You should always be yourself — except when you're running a business.
That’s what conventional wisdom tells you, but does that advice really hold true? Is there any place in the business world for a little personality?
As far as the rulembook goes, you can probably toss it aside, because there’s a great argument to be made for injecting a little character into your personal brand.
We’re not saying you need to develop the mouth of a sailor or suddenly start tweeting every time you take your dog for a walk, but there’s certainly a time and place for a little flair.
If you’re the type of person who likes to present a more casual image but you aren’t sure if your personality is “professional” enough, here are a few good reasons why you may want to let your freak flag fly.
You’ll Attract the Clients You Want
Business Ownership 101 says that you should always identify your target market. Part of the reason for this is that your brand will revolve around that market.
This is good news for everyone out there who likes to drop an f-bomb or two but feels like they can’t because it might turn away business. The reality is that depending on your audience, they may actually prefer that you go a little off the cuff every now and again.
Depending on the industry you’re in, casual language can do either one of two things: make you seem uneducated or make you seem human.
If you’re a doctor, your patients probably don’t want to hear you talk about how trashed you got at a party last week or how “hella tight” your patient’s surgery was.
But if you’re a writer, or a programmer, or something not in the life-saving business, talking about how dope that new software update is may actually grab people’s attention. They may think, “Hell yeah, that update is dope. Tell me more.”
The Harvard Science Review actually found that swearing creates a more informal and intimate atmosphere, which can lead to feelings of belonging and acceptance.
Whether or not you use it depends on your target market.
If you primarily deal with Baby Boomer retirees, for example, they have a whole different concept of what professionalism means and may not care for your witty repartee. But if you’re targeting Gen X or Millennials, you’re far more likely to win them over with a little personality.
The less you censor yourself, the more clients you’ll draw that actually have a similar mindset to you, too. People who aren't a good fit will stop hanging around and you’ll find people with a similar passion and understanding to work with instead.
Just remember that if you do plan to uncensor yourself, be sure to stay consistent. You don’t want clients to see three days worth of relevant business tweets only to have you joke about going to a club later. You have to find balance.
You’ll Be More Persuasive
Studies also show that injections of personality, like swearing, can increase persuasiveness and help clients develop a positive attitude toward you, as long as it’s not done too often.
In his book, Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad, Richard Stephens performed a series of experiments on students to see if swearing helped reduce pain sensations when they dipped their feet into ice-cold water.
He found that swearing helped his subjects better tolerate the pain for a longer period than those who didn’t swear during the test. He notes that results like these have been documented before, and that there’s even a word for it.
lalochezia – “The use of vulgar or foul language to release stress or pain.”
So what does this mean for you?
Well, for one, clients come to you to solve a pain point. This means they’re already dealing with a problem that causes them some anxiety. Showing them a little humor or wit can calm fears and let them know that you’re not out to swindle them or make the problem worse.
It has the added benefit of intensity. Another experiment tested three similar speeches with varying levels of swear words and found that listeners were more influenced by those with curse words like “damn” than those without.
One of the reasons for this is that people respond to passion. While having a casual tone can sometimes be perceived as less responsible, in some circumstances it can actually show passion or understanding, helping you to seem relatable and reliable.
The catch is that in both the ice-cold water study and the speech study, the more frequently a person cussed, the less effective it was. This means that while you’re more than welcome to use a little rough language, you don’t want to use it too often or it can actually backfire.
You’ll Be More Relatable
Of course, censorship isn’t just about not cussing on your website or telling funny jokes, it can also mean not sharing your struggles or your story with people.
Part of branding is about being relatable, and by removing any shred of humanity in favor of a templated, robotic brand strategy (that thousands of other solopreneurs have) you’re removing your chances of people doing business with you because they like you.
You could have the most amazing product or service in the world, but if people don’t like you, they’re not going to do business with you.
Consumers don’t want you to be cold and standoffish – they want connection. People want to know that you understand their daily struggles. They just also want to know that you can turn those struggles into success.
In our own case, we don't hide our flaws. Though it was scary at first, we've found that being vulnerable deepens our connections, rather than pushing people away. We hope sharing what we've learn through our mistakes helps our clients make better decisions. We hope you're inspired to keep going during those tough times.
So go ahead and talk about how hard it is to find a decent cup of coffee in the city, or how you can never return emails after 7:00 p.m. – but don’t forget to turn those things into selling points, too. Because if you can succeed as a coffee-loving night owl, so can they.
Letting your personality shine through your business can be a really, really good thing – if you know how to use it.
The way you brand yourself will tell clients what sort of person you are, and likewise will draw certain types of people to you. If you want to work with people that you like (and that like you back), consider being yourself and throw out that stuffy jargon. Tell a joke or two.
Just remember that consistency is key. If you’re going to embrace humor or profanity or vulnerability as part of your brand, then embrace it fully. Don’t half-ass it, because people can see right through fake branding.