We hear all the time that you have to be “real” to be authentic. But what does that mean? After all, most things in the world are real in that sense that they are actually physical objects. But this is only one definition of real.
When used in the context of authenticity, real comes from the informal slang usage of being genuine, having character, or true personality. It may have sprung from the phrase “the real McCoy” coined in the late 1800s. Whatever it comes from, its meaning is clear: the genuine article is better than a fake one.
Being a solopreneur or small company makes being real easier. You just have to step away from your training or belief that marketing has to be clever and express yourself the way you would naturally would.
Often potential clients come to me and say, “I don’t know what to say in my marketing materials.” When I ask them to tell me about their business, they say some lovely things about what they do. I say to them “that was perfect.”
Their eyes widen a little, and they ask incredulously, “It is? I thought I needed to say it better or differently or as someone else does.”
They often have a whole host of reasons why what they told me couldn’t possibly be good enough: it doesn’t seem polished, they weren’t sure it sounded good, they were afraid they hadn’t explained it well.
By downplaying how they would say something, or not letting their own words be enough, they are telling themselves that who they are is not good enough. In other words, they are denying their authenticity!
Not that I’m saying it’s easy.
We grow up in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be ourselves. We are marketed at constantly by “lifestyle” brands that tell us we will be happy if we follow the trends rather than our own guiding star.
Our culture is competitive, and we learn from an early age that winning is something we should aspire to. Even our biology lessons in school affirm this with the interpretation of Darwin’s survival of the fittest as the means for our species very survival.
I don’t see many messages to children that they should find their own path and follow it to the feeling of having enough.
I see many more messages around having more, doing more, and coming out on top. This creates an atmosphere of comparing our progress to another’s and looking for that outside mechanism–be it clothing, schools, or some group or another–that can get us there.
We end up taking on roles like daughter or son, student, employee, partner, and parent to do what we think we are supposed to do rather than looking for our own genuine version of living our lives.
Growing up in this way can make it hard to find our real selves when we step into the role of business owner. But find it we must because the businesses that embrace “real” do better business.
What does it mean to be real as a small business owner?
In general, it means choosing a business that is a good fit for who you actually are.
You cannot work in a business because others think it would be a good idea, or even that there’s a lot of money to be made unless it dovetails with your needs. You have to do your business in a way that reflects your actual inner truths and perspectives, even if it means going against the grain of what’s traditionally done.
I see this often with small business owners exhausting themselves with traditional business hours when they are better suited to starting work late, or working sporadically as their energy is available. Do you have to find a way to run your business that is attractive and convenient for your clients? Yes. But do it the way it’s always been done in that industry even if that doesn’t work for you? No. There is generally much more flexibility in our businesses that we assume.
Here are common areas I see small business owners not being “real” in their businesses:
- Type of business you run: there’s a gap between the type of business you earn money from and the type you’d like to have.
- Hours you work: You are working hours that don’t match your natural energy flows.
- Timing of work: The way work happens in your day-to-day or monthly or yearly rhythm doesn’t fit who you are.
- Activities in your business: You spend a lot of time in activities that you feel “have to do” rather than those that make your heart sing.
- People you serve: The types of people you work with don’t light you up and replenish you.
From my soon to be published book The Authentic Marketer: Create the Mindset You Need to Grow Your Small Business and Love It.
Linda believes that small business owners can step into a better version of their business when they embrace authenticity and become more fully themselves. Her 25-year marketing career has included Kimpton Hotels, Jamba Juice, and Disney helping her clients win awards and placements in publications like The Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine, as well as on the front cover of WIRED magazine. You can visit her website here: lindabasso.com or join her FB conversation.