April 09, 2014

Relationship Management for Introverts

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Before I joined Contactually, I spent a few months doing freelance and consulting work. For the last five or six years, I had been working inside different organizations, and the appeal of freelance work for creative types is pretty obvious -- lots of new challenges, the chance to work at your own pace, and the tempting possibility of getting paid for the quality of work instead of your ability to comply with rules and regulations.



Like I said, I did this for a couple of months, and I actually enjoyed many of the projects I did. What I definitely did not enjoy was business development. When I was gainfully employed inside an office, my life seemed like it was full of potential leads -- but when push came to shove, and I needed to close deals and get paid, all of a sudden things got a lot more complicated. People weren't actually coming to me, even if they really did want to hire me. They needed constant reminders, cajoling, and what seemed like an endless amount of follow-up. Worst of all, as a pretty terrible "networking" person and someone who generally dislikes bothering people, my own natural sense of when to contact people, or if to do it at all, was far, far too passive for me to get anywhere.

Here's a typical executive meeting for a home-based creative consultant.


This painfully recent experience makes me think that tools like Contactually actually serve two kinds of personalties. The first one is obvious; outgoing connector-types whose professional lives revolve around the nuts and bolts of business development, and simply need help managing the staggering collection of amassed contacts. (Boy, do I ever appreciate those kinds of people more after doing my own sales for a few months.)

The second kind of person, though, might surprise you.

It's the introvert.

Surviving the social aspect of business development


If you haven't heard, introverts have been having their own little internet renaissance these days, and more and more of them are freelancers, consultants, and tiny businesses unto themselves. Even people who are highly resistant to the idea are increasingly forced into "creating their own brand" by simple economic realities. For an entire world of web designers, copywriters, artists, and video editors, that world doesn't always play to their strengths, and in many cases, is a major obstacle in the way of potential success.

Look at me, for instance. When I first started using Contactually, one of the first things I needed to do was start bucketing my contacts, and deciding how often I'd be staying in contact with them in an ideal scenario. If you're at all introverted (which I don't think is a binary, "yes/no" kind of thing), this basic question -- "how often should I really be contacting this person?" -- is one that you may try to avoid.

"I'll contact him when it seems right," you say, knowing that it probably won't seem "right" until you desperately need a favor.


Of course, this is a crazy approach to an essential part of business, and not something introverts should necessarily be proud of. My more extroverted acquaintances, when I do see them, practically BEG me to stay in touch, to hang out, to drop them a line, to just stay connected. These aren't people I don't like -- I just feel uncomfortable with the idea of what feels like unnecessary communication, even when it may actually BE necessary in the long-run.

Therein lies the surprising beauty of what Contactually does for everyone, including the moderately anti-social. Just going through the thought-exercise of bucketing your contacts; of creating hard, fast RULES for interaction, instead of relying on your biased, overly conservative instincts to miraculously build a network you need (whether you want it or not), is valuable.

When those follow-up actions start coming in, you're likely to want them to all go away. But you know better. You made these rules! You decided that your one engineer friend who actually seemed to appreciate your work was someone you needed to stay in touch with, and that in order to do so, you needed to interact with him every three months. No longer can you just rationalize away your refusal to engage; it stares you in the face, every day, until you either deal with it, or admit defeat and move him to a different, less ambitious bucket.

Sorry friend... you're going in the bucket for people I can't bring myself to email just yet.


Fortunately, if you can get past the initial shock of realizing how many people you don't talk to anymore, and make some realistic rules of engagement, Contactually can be an enormous weight off of your introverted little shoulders. After all, you're no longer stuck with determining whether to engage every single time. It's the system! There's no internal debate, no excuses, and in the end, no overthinking. Stick to the plan, and you'll be alright. That's not just relationship building... it's peace of mind!

I suspect most Contactually users will have trouble relating to this kind of thing; like I said, they are often the world's "connectors", and this kind of thing comes to them a bit easier. For them, Contactually just simplifies the logistics of the process, helping them to do it more effectively and efficiently.

But don't let that fool the rest of you -- you've probably got a network whether you've tried to cultivate one or not (or even actively avoided it). With Contactually, you'll find out what it looks like, what it means to you, and what may be involved in keeping it healthy.

It's an exercise worth going through. Try it for yourself, and let me know what you discover.