Staying True to Yourself in Business Communications

As an entrepreneur owning and running a business, it’s hard to delineate between a professional persona and your authentic “you” at times. Being a business owner frequently means pouring nearly every bit of yourself into building your company. The most successful business owners are able to recognize their personal strengths and weaknesses, and when to tame some of their more personal attributes.

Having said this, it is also important for a business to retain that personal touch. Nearly everyone would prefer to do business with a company that has personality and an authentic touch rather than deal with a big, faceless conglomerate chain. This leaves a tough question: Is it possible to be authentically “you” and grow a business?

There is an old saying to “never discuss religion or politics in polite company.” Let’s scramble that a bit and enact the motto, “never discuss religion or politics to be a polite company.” Unless your business is in the business of religion or politics, it’s very strongly recommended to leave these touchy topics out of your business dealings. That’s not to say these topics aren’t important. It’s just that these are hot button topics for a good percentage of people. Taking a stance as a business can prevent the success of your company, based upon a differing political opinion, rather than your business philosophy or quality of product.

It is possible to stay true to yourself in business communications though. And it should be, but in order to be effective in running that business, it’s important to understand three things about your company to determine how much of “you” is appropriate: the business, the product and the customer.

Know your business

The owner and founder of any business knows their business better than anyone else, but in this context we are talking about knowing the business within which you operate. For example, if you have a pool cleaning business it may be entirely acceptable, based upon the casual nature of the industry, to post a funny photo or promotion on your website or Facebook page. In fact, a goofy photo of a puppy diving into a sparkling clean pool may very well be an effective bit of marketing. An investment firm, on the other hand, might lose credibility due to the far more straight-laced nature of that industry.

It’s not to say that the owner of the investment firm wouldn’t love a goofy picture of a puppy, it’s simply not considered quite as appropriate within that industry. In this respect, it’s important to know when and how it’s appropriate to publish an image contrary to the traditional notions of your industry.

Know your product

Marketing and managing the image of a company is all about understanding the product. Let’s take a law office for example: the product here is legal advice, which requires an immense amount of trust and respect for the legal advisor. Imagine walking into a Wall Street law office and shaking hands with your new lawyer in baggy shorts, a ripped tank top and numerous tattoos and body piercings. Unless you just so happen to be really into tattoos, body piercings and really liberal dress standards, you’re likely not going to elect this man as your lawyer.

This extreme example of the shabbily dressed lawyer covered in tattoos and body piercings demonstrates how, although we should be free to remain authentic to ourselves, there is a fairly clear spectrum of extremes that convention will allow. This lawyer may just find his niche market to legally advise recipients of horrific tattoos on how to best seek compensation; but this again is a pretty extreme example.

Know your customer

Being an effective entrepreneur while remaining true to oneself is learning to manage how those professional connections are made. Balancing the extremes of those touchy subjects across all individuals will allow you to make connections across a wider range of possible clientele.

You may find yourself lucky enough to be able to express yourself in whichever way you’d like within your business, but to make the most of your market share it would be well advised to follow a few simple steps to help develop the best impression:

  • Discover your niche market and how to reach them. It’s ideal to identify a unique market that has a particular interest in either your product, your service, your company’s image, or even your marketing techniques. If you can find your niche you’ll be able to speak on a more authentic level than any other.
  • Find a network. Joining a professional networking group is a great way to build personal and professional relationships at the same time. While others begin to learn about your company, they’re also able to learn quite a bit about you and your personality.
  • Have a passion for your industry. The casual, tattooed man absolutely should seek out a career in law if that is what suits him, but if he is so apparently passionate about body art he may want to consider a career within that industry as it’s quite clear there is a high level of enthusiasm there.

What this all boils down to is being able to understand and represent a professionally appropriate authentic self. It is not to say that one must change or hide who they are to succeed in business. But it is important to understand what those characteristics are that make for that authenticity and how to work those into your profession.

Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs.org, BizWarriors.com and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley).

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