When I started my business, one of the most common (and frustrating) pieces of branding advice I saw was “Just be authentic.”
This should be straightforward: after all, we just turn up and be ourselves, right?
Well, yes… But for most of us, that’s an ongoing challenge.
While being authentic is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have, it’s also risky. It opens us up to perceived and real rejection, and all the uncomfortable feelings that go with it – feelings that most of us spend a good amount of our time (consciously and unconsciously) trying to avoid. And that’s just in our day-to-day lives; throwing business and entrepreneurship into the mix adds a whole new layer of complexity.
While the advice to “just be yourself” sounds simple, in a business setting it can feel like anything but.
If you’re feeling stuck on how to bring authenticity to your business, here are a few tips to guide you:
1. Make every decision based on your values
When you make decisions in your business (and life) through the framework of your values, it’s hard to not be authentic.
Of course, this requires you to know what your values are. Values are abstract terms that embody your moral compass, sense of right and wrong, and how you envision your best self (or here, your best business). Your set of values might include terms like integrity, honesty, truth, trust, and so on.
Identifying, and preferably writing down, the values you want to embody early in your business will inform many decisions later and provide you with clearer, more authentic branding.
2. Know your boundaries part one: Sharing
Let’s take a minute to clear up one of the biggest myths around authenticity:
Your level of authenticity is not defined by your level of sharing.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with sharing, it just doesn’t have anything to do with authenticity.
In reality, being authentic involves having awareness of your boundaries. It’s about listening to the physical and emotional signals we’re getting regarding our comfort zone, and respecting them.
When it comes to boundaries in your business, there’s a difference between stretching your comfort zone to aid growth, and storming past it in a way that leaves you feeling exposed and scrambling for cover. Discomfort exists for a reason: if you don’t respect it, and challenge it gently and compassionately, it will come back to bite you in the form of procrastination, burn out and demotivation.
Lots of people will tell you how you should run your business, but whether you answer email at the weekend, take X weeks off per year, or finish work at 5pm each day is your choice according to what’s right for you.
Deciding where your boundaries lie and honouring them: that’s authenticity.
3. Know your boundaries part two: Feedback
In business, as in life, you’ll come across two types of feedback:
Helpful and unhelpful.
You already know the difference between them. You know how it feels to receive constructive criticism: it can be uncomfortable to hear, but at the same time leaves you with a spark of motivation, new ideas and a drive to move forward. You also know how it feels to receive unhelpful criticism: demotivated, attacked, exposed, even ashamed.
Destructive criticism is the kryptonite of authenticity.
As a recovering people pleaser, one of my favourite quotes comes from Scott Stratten of UnMarketing.com: “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not the jackass whisperer.”
Just because you run a business doesn’t mean you’re obligated to listen to everything your clients say. The more you allow destructive criticism to enter your head-space, the less it will feel safe for you to be authentic.
4. Step away from that business!
It’s no coincidence that the first three suggestions are as much about how you interact with yourself as how you interact with the outside world. We can only be authentic when we take time out from focusing externally on our business, clients, colleagues and peers, and consciously make time to reconnect with ourselves.
5. Learn from the best
Look at your business role models and how they choose to show up in their business. Answer these questions:
- How do they balance their boundaries?
- What information do they share, and what do they keep private?
- What do you like about the parts of themselves they choose to share?
- How can you emulate (note: not copy) that with your business in a way that feels right for you?
Finally, remember that authenticity is a process, not an end goal. Stick to your values, honour your boundaries, take time out, and you’re there.”