This was originally published on AllBusiness.
There’s something to be said about authenticity in business. Vulnerability. Imperfection. It allows us to show up as ourselves, not the cardboard cutouts we think others want to do business with. The result? A much more enriching and personable work experience and an irresistible magnetism that attracts new business.
I wonder if I’d have written this post had we all not ended up Zooming one another from our closets with pets and kids around, thanks to the pandemic. And yet, we can’t deny: our work worlds have (possibly forever) changed because of Covid-19. We’ve taken off the pantyhose and loosened our ties, and now we see that being human ain’t so bad when it comes to doing business.
I’m currently working on being more “myself” in my business and wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned.
1. Stop Trying to Separate Business and Pleasure
Any client who knows me sees me as a git-‘er-done kind of gal. I’m analytical and organized. But after work, you can find me reading books on spirituality or learning how to improve my tarot card reading skills. Just typing that makes me break out in a sweat, to share something personal with you.
And yet … it probably gives you a better understanding of who I am, not just who I purport myself to be on the job. Maybe you might be interested in some of the same things I am, and in that case, we’ve got some things to talk about.
We’ve put up these barriers between what we portray in our businesses and what we portray to the people we love and trust in our lives. I’m not sure where or why this started, but I see the value in blurring those lines (within reason). You might even find you have things in common with clients whom you never knew before. And you never know: your deep passion for pickleball might just be the differentiating factor that gets a new client (and fellow pickleball lover) to sign on with you.
2. Give Up Perfection
Raise your hand if you’ve never made a f*&*up in your business.
We are all human, and therefore, our errors are divine. But seriously, your clients don’t expect you to be perfect. They expect you to do the best you can, and when you mess up, to fix it.
If you’re a perfectionist, you’re putting undue stress on yourself and setting expectations that no one but you has. I encourage you to let it go. Be okay with good enough. Everyone else is.
3. To Be More Authentic in Business, Tell Your Story
You’ve read articles telling you that storytelling is what draws people to your business, but maybe you’re carefully editing the stories you tell. Or pulling out all the personality from them. Making yourself look good. These aren’t stories, they’re carefully curated lies.
People want you to be real. They want to know that you’ve stumbled along your path, and see that, in the end, you thrived. They want to see themselves in you. That means being incredibly vulnerable.
Consider what stories resonate with you when you’re interacting with brands. Is it the ones that are polished to perfection, or the ones with cracks in them? Where do you see yourself in those stories? These are the types you want to tell in your own business.
And you don’t just have to tell your own stories! Your customers have stories, as do your employees. Find ways to weave those in to become the story of your brand.
Being Vulnerable Takes Practice
If you’ve been hiding behind that buttoned-up facade your entire career, you may find it challenging to suddenly shift your mindset to one that’s more open and personable, so do it by degrees. Maybe start by chatting with clients for five minutes about their sleepless nights with a newborn, or your recent win with your bowling league (is bowling open yet?). Build those client relationships one by one until you have a network of people who know you for more than the product or service you deliver.
I did just that and found out, years ago, that a client had a love for Nancy Drew books as did I. When I found some antique books in a box, I decided she would probably enjoy them more than me and I shipped them to her. I wasn’t expecting anything from the effort. It was just a natural and human thing to do. Find ways to treat clients the way you would a good friend and see what happens.
While there’s no direct ROI for being authentic in your business, it does pay off. You nurture those relationships, and people don’t have a reason to seek services elsewhere. They tell people how cool you are, and then those people want to do business with you.
But best of all? It costs absolutely nothing to be more authentic in business. In some ways, it’s the best marketing strategy ever.