Sometimes I think terms like, “night and day,” or “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” were coined to describe business people. So often what we see is not what we get or who we are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I had to put on a more professional “business face,” to fit in and be accepted when I really wanted to kick back and swap jokes and laugh until coffee spewed out of my nose. You’ve been there.
You feel you have to project a particular image in order to be taken seriously in the business world. The problem is, that image often backfires, and people see us for who we really are. They love who we really are of course, but then they wonder why we think we have to pretend to be something we’re not. It can kill the trust quotient overnight, or it can snap you into a higher tax bracket because you wake up and stop being stupid and start being yourself and that my friend, brings you in more money.
Case in point – a few weeks back I went to an accounting seminar. I know, I know, kill me now, right? I might as well have signed up to watch paint dry. Wait, it was exactly like watching paint dry. The presentation was worse than you probably imagine it could be. It got to the point where I was snapping a rubber band as hard as I could – across my eyeballs – just to stay awake.
An Unexpected Lesson In How To Talk To Your Customers
I won’t name names because good old Mr. Accountant, who led the seminar, was dry and boring, and I might fall asleep just hearing his name again. He was sporting a suit so lame that I think when the 70s called he ordered everything they had in stock. He epitomized everything negative any of us have heard about accountants. He was so stereotypical that if you hadn’t seen his photo on the brochure, you’d have recognized him as an accountant in the hotel bar, if he’d ever go into a bar.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, last Saturday night I run into this guy at a party that a friend was hosting. I ducked into the bathroom with a drink and a magazine the second I saw Mr. Accountant. But I had to come out after a few minutes. Otherwise people might think, well, let’s not go there. So I ditch the magazine, chug my drink and as I walk out, sure enough, I run right into the guy.
Immediately, he recognizes me from the presentation, so we start talking. And it turns out the guy is funny. No, he’s actually hysterical. He starts talking about the funniest things in his life. He even stops the caterers, as they walk by, and offers me the last frou-frou food item they are serving. And the guy is dressed…well, like the 70s called back and he hung up on them and went on a date with 2012. He looks like he’s actually reading this year’s men’s fashion magazines. He was surprisingly awesome on all fronts.
The Irony of Self
As we talked, I asked him if he had an evil twin who stood in for him at seminars. He laughed, and then he dropped the line that actually inspired this article. He said, “I hate that I have to be all professional at work. I wish I could just be myself and make a living that way.” The irony! By “being all professional,” this guy was leaving money on the table. I’m not an accountant and I can still see he’s leaving not just money, but lots of money waving buh-bye! When he gave his presentation, he was like he was a robot.
Maybe customers need their accountant to be Robot Man and think that’s cool, but I think most of us would choose not to work with him because of it. (I didn’t, after all.) But when this guy was himself, at the party, I found someone that I could connect with. I felt comfortable asking him questions about his business, and learning more about the customers that he likes to work with and the ones he doesn’t. He gave a better and more interesting presentation at the party, ad hoc, than he did in a formal seminar.
You got the punch line, right? He’s now my new accountant. I hope the punch line for you is just as obvious, too. Be yourself with your customers. Take off that “professional” mask, and stop pretending to be what you think they want. Just be you.
The Real You
Customers and prospects are always evaluating you whether you notice it or not. While you’re thinking your fakey smile and uptight, professional demeanor is attractive and your life of the party funny guy is not, guess what kind of customers and clients you’ll attract? Welcome to uptight and fakey. If clients choose to go with you they will choose to go with what they think the real you is—the “fake you” that you’ve been showing the world. If you are not the real you, but are the robot version of you, then you will only attract customers who really like robots. And because you really aren’t a robot you are not going to like working for them. It will set you up to continuously have to pretend that you are someone you are not. How miserable is that? That’s not why we go to work for ourselves is it?
Now, if you are yourself, you will get customers who are like you. No faking, just the real you. And since you can now always be you, you will without a doubt get more customers who like you, who get you, who you enjoy working with. You are basically “selling 24/7” just by being you. After all, that’s how I got my accountant. Oh, and those prospects who do not work with you because you are being the real you? Don’t worry about them. You wouldn’t have liked them anyway. Like the famous, “I’m just being myself,” Dr. Seuss once said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Coming from a man who was loved for writing about green eggs and ham, I have to say he was totally right on.