Does this sound familiar? You were tired of being an employee. You wanted the freedom to do things a different way, your way.
So why is your business so…. beige?
Here are the signs…your business is professional yet forgettable. It looks like the average of all your competitors rather than standing out on its own. Your articles are useful but don’t sparkle. Your stuff is lacking in personality.
And that’s a shame, because you do have personality. Bags of it. You just need to let it show. Here’s how:
1. Stop being so professional
When you were that cog in someone else’s machine, you had to fit in. So you had to wear a suit or a uniform, speak a certain language and behave in a particular way. I saw it myself when I trained as a teacher. Whenever I had a tough day, a more experienced teacher would say “people don’t really understand what it’s like for us teachers”.
And there’s no doubt that’s true. But that teacher – with the best of intentions – was also encouraging me to fit into her tribe. And if you’ve had that kind of experience multiple times over several years (many years?) then you’ll be very comfortable in your tribe.
So when you find yourself out on your own it’s a frightening experience. You look around for your tribe and you’ll find them first on the internet. Except they’ll have been in business longer than you and – this is the killer – you’ll be reading their promotional material.
So whereas your co-worker would have told you about the blazing row she had with her teenage son this morning and that her cat threw up on the doormat just as she left the house, your competitor’s website will tell you how she has ten years more experience than you have. Fabulous, impressive experience that you’d kill for.
(You may discover later that your competitor hated every single one of those ten years and skipped her way to the door the day she was made redundant. But you don’t know that yet.)
She’ll have testimonials from delighted customers when you don’t have single client to your name. She’ll even have photos taken by a professional photographer. I mean, that’s not playing fair, is it? How can you possibly compete with that? And someone with such a lovely photo must be outrageously successful, surely?
So you look around at all the businesses doing what you want to be doing and you decide to do something similar. That’s where it all starts going beige.
The truth is that it takes guts to stand out and be different, but that’s what you have to do. How are people going to buy your thing if they don’t even remember what it is? Or who you are?
Yes, you need to be professional in one sense – you need great customer service, you need to do your tax return on time, meet all your legal obligations. And you need to behave in a way that’s appropriate for the product or service you’re selling. I don’t think a wild and wacky accountant would get that much business, for example.
But you do need to have some personality, take a stand and be memorable. Be any colour but beige.
2. Admit it, you have a problem with self confidence
You know you’re a capable person, you’ve proved that many times. Yet lurking behind your general beige-ness could be low self confidence.
A gap in self-confidence doesn’t make you a weak person – it’s perfectly normal when you’re in a new situation. You haven’t yet proven what you can do. But it can make you shrink back and play it safe. Avoid taking too many risks.
Note here that when I say ‘risks’ I don’t mean blowing your life savings, I mean taking a risk that you’ll say something silly or make a fool of yourself.
Now I’m not a huge fan of the ‘fake it until you make it’ theory where you pretend you’re someone you’re not. It doesn’t feel that honest to me. But there’s nothing wrong in stepping up and being the person you could be if you had confidence in yourself. To be your best self rather than someone else entirely.
At the very least, it’s good to acknowledge that you’re being influenced by that little voice saying “Who do you think you are? Why would anyone listen to you anyway?” because then you can choose to ignore it.
3. Get back in touch with why you started this business
You may be a few years later in your business journey and have lost your sparkle. There’s no shame in this, after all it’s hard work and it can grind you down.
It’s hard to be your best when you feel this way. You probably won’t spot new trends and opportunities, you won’t be listening as hard for customer feedback. You could fall behind.
So you may need to revive your flagging relationship with your business. You know, take it out on a date and remember why you got together all those years ago.
Take some time away, pay someone else to do the routine tasks for a while, get away from your computer and write, mind map, record yourself speaking, talk to a friends or someone in your network who really gets where you are and what it’s like. Or work with a coach.
You may decide it’s time to split, clear away the clutter and feel refreshed, go in a new direction or dump a product line or group of clients that are causing headaches. Starting something fresh and new is also a great way to stop being boring.
4. Stop talking, start listening
If you’re promoting your business, you could find yourself stuck in broadcast mode. You know, telling people what you do, how great you are, how you’ve got a special 6 donuts for the price of 4 deal on this week. Blah blah blah.
Are you bored yet? More importantly, are your prospects and customers bored yet?
If it’s been a while since you really listened to them, you could be boring. If your message is engaging and your customers can’t get enough of it, then keep talking. But if you never shut up, then it’ll be hard to whether you’re engaging them or not. After all, you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
Is it time you did some listening?
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in who you are and what you do that you don’t notice you’re boring. So find out what’s keeping you beige and work out how you can stand out instead.
Is there one thing you’ve done that has taken your business from boring to standing out? I’d love to know what it was. Please do leave me a comment and tell me.