves.

(Full disclosure: I test as an extrovert, but I live a chunk of most days as a classic introvert—solo work deep in my head.)

I’ve shared introvert stories before—like Lester –and talked about situational extroverts here and here.

I got to thinking about this again after a conversation with the owner of a financial advisory firm. He’d had mixed results hiring introverts—the reluctant marketers amongst them sometimes had real challenges building their own, sustainable practices over time.

When I asked him why he didn’t hire the occasional extrovert, he told me about interviewing a classic, bubbly (with brains and impressive CV) personality. When he asked her if she was a good listener—a non-negotiable requirement in his client-focused practice—she said “not really” and proceeded to talk non-stop for the rest of the session.

His conclusion after scores of interviews and a dozen hires was that he’d rather invest in a quieter advisor who modeled the firm’s client approach—even if it meant he had to work diligently to help them grow their client base.

Think about that for a moment.

That consulting and advisory are actually about listening and deep knowledge, not just presenting.

That how you bond with a client makes it easier to serve them.

My practice includes more than a few introverts needing some branding and marketing chutzpah. And a goodly sample of the effervescent extroverts. Neither group has THE claim to the easiest road in consulting.

But the introvert who knows how to manage their energy—and use the tools at their disposal to make it work—can have brilliant and quite lucrative consulting careers.

Here are a few ways to turn a tendency to be quiet into a consulting strength:

Become THE brain surgeon. Think of an aspect of your expertise where you operate as THE brain surgeon—where you build up your reputation so that others come to you. One of my clients did exactly that with deep research in a narrow field that was both academically and commercially “hot”. He’s the guy that gets called for a bet-the-business problem. He doesn’t spend time building more than a handful of relationships, but those and his media footprint (built organically over time) drive the right people to his door.

Choose a specialty and an approach that allow you to focus deeply on your client. Financial advisory is one where you—in the right environment—can build a small, tight and still lucrative practice serving people who need you. But so is almost any solo specialty if you decide to do deep work for a small circle. What can you focus on that will free you to do your very best work?

Use social media (selectively). Don’t equate this with your Facebook-crazed pals who post every thought in their head. I challenge you to think seriously about how you can use the right social media to bring your ideal audience closer. Unlike live and in-person sessions, you can schedule posts and sharing and only engage in those windows where you’re ready. LinkedIn and Twitter especially abound with audiences who will appreciate your insight.

Try being the (occasional) situational extrovert. Let me be clear—I’m not suggesting you be someone you’re not. I’m saying—like Lester — that you rise occasionally to take advantage of a big-platform opportunity. Some of the best speakers I know live as introverts in daily life—but they take the stage to share their passions. And because their subject matter is so dear to them, they pass on their enthusiasm in a powerful way.

Introverts may be the traditional underdogs of consulting and financial advisory, but they absolutely rule when they marry their best working style with their interests and talents.

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5 Comments

  • Hi Rochell,

    Great article! I can absolutely relate to this story! I get most of my energy and creative juices flowing when I’m working alone.

    I’ve been in the music industry for over 25 years (Band – Ten City) and I started a boutique marketing / consulting company called BB Media Global Group that I created about 7 years ago.

    Being an introvert has it’s positive and negative effects. Introverts (in most cases) are very analytical and look at all possible angles to reach the clients desired benchmark.

    One of the downsides being an “perfectionist introvert” can lead you down a path of spending too much time overthinking, whereas Extroverts are really good at saying things spontaneous that can secure the deal.

    http://bit.ly/HMC-2010_Valuation_Sample

  • Rochelle

    Hi Byron–and welcome! Thanks for sharing your success story!

  • The point about introverts needing to “manage their energy” is absolutely spot-on. While that is probably true for everyone, especially in this age of relentless multitasking, as an introvert I find a little goes a long way, and taking in more than I can contemplate/process deeply often leads to feeling frazzled. Always appreciate articles that bother to go beyond the usual stereotypes regarding us quieter types, thanks Rochelle.

  • Great read! I am not an introvert, and your info is still great for realigning extrovert energy as well. Thanks for the social media tips!

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