I talk to a LOT of business owners – my clients, people I meet at events, at network meetings and my own peers and mentors. I’m curious; curious about how people present themselves, what they talk about and most of all how, or whether, they try to build connection with me, or with other people they are talking to. I’d probably even go as far as to say obsessive about the last bit.
You see, many small business owners, particularly those selling themselves in some way are caught up in what I call the corporate myth – still. What do I mean by this? There seems to be this perception that corporates buy from companies, not individuals, or ‘one man bands’ and so they need to try to look ‘corporate’ too. In doing this I frequently hear people talking about their company in a way that bigs up it’s size or reach, or that implies a team of infrastructure that just isn’t there.
This is not a judgement, I can see why this happens; larger companies buying consultancy or training are often concerned about size and infrastructure, particularly during any tendering process. Here’s the thing though; when I’ve asked people I meet or potential clients why they do this, they talk about credibility, about looking like a bigger company, about making it easier for corporates to trust them. They do this while engaging in the very behaviours that make it more difficult for people to trust and connect with them. Most human to human connection occurs at an unconscious even instinctual level, we make split second judgements about people – whether we like them, trust them, or rate them, long before we have logical ‘evidence’ to underpin our opinion.
Why does that matter? Some people have said to me that this first impression is the exact reason they go for the less personal company feel. They want to be taken seriously. The trouble is however, when we are not being true to ourselves it shows. It’s subtle but others pick up on your internal disconnect or discomfort, it makes you harder to trust, to like and to connect with.
People do buy from individuals; large companies are made up of individuals, individuals who build relationships with one another and who do business with one another based on those connections. Business relationships are no different to any other relationships.
Just think for a minute how you feel when you try to conform, to agree or to hold your tongue simply to fit in with a social group, or with friends or family? I know I rarely manage this, (especially the hold my tongue bit); and if I do I usually feel horrible, like I don’t fit, or I’ll be found out. Even worse I might feel like I’ve cheated myself in some way. I clearly remember my granny telling me “Just be yourself, you’ll be fine” I now know how wise those words were.
When you show up as yourself, with your own message, quirks, warts and all, other people can truly connect with you, you can find common interests, values, aspirations, and this is where connection turns in to the ‘know, like and trust’ relationships we need to do business. It is more than this though. Showing up as yourself allows you to connect with people who you will enjoy and be good at working with, it allows those who don’t like what you stand for to make alternative choices, reducing the likelihood of difficult client relationships. Most importantly it allows you to shine, get excited and passionate, and to sell your vision to those around you.
It is my belief that we need more connection in 2016, and we get this by being true to who we are and the difference we can make – not by chasing what we think others might want and trying to be that. So my challenge for you (and myself), is get out there, be who you are and connect with others from that place.