In my day-to-day interactions with other small business owners at networking and educational events, I often come across common sales and marketing mantras. Some of them pique my interest and others make me squirm in my seat. Because let us be honest, we are talking about the sales and marketing of ME. It’s personal. I’m a one-woman band. There is no one else. It's confronting, raw and emotionally risky putting yourself out there on the line. It’s hard enough without trying to be this other 'professional' person as well.
So there are two mantras in particular that are thrown around as fact and I notice people rarely question them:
Notice something? Those statements are polar opposites!
Taking aim at the need to be fake until I am sufficiently ‘made’, I consulted Dr Google on some of the background to this piece of gospel' Wikipedia is first up. It says that evidence of use of the phrase can first be proven some time before 1973. Following up the accompanying reference, I felt sufficiently vindicated in my dislike of the phrase. It turns out it originates from a court transcript where the judge used the phrase to describe techniques championed by a group of sales people selling "Dare to Be Great' courses. These courses were teaching off-the-scale aggressive sales techniques extracting easy money from smugs for delivering very little. The whole venture was described as a gigantic fraud and I had visions of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.
To the less devious and fake, the phrase sometimes means that action can precede the associated and desired feeling. So rather than wait until you don’t feel shy before you introduce yourself to someone new, you could will yourself to saunter up to someone, shake their hand and ask them how their day was for instance. Hopefully if this experience goes well for you, your feelings will shift from ‘wish I was sitting on the couch at home’ to ‘this isn’t so bad and I’m having fun’. I came across a Forbes article by Susan O'Brien about the only time it's OK to fake it until you make it. She argues that fake your behaviour and feelings by all means, but don't fake your competencies. And by extrapolation, don't fake your ability to deliver either.
Really though, why do we need to use the word fake? Isn’t this just about having a well-developed will? A will that overcomes feelings that are not helpful to us at that time?
Which brings me to being authentic. Another hot phrase being bandied about. So what does being authentic mean in a business sense? I don't think it means airing all your dirty laundry in public and boring your clients with the minute details of your children's birthday party. But I like the idea of not having to project this 'other' me out there. Authentic sounds less complicated and much more aligned with my values. So back to Dr Google.
One article that really resonated with me was one about the key ingredients for authenticity on entrepreneur.com by Kara Goldin. Central to the theme seems to be that authentic means being open to feeling vulnerable and admitting when you 'don't know' or you haven’t been your best self. Interestingly this is also an important component of building trust, something I really value in my relationships with my clients. Kara has a few tips on how to be authentic in a business sense: and these are love what you do, acknowledge your weaknesses, surround yourself with other authentic people, listen, build genuine relationships and be consistent.
This ties in nicely with the trust equation below. In this I equate being vulnerable with intimacy. The two go hand-in-hand.
Mark Asquith, talks about what NOT to do in terms of being authentic. He feels that being professional in the traditional sense mutes our unique selves to our detriment. He believes that "the professionalism that we're taught by society, by schools and by establishments is actually no more than a set of old rules that are designed to keep hierarchy stable and add a layer of control to a workforce." He argues that instead authentic professionalism is simple -- be fair, be honest, be open and be value-led. Oh, and be respectful. Simply put, be a decent human being. Amen!