What if at small business networking events we all stopped pretending building a business is easy?
What if we came out clean and acknowledged that we’re not making enough money?
What if, instead of pretending we had it all together we focused on how to get it all together?
Yesterday I attended a networking event with other small business owners. The room was full of very different people, a lot of women, a few men, all hopeful that this meet up would bring them some ideas, connections, support, friendships and more business.
So when each of us talked about our business in 1 minute, we all tried to pitch as best as possible, some obviously totally trained to do it effortlessly, others just starting out figuring what it is they have to offer to the world.
And something struck me : the more ‘advanced’ in their business journey most of them were, the less genuine some of their intro felt.
They were all very professional, focusing on the needs of the customer before their own (marketing & sales 101 principle) and crisply summarising what they did and for whom.
Yet most were pretty politically correct or somewhat generic (contradicting personal branding rules to some extent — being bland and not you is not building a strong personal brand).
And yet it was missing something : a sense of authenticity, of connection and some level of realism.
Building a business is really hard.
It takes courage to decide to jump into the entrepreneurial experience, to leave the comfort of a job, to go and figure out a way to make money doing something we are good or excellent at, hoping we will find clients along the way.
Yet, after a few months in business and as we get out, meet people — to break the entrepreneurial solitude, to get support, find ideas and meet potential customers — we forget or gloss over this courage we’ve had and start settling for a series of ‘keeping appearances’ tactics.
Because we’ve been told that we need to look busy and successful to have clients — even if that implies lying or distorting reality.
Because we think that looking needy is bad for business — and it is if you distinguish needy from desperate. All businesses need customers. It’s how they acquire them that makes them desperate or professional.
Because we believe that just being ourselves, warts and all won’t do — Too many warts scares the client away but no one likes a business robot.
But if we backtrack a bit : when we decided to launch our business, we believed we could do it being ourselves. We believed we had the skills, experience and drive to build that entreprise.
And yet, a few months, even years down the line, we settle for a watered down version of ourselves.
Because we fear that if we admit to being well — human and ourselves, to sometimes struggle, to sometimes lose clarity or be downright confused (been there, done that) — we will have failed.
Failed what exactly?
To appear on top of things 100% of the time? Everybody fails at this and it’s OK. Brenée Brown in her famous Ted talk explains the power of vulnerability and even goes to show that the most influential people are those who do NOT attempt to appear perfect.
Because being confident is not about appearing busy, successful or having mastered the art of persuasion.
True confidence is being to say :
Hi, my name is Alexia, I’m a small business owner, I believe that so far I have made a difference in my clients’ lives but building a business is hard, takes time and I’m still working on growing it. It’s not a linear process where you go from A to B.
In the past 2 years, I have struggled with figuring out what I am truly best at, what I shouldn’t do like everyone else and I regularly lose clarity on my business objectives.
I’ve gone down familiar avenues, explored new territories and I have come out of it a better professional, a better version of myself and I have learnt a lot. Even if the journey wasn’t always a bed of roses.
So I would like to continue to extend my skill set and find ways to reach more people so that my business offering becomes even better. And for that a network is what I need.
Building a business is like growing a plant.
At the beginning it needs a lot of water, attention, sometimes you need to move the plant to another part of the garden because of too much shade, sun or water but, once you’ve done all this experimenting — which can take several seasons — its maintenance becomes way easier, it mostly takes care of itself.
So we should stop pretending we have all found the perfect spot for our plant on the first attempt.
A few people do but usually, if you dig deeper, you find that they have been testing for months or years ‘incognito’. Only plastic plants are indifferent to location and maintenance.
This “smoke and mirror” strategy may appear successful but I truly believe that many people pick up on the potential disconnect between what we say and how we behave. And walk away.
And let’s face it — if you were THAT successful (i.e. with your plant it the perfect location in the garden), would you be attending so many networking events?
Welcome to all elephants in the room
So instead of pretending there is no elephant in the room, what if we just talked about the elephant : it’s size, how small or big it is (is there more than one?), how we got it smaller, how we have accepted that, at a small business, it may never totally go, that it may at times grow taller or take the occasional holiday?
Wouldn’t these meetups be more productive with the large grey animal out?
Make no mistake — the fake it until you make it — can really help you focus on changing some of your behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. By living the life of the ‘future successful you’, you may fast track the current you. And that’s great.
But maybe in certain circumstances, particularly as you approach other business owners, some of the masks can come down.
Because not having ‘enough’ clients doesn’t make you incompetent.
Because needing more business doesn’t mean you’re bad at what you do or in business.
Experimentation is the true key to success
It just means that you need more time, support and experimenting to figure out what works and doesn’t. What you need to change or improve. What brings out the best in you.
A child learning to walk doesn’t pretend it can do it before it does. She just keeps trying until she does.
And all children learn to walk. They all have the skill and so does your business.
Brené Brown Ted Talk