Anyone who knows me well knows that authenticity is one of my core values - so much so, in fact, that I developed an entire business venture to support entrepreneurs in integrating their authentic selves into their work. It drives me crazy to see good people struggling to succeed in businesses that don't feel right to them, and experiencing the burnout that comes from working harder and harder for clients with whom they just don't connect.
I've said it before: there is room in the wedding industry for every type of person to operate a business, because every type of person is out there, getting married and looking for vendors. There are a sea of clients out there who perfectly complement your personality, who like what you like, and who are dying to do business with someone exactly like you. Those competitors of yours who drive you crazy, who strike you as fake or annoying or whose pricing seems not to align with their talent? There are people out there who are really hoping those aren't their only options for your service category.
As business owners, we've all breathed that huge sigh of relief when a :"dream client" falls into our lap. That same client is experiencing that same relief when they find us, because we're not only solving a problem for them, but we're also giving them the peace of mind that the process of working together is going to be awesome.
The trick, of course, is positioning yourself to be found by the clients with whom you most want to work. And, more often than not, that requires taking a big leap of faith.
Shaking up the status quo is SCARY. When every business in your field is marketed roughly the same way (say, with pastel colors or gold glitter or cutesy business names or whatever is the latest wedding marketing trend), it can be intimidating to stand out. What if no one likes your "unique" wedding business? What if your colleagues take personally your decision to do things differently, like it's an insult to them? What if you undergo a colossal brand transformation and find it's the worst mistake you've ever made?
When it comes to your business, the stakes are high, and making sweeping changes can be terrifying. Still, I'll say this: business is not for the risk-averse. And I can say, both from personal experience and from observing all my business coaching clients who have decided to let go of all things generic: you'll never regret marketing and operating your business in a way that's true to you. On the contrary, you'll feel more creative, more energized, more fulfilled, and more acknowledged than you ever have, because you're doing work you love for people you like. That makes taking the chance totally worth it.
With that said, here are my quick tips for assessing whether your branding and marketing are authentic to you, the business owner:
You feel proud to talk about your business. You can say your business' name aloud, without feeling self-conscious or apologetic. (This is no joke - do you know how many people out there are embarrassed at what they once named their business, yet haven't taken steps to change it?) Your "elevator pitch," or quick description of what you do, feels natural and sounds like you. You can converse about your business in the present tense - because, while you're obviously goal-oriented and always moving forward, you're content with the business you're running right now, because it's yours.
You shine through your marketing: not just your work, but YOU. I'm a sucker for a good "About" page on a website, because as a consumer, I love supporting businesses whose owners are truly invested. I want to know about the people I'm doing business with, and if their personalities and perspectives resonate with me. So many people are afraid of turning off potential clients by sharing too much of themselves, and to that, I say nonsense. The people you are most meant to work with will love what they see and will want to experience more. Bonus: you'll feel infinitely more confident in your client meetings, and will be positioned for a better working experience throughout the entire transaction, because you've made it possible for "your people" to find you.
You give credit where credit is due, including to yourself. There's a lot of debate swirling around whether solopreneurs should use "I" or "we" in their marketing. If you are the only one working in your business, if the creative ideas and execution are yours and yours alone (or even if you have a little bit of subcontracted labor helping you out, but you're the only one working with clients), I'm a big proponent for embracing the "I." You don't need to put on some kind of facade to earn credibility, because there's nothing inherently less credible about one talented, hardworking individual delivering your product or service. Consider whether you're pretending to be a team purely for the sake of seeing bigger than you are, it may be time to assess your self-confidence.
You make very clear which clients you'd love to hire you (and possibly those for whom you might not be a good fit.) I think there's something valuable about putting what you want out into the universe so that you can see what comes back, and that includes communicating a direct appeal to your ideal client. Are you a planner who's dying to create a niche serving primarily same-sex couples? Are you a florist whose secret favorite product is making wreaths for couple's dogs to wear to the wedding ceremony? Are you designer and a geek through-and-through and want to create wedding themes around all things nerdy? Then by all means, put that front-and-center, or at least somewhere in your marketing. And if there are particular requests you know you aren't the right person to fulfill, or couples whose needs you aren't fit to serve, then be up front about that, too. (I do this in my primary business, a decidedly non-cheesy DJ company, when I say, with no apologies, that we don't do party props and line dances.) Being clear in your marketing eliminates misunderstandings later, and it helps drive those dream clients right to you.
You build relationships with colleagues who share your vision and your values. As with our non-work friendships, we certainly can develop positive connections with other wedding pros whose businesses are nothing like ours. However, when trying to bolster your own authenticity, I can't recommend highly enough that you seek out professional relationships with business owners who operate similarly. When another business owner serves a similar clientele, and operates with a similar philosophy, they're in a unique position to refer you clients who are more likely to book you. They also can provide a unique kind of support when you're experiencing the inevitable bouts of anxiety and FOMO that accompany marching to the beat of your own drum. (And, as I mentioned earlier in this article, if there are things you like and you believe in, just as there are plenty of potential clients who feel the same, there are other vendors who do, too. And when you find them, you'll feel stronger for their camaraderie.)
I'm not spouting all of this because I've got this authenticity thing 100% figured out - it's a long process, and my various businesses (and my own identity) are constantly evolving. But I do believe wholeheartedly in the concept of working and living authentically, and I'm putting it into practice everywhere I can. I've got some big changes slated for all my ventures in the coming months, ones that will require the same leap of faith I'm recommending to you here. So I'll be right here, going through it with you, and I'd love to hear from you either in the comments or on social media if you plan on embracing authenticity in 2016.