Be authentic. These two words feel so loaded and overused in the business lexicon business owners don't know what it means anymore.
Too many so-called business gurus claim to know what authenticity is all about. They promise that once you find your “authentic self” your business will blossom like cherry trees in spring.
The idea that your authentic self is hiding sells books, group programs, and masterminds. However, what no one talks about is what authenticity REALLY looks like.
According to Merriam-Webster, "authentic" means:
- a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact; 1.b: conforming to an original to reproduce essential features; 1.c: made or done the same way as an original;
- not false or imitation;
- true to one's personality, spirit, or character is sincere and without pretensions
(Source: Authentic | Definition of Authentic by Merriam-Webster.)
Basing your authenticity on acceptance, or reproducing an original, that's weak sauce. That's taking the easy way out. That's nothing less than inauthentic.
Focusing On Conformity Is Bad for Business
If you (or your business) focuses on the first definition, you've got it all wrong. Basing your authenticity on acceptance, or reproducing an original, that's weak sauce. That's taking the easy way out. That's nothing less than inauthentic.
Authenticity — true authenticity — isn't about being accepted. It isn't about copying an original.
Sure, you can paint a copy of the Mona Lisa. However, that doesn't make you Leonardo da Vinci. At best, it means you created an authentic representation of da Vinci.
There are some great business coaches out there, but any coach that asks you to change your personality to copy someone else is asking you to be an authentic representation of someone else.
Newsflash! Potential clients can sniff out when your business is trying to be something else. It also runs counter to your customer retention efforts.
You can’t take someone else’s dream, add a dash of your own “authentic” personality and truly be living out your wildest dreams. Yeah, you might be able to pull off a version of “success,” but it won’t be the real deal.
Focus on Your Story and Customers Will Follow
Your offer may or may not be innovative but the approach, how you connect with customers, needs to be honest and sincere.
Your authenticity comes from your personal story.
Every job you ever had, every business partner you ever had, every coffee date you brainstormed at — that’s what makes you, you. That is the authenticity that will make your business unique.
Once your story shines through your business people will be able to relate to you — and your business. They will see your company offers unique value.
It's that unique value that provides customers with solutions they need. People want to solve their problems, yes. They also wish to get help from someone they can trust.
Customers can't trust someone who isn't being real. Can you?
Your unique value proposition is just that — unique. As the business owner, you put together the team; you created the brand, you decided which services to offer, and how you want to interact with customers.
Your offer may or may not be innovative but the approach, how you connect with customers, needs to be honest and sincere. (Authentic definitions 2 and 3 noted above).
There's that nagging voice again, telling you imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Are you in business to conform? To flatter?
Or are you in business to serve customers and make money?
Being true to yourself is scary.
Connecting your livelihood, your business strategy, and customer service approach to your experiences and expertise? Feels less scary, right?
Take some time for reflection. What brought you and your business here? Right here. Right now.
Are you a serial entrepreneur? Great. Did you quit a job in a fit of rage to follow your dreams? Great.
Did you fail a lot? Awesome.
These experiences, these stories, exemplify the classic definition of authenticity. It's your real character, not a representation of somebody else's.
Align your vision, mission, and goals around that. Let your experiences guide you in crafting the ideal customer service experience. Then replicate it.
Once the essentials are in alignment, check the tech supporting your business. Are you creating unnecessary hassles for yourself, your staff or your customers because you implemented a system based on another company's values?
Listening, communicating and reflecting require no technical skill. When things — even the 'techy things' — are out of alignment your customers can smell it like a dog smells fear.
That's the heart of why authenticity beats imitation in life and business every time.
So grab a pen and paper. Start reflecting on your story. Even the little things that lead to starting your business. Include every milestone and every failure. Paint a picture of that drive, that desire, your values.
Then map it to your vision, mission, and goals.
By the time you get to processes, strategies, and tactics like technology, creating organizational alignment will no longer be a problem.
Prefer to listen? Check out our podcast episode on authenticity and client attraction.
Jen McFarland is a business systems expert, podcaster, and blogger. She’s helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of podcast listeners make better business decisions. Jen’s passion is helping women-owned businesses get the growth tools they need to meet their 3-5 year business goals.
Are you starting a business? Confused about how to grow? Check out Jen’s Picks, my favorite business growth tools.