How Authenticity Could Make or Break Your Small Business

Owning a small business is no small feat. There are hundreds of articles written on how to effectively market yourself, attract customers, and drive traffic to your website. With so many gimmicks and tricks out there, it can feel impossible to determine what you should actually do in order to be successful.

The best piece of advice I have found that works for all successful small businesses is: Just be you.

Be authentic. Be genuine. Be true to who you are and work to ensure your business embodies and reflects this. Authenticity is the thing that can make or break your business.

Don't be obsessed with making a profit

I love supporting small businesses — and not just because I own one. I love the personal touch and the intimacy that comes with working with small business owners. As you think about your business, especially while your business is in its infancy, you've got to take your focus off the bottom line. Turning a profit has to come second behind establishing good business practices and customer rapport. Remember, people come to you for a product or service, but the experience is what brings them back.

As a "for profit" entity, making money is on the mind of every business owner, as it should be. But for the truly successful small businesses that have stood the test of time, profit is never the number one goal. If you operate with integrity, put the customer first, do a decent job, and stay true to who you are, the profits will come.

This also means that there will be times when your profits may suffer. If you make a mistake, refund the customer's money, and do the job again — for free. This shows that you genuinely care about the customer and about the product/service you provide. (See also: What Small Business Owners Can Learn From Top Forbes Entrepreneurs)

Let your love for your craft show

If you're in business just for the money, it'll show. And you won't be in business long. Pause for a second and think about a business or service you've sworn off. Think about that horrible restaurant server, drive-thru attendant, or cabdriver that made you swear you would never use that business again.

Now, consider what made you so angry. For most of us, it all comes down to how we were treated and how we were made to feel during the experience. Some waitstaff aren't in love with what they do. But the really good ones love people and want to ensure that you have a pleasant experience while you are at the restaurant.

Passion translates. You can see it. You can feel it. You can sense it whenever you are around someone who has it. As a business owner, if you don't love what you are doing, you may want to consider alternate employment. Allow your passion for your craft to show. Take extra time and care to show your customers that you're not just out for a quick buck. The service you provide is also a labor of love.

Surround yourself with authentic people

Who you hire, your business associates, and even your friends affect your ability to remain true to who you are. Think back to the era of the stereotypical "used car salesmen." They were categorized by their willingness to do and say anything to separate you from your cash. They were despised, ridiculed, and became a caricature for the disingenuous.

If you surround yourself with people who are constantly following the trends, doing what is in, and live life by an ever-changing set of rules, that is what you will do. As a business owner, your word truly is your bond. We no longer do business in a "handshake" environment, but you should operate as if you do. Your word should be solid. Everything you say (website, correspondence, contracts, marketing, etc.) should be the clear and simple truth.

It is also important to be true to who you are because you attract people who are similar. If you make a habit of being shifty and sly, you'll attract shifty and sly people. And this is dangerous for a small-business owner. (See also: How to Hire Your First Employee)

Establish core values and stick to them

Your mission and vision should articulate who you are and what you believe. They don't need to be catchy, erudite, or full of words that have no real meaning. Sounding good and being good are two different things. People are smart enough to quickly spot the difference.

Establish who you are as a business. Determine what you believe, how you will operate, and say exactly that. No fluff, no sleazy catchphrases. Just open, honest, and direct communication. Cute and corny may attract customers, but it won't keep them. Trends will come and go, but who you are at your core shouldn't change.

As your business grows, you may find yourself drifting in a direction that isn't you. When this happens (and it will), stop, regroup, and rechart your course. The key that underpins your success in business and in life is to be genuine and remain authentic.

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How Authenticity Could Make or Break Your Small Business

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