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I came through business school with a very “corporatized” feeling of how business works. Most of the textbooks at university are written with big business as case studies and examples to demonstrate the theories. I felt that in order to run a business, even a small business, you should project the attitude of a big business. If you are planning on being big one day, a faceless corporation with hundreds of employees and a brand as a personality, then you should act like that from day one.
When I started my first business a switch in my head was flicked to “corporate” whenever I interacted with customers, suppliers and other people. I felt I needed to project that I was the face of something made up of lots of people, with hierarchies, departments and slow bureaucracies. I was of course quite aware that the reality was far from it, it was just me behind a computer doing all the tasks, but I needed to express “bigness” in order to convince people that my business was the real deal. I was quite misguided.
I partially blame university for the poor attitude. Business school, at least what I went through, teaches students to be corporate drones in a company made up of lots of people. You learn how everything works – the big picture of how all the bits come together to operate a large corporate business – but you don’t really get taught how to be an individual. Of course this wouldn’t have been a problem for most graduates since they went on to take positions at large companies where it would be appropriate for them to use words like “we” and “us” and “you need to speak to someone in HR“, but as a solopreneur these are not good words.
Whenever I received a business related email I’d respond with phrases like “We’d be happy to help” or “Our business operates on weekends“. My responses weren’t bad, they answered the questions and sold the service, but they also projected the corporate “We don’t really care about you, you’re insignificant” and worse, didn’t help to develop a human relationship with my clients.
As I matured as a solopreneur I slowly realized the importance of relationship building, especially with customers and how powerful it can be as a competitive advantage. Customers that form relationships with your business, or in truth, you as a solopreneur, will remain loyal even when offered a cheaper alternative. Familiarity, reliability and comfort all come from a good customer relationship and the more you can do to foster this attitude with each and every interaction in your business, the better.
As I’ve become a blogger I’ve further realised the power of personal communication. Blogs work, especially for small business, because they humanize the website. Before blogs most websites were just as corporate as the businesses that built them – dry, unemotional and faceless. Blogs are the reverse – colourful, full of personality and clearly identifiable with their owner. Because the weblog evolved from the online diary the blogging format of writing has always been more personal – it’s as if the author is sitting next to you talking.
Sometime this year the corporate switch in my head flicked off. I finally realised that my greatest asset is me. Even if my goal is to build a massive corporation it serves me better if each and every customer and person that comes into contact with my business feels like they know me personally.
All my email correspondence is signed off from Yaro Starak or Yaro. My autoresponders introduce me as the business owner and state my willingness and availability to be contacted by each and every customer and potential customer that comes into contact with my businesses. I talk in “me” and “I” and only use “we” when I actually mean another person is involved.
I am now totally convinced, with thanks to blogging, that for small businesses there is no more powerful brand message to project than yourself. Even for big business, a personality brand can be a powerful message. “Richard Branson” is almost as meaningful as the Virgin brand itself. I think they are synonymous in a lot of ways. I see Virgin and I think Richard is behind this so it’s got to be good. If it wasn’t for the corporate structure of big business, where ownership is not in the hands of one person and the “captain of the ship” changes regularly, I’d be a proponent of personality branding for big business too.
Small business branding is not a good logo, a rhyming name, or special font. Small business branding is the owner. It’s what the owner does, says and how the owner’s traits come through in every aspect of the business. It’s the way relationships are built and maintained, the way a person does business and treats other people. It’s how rapport is established at an individual level, where trust and comfort exist as human characteristics, not from theme music, models or slogans.
Remember you have one competitive advantage that can not be replicated – You. No one can ever duplicate your personality, the way you do business and your attitude towards other people. Projecting your personality is a powerful competitive advantage, branding message and business tool that you should be using every day. Don’t hide it behind a corporate facade, express it in everything you do.
Your business doesn’t have to become dependent on you personally, but your image, attitudes and values should form it’s pillars. This especially holds true for independent professionals and solopreneurs. If you are going it alone be proud of it and use it as an advantage. Don’t be corporate, be human, your human customers will love you for it.