In entrepreneurship, who you are is just as important as what you sell. That’s the fundamental concept behind branding: consumers don’t only buy products for their perceived qualities, they buy products out of a sense of loyalty. To earn that loyalty, it’s vital to define and express exactly who you are by finding your own authentic voice.
In the beginning, many new entrepreneurs try to fake it. They emulate the style or voice of an inspiration or a teacher. They try to dress their talks or writings up with the trappings of an expert or guru. They try to create a persona, out of an urge to be taken seriously. They shy away from their own voice, for fear that it isn’t good enough.
This is a natural mistake to make, but it’s an important one to avoid. Instead, the first goal of any independent business person should be to discover who they are, and what makes them unlike anyone else. It starts by embracing your own uniqueness. After that, earning loyalty is simply a matter of presenting oneself with sincerity and honesty.
To find your authentic voice and make your mark, keep these principles in mind:
You know what you know. And nothing more. It’s important (especially for those whose business is selling guidance or education) to only offer information that you’re genuinely sure about. Too often, beginning experts try to swim out past their depth, offering instruction or knowledge that they don’t really have in order to establish a reputation for being knowledgeable. This will backfire.
A better strategy is to stick with what you know. Focus on the unique experience and know-how that you genuinely possess. Demonstrate the true value of your own expertise, however vast or limited it really is. This way, consumers will have a reason to trust you. Long-term consumer loyalty begins when people are impressed as much by honesty as by credentials.
As for the knowledge that you don’t have just yet, make your commitment to learning a part of your voice. Share your growth, your mistakes, and your struggle to improve with your audience. They’re more likely to respect that than to be wooed by any amount of posturing.
Be relatable. There was a time when building a career as an expert meant inflating your image. Puffed up and overblown, icons and gurus sold themselves as the answer to the customer’s problems. The bigger, the better. The goal was to be seen not as a source of help, but as a messiah.
Those days are over.
Now, it’s just not feasible to pose as a guru on a mountaintop. 21st century consumers like their food local, their music independent, and their experts human. We’re all on a journey, not a race. That means that a helping hand from someone who’s seen a bit further up the path is more appreciated than a distant beacon from beyond the alleged finish line.
Call it cynicism, or call it being informed, but people today are likely to see a self-proclaimed miracle worker as a sham, no matter their credentials. It’s better to just be a person: specifically, you. The Great and Powerful Oz is dead, but today’s consumers are willing to hear what the man behind the curtain has to say.
Take your time. Finding your voice is not something that’s accomplished overnight. In fact, it’s never really “accomplished” in any final sense. You’ll always be growing and changing as a business person. Don’t frustrate yourself by trying to build some final product that is your voice. Instead, refine it as you go along.
The important thing is to exercise your voice, to develop it like a muscle. Write. Speak. Produce, produce, produce. The more content you create, the more you hone your genuine voice, and discover what makes you worth listening to. It’s a process that can’t be rushed, only dedicated to.
Use the three wisest words that anyone can say. They are, in the following order, “I,” “don’t,” and “know.” Being honest about and comfortable with the limits of your knowledge is the greater part of establishing your credibility. No one knows it all, and anyone who claims to isn’t telling the truth.
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs are people who don’t claim to know everything, but who connect consumers with sources of information. Oprah Winfrey never claimed to know much, she just found people who did and put them on a couch. Even the earliest pioneers of entrepreneurship and self-empowerment like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon HIll considered themselves observers first, whose greatest strength was their ability to find answers rather than to already know them.
Connect. Resonate. Reach your audience as a human being, not a walking advertisement. This is the only way to build a loyal, long-term following. It requires sincerity above all. Even actors, whose entire job is to be someone they’re not, know that the best way to touch an audience is to root their attempt to be someone else in who they actually are. Being yourself, then, means being endlessly honest.
Loyalty will come when consumers feel as though there is a genuine person somewhere behind the necessity of salesmanship. Especially today, consumers are sophisticated enough to see the human being behind the business, so make sure that one is actually there. Business is a necessity, and customers understand that. However, most would rather to do it with a person rather than a persona.
Finding your voice is an exciting and rewarding process that has its own inherent value. As an independent business person, don’t be afraid that who you are won’t be good enough. Don’t fear that your expertise isn’t sufficient. Ply your trade, know your business, and be yourself. Use your voice to reveal who you are, not to obscure it. You’ll find that that approach doesn’t just reach consumers more effectively- it produces a better product.