My daughter is almost 3 years old, and over the past couple weeks she’s discovered the game of “hide and seek.”
It’s really cute to play with her. When it’s your turn to hide, she’ll count: “1, 2, 3, 8, 9!” And then poke around until she finds you.
But when it’s her turn to hide… well, let’s just say she hasn’t gotten this part down yet. She’ll scramble up on top of the couch and then as you approach the room, she’ll giggle and yell, “Here I am! I’m in here!”
Isn’t it funny that hiding is a concept we have to learn?
But man, once we’ve got it, we put that skill to steady use. Over the years of our lives, we learn how to hide our feelings, our fears, even our strengths and joys. We downplay the things that make us “different” and the experiences that have shaped us. And often, we do an even better job of hiding things from ourselves, than we do of keeping them from others.
It’s kind of messed up, right?
Sure, a lot of this is socially expected, or done for reasons of self preservation. But, watching my daughter bound through her days, lacking the ability or desire to hide, makes me yearn for that same confidence and exhilaration.
“Here I am!”
What does this have to do with running a business? Well, pretty much everything.
The goal of “hide and seek” is to stay un-found for as long as possible. Is that your goal in your business? Or do you want the people who need your help to find you?
Every day in my work, I talk with clients who are hiding something. For the most part, they’re not doing it consciously. But in every case, that hidden thing is affecting their business. It’s keeping them from reaching new clients, and from doing the work that is most fulfilling for them.
Here are 6 common ways I’ve seen entrepreneurs hide. Which ones apply to you?
1. Hiding behind “professional” language.
Jargon, buzzwords, or big chunks of cliched text that sound just like all of your competitors. If you’re using any language just because it “sounds professional,” all it’s doing is creating a smoke screen. If you want to show that your business is different, use different language. Write directly, simply, and authentically.
2. Hiding behind your laurels.
A lot of entrepreneurs fill up their website content with lists of their certifications, degrees, and accolades because a) they think it will impress their clients, and b) they have no idea what else to write. The truth is that your About page shouldn’t look like a resume, and your clients don’t know what most of those certifications mean anyway. Come out from behind all those weird strings of letters and tell us what you’re really about.
3. Hiding behind your portfolio.
People who produce visual work do this ALL. THE. TIME. I’m looking at you, designers, photographers, and videographers! Yes, I know that you think the work speaks for itself. And, no doubt, potential clients want to see your beautiful stuff. But the client also wants to know who the hell they’ll be working with. So write some content and post a headshot, for god’s sake!
(Which brings me to...)
4. Hiding your actual face.
Look, I get it. I’m super unphotogenic and hate having my picture taken, too. (My grandmother actually told me once that the reason I look terrible in photos is that my “face is too three-dimensional.” Wha...?) But if you're a service-based solopreneur, the thing you're selling is you. Whether you like it or not, your face is part of your brand.
Hire a real photographer, get some good head shots, take a big gulp, and post that shit. Otherwise, everything about your business feels a little bit ungrounded, unreal… suspicious. And in a very literal way, you’re not getting visible. Which is, um, the whole point of marketing. (P.S. Having good pics of yourself can also help boost your confidence and make you feel like more of a legit expert. Win-win!)
5. Hiding your specialty.
In the past you’ve probably done all kinds of work and maybe it’s all still on your website. Or maybe you’re “playing it safe” by keeping your offerings really general, instead of focusing in on the one or two things you’re really best at and most passionate about. After you’ve been in business a while, staying in this murky area of “doing everything” stops being a necessity, and starts becoming a facade. It’s a catch-all maze that makes it hard for your clients to pin down what they should really hire you for. Once you've figured out what your sweet spot is, claim it and lead with it.
6. Hiding your deepest motivations.
Y’all, this is my favorite! Almost every client I’ve worked with has done this. I ask them why they do the work they do and they trot out a boring answer about liking it. Two hours and a barrage of invasive questions later, they finally reveal (almost in passing!) the most amazing morsel about their life that makes their whole brand fall into place.
Sometimes it’s a formative childhood experience, or a personal milestone, or a deeply held belief. It might have to do with family, trauma, travel, or identity. The things we hide deepest or gloss over are often the most important to our lives, and therefore our businesses. These are the stories that will separate you from the pack and connect with clients on a stronger, emotional level. Get your story out there; you’ll be amazed at the reaction.
* * *
So here’s my challenge to you: Make 2018 the year you stop hiding in your business. The year that you jump up on the couch cushions and yell to the world, “Here I am!”
Share your true motivations. Say what you mean. Delete all the bullshit.
The world needs your realness.