Authenticity has been a buzz word in business for several years now. But what does being authentic in business really mean?
Does it mean you need to be so transparent that everyone knows everything about you and your business? How does that affect your privacy? What if there are imperfections that will make your business look bad? And does being authentic in business mean the same thing as being authentic as a person?
Many experts and gurus have been talking about the importance of authenticity in business, and if you read it all, you might come away confused because some of the advice contradicts other advice.
The bottom line is you want to know how to be authentic in your business without compromising your privacy or giving away too much information.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand the basics of being authentic in business so that you can apply them in the real world and be more successful.
- What does it mean to be authentic in business?
- Why is being authentic in business important?
- False beliefs that are holding you back from authenticity in your business
- I’m not an expert
- I need to mimic successful people in order to be successful
- If people get to know the real me, they won’t like me
- Practical advice on how to be authentic in business
- Identify Your and Your Business Core Values
- Be True to Those Values
- Continue Your Self-Improvement Journey
- Be Accountable
- Be Consistent
- Examples of authentic brands and businesses
- Additional Resources for Authentic Branding
What does it mean to be authentic in business?
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
According to Dictionairy.com, the word authentic means genuine, real or representing one’s true nature or beliefs. But how does that apply to a brand or business?
Fast Company surveyed 12,000 individuals and asked them to post their definition of an authentic brand in 140 characters or less. One response was, “An authentic company owns up to their mistakes and is honest with customers. Doesn’t sugar coat anything or sweep problems under the rug.”
There is a dichotomy of meaning in the word authentic. On the one hand, it means being honest and true to who you are, but it also means being true to your values. And those are not always the same thing. Seth Godin points out that being authentic means “doing what you promise,” not always “being who you are.”
The difference will become clearer as you read on. But before I delve deeper into that I want you to understand why authenticity is so important for business, especially solo-entrepreneurs.
Why is being authentic in business important?
“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity, and accountability.”
~ Simon Mainwaring
Let’s face it: There is a lot of bad behavior in the business world. And it doesn’t just come from big corporations. From Keith Raniere being accused of sex trafficking to James Arthur Ray being arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter – both self-help gurus – you can find examples of apparently trust-worthy role-models turning out to be not as pure as they claim to be.
And giants fall for even smaller things. Tony Robbins experienced a lot of kickback when he divorced his wife of 13 years in 1997. But he bounced back because he didn’t try to run from his humanity.
All this bad behavior, however, has made people skeptical and much slower to trust businesses. Because of this, authenticity has become a critical factor in the success of a business.
Research by Bonfire Marketing discovered that authenticity (91%) was more important to driving consumer behavior than brand popularity (39%). In addition, 63% of those surveyed said they would buy from an authentic brand over one that hid its true self. Another study reported on by Fast Company found that the number one behavior that people demand of the brands they purchase from is honest communication about products and services.
“Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last,” says American businessman and multi-millionaire Howard Schultz. “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
Simply put, being authentic in business positively affects your bottom line.
But being authentic in your business can be hard, especially when you harbor false beliefs that make you instinctively behave in inauthentic ways.
False beliefs that are holding you back from authenticity in your business
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung
No one is perfect, it’s true. However, your ideal clients and customers—if they’re realistic—aren’t expecting perfection. They’re expecting expertise. They are expecting you to help them and make their lives better or easier in some way.
However, when you are your business, such as with authors, coaches and speakers, there are a variety of Mind Goblins that can keep you playing small and hiding at least part of who you truly are. And sometimes this happens without you consciously being aware of it.
Here are three Mind Goblins—false beliefs and myths—that can keep you from being authentic in your business.
I’m not an expert
This Mind Goblin comes in many guises: Imposter syndrome, low self-confidence and a belief that who you are, what you’ve experienced and what you know is not good enough. This false belief holds so many people back from stepping up and helping others with what they have to offer.
One of the most common signs of this Mind Goblin is believing you lack the knowledge necessary to be successful, and so you spend a lot of time looking for new things to learn. It is easy to tell yourself that you’re just a lover of learning (that would be me to a tee), but when you let this continuous hunger for knowledge stop you from applying what you’ve already learned, you’ll never be successful in your business.
A mindset shift that can help you vanquish the “I’m not an expert” Mind Goblin is to realize that there will always be people who know less than you do. Those are the ones you are meant to serve. You don’t necessarily need to be at the final destination to help people, you only need to be one or two steps on the journey ahead of them.
For example, part of my business is being a speaker coach. But I realize that I have not accomplished everything that I plan to eventually accomplish in the speaking world. So, there are things I just don’t coach on. It would be out of integrity for me to show people how to get paid speaking gigs when I haven’t successfully done so myself yet.
I need to mimic successful people in order to be successful
How many gurus are trying to sell you “the blueprint” to success in whatever it is? They’ll tell you that they were successful following this specific process and if you follow their lead, you’ll be successful, too.
However, that is not always the case. Yes, their system works for people who are in alignment with their system. I’m not saying these gurus are lying or are in any way out of integrity, I’m just saying you need to take all this advice—including mine—with a grain of salt.
If you’re suffering under the burden of this Mind Goblin, you are probably buying one program after another, doing your best to follow the blueprints to the letter and still not experiencing the success that other people seem to have.
The mindset shift that can help you vanquish this Mind Goblin is to realize that you are a unique person and that not all techniques are going to work for you and your target audience. Keep in mind that the sweet spot for your business is the intersection of what you are good at, what your target audience wants and needs, and what you enjoy doing. It doesn’t matter if blogging or using Snapchat or writing books has worked well for others. If you aren’t any good at them if you loathe learning how to do them and if your ideal target market doesn’t respond to those methods of reaching them, then they aren’t going to work.
For example, I’ve been told countless times that if I want to grow my business, I need to go to in-person networking meetings. However, I’m not good at that type of marketing. I tend to be shy and, honestly, I usually just sit at my seat and only talk to those who come up to talk to me. I’ve never found an ideal client through this marketing method. But it works fantastically for others who have a personality that is more conducive to the networking environment.
If people get to know the real me, they won’t like me
Business is not a popularity contest. Your job as a business owner is to serve your tribe, not everyone on the planet. This means that, yes, some people are not going to like you. But you should not let that stop you from being you.
This Mind Goblin makes people pretend to be something they think others want. It makes them hide their true selves and that is deadly to authenticity.
The mindset shift that will help you defeat this Mind Goblin is to realize that your ideal clients will inherently like you. Otherwise, they aren’t’ your ideal clients! It is not only OK for some people not to like you or want to do business with you, but it’s what you want to happen. Working with people who are not a good fit for your personality and way of serving is very unpleasant. Letting people get to know the real you is the best way to magnetize your ideal clients to your business.
Practical advice on how to be authentic in business
“A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not be being true to yourself.”
~ Steve Maraboli
Now that you’ve vanquished those Mind Goblins, it’s time to start taking steps to bring authenticity to your business. Here are some real-world things you can do to be more authentic in your business.
Identify Your and Your Business Core Values
You can’t be authentic if you don’t know what your core values are, so taking some time to dig deep and identify them is well worth your time. In addition, your business core values may be somewhat different than your personal core values. Of course, they won’t contradict, but the emphasis in your personal life is most likely different than the emphasis in your business.
You can find a Personal & Business Core Values Exercise on this site. In addition, I’ve covered this topic several times before. Here are links to more information:
- How to own your core values
- Three Steps to Owning Your Awesome
- Core Values Starting with Your Calling
- Finding meaning in your business
- “Black Panther” and Making Right Decisions
- Can faith and business mix?
- Be your own hero
Be True to Those Values
Once you’ve identified your values, you need to be true to them. As Seth Godin said in the quote mentioned before, you need to deliver on your promises. It is much better to under-promise and over-deliver than to fall short of what you’ve promised to do.
“Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies,” says Howard Schultz. “They emanate from everything the company does.” Phrased another way, actions really do speak louder than words.
For example, I have a blog about science fiction, fantasy and horror-related travel called The Genre Traveler. At a horror convention, I met a man who published a horror magazine that focused on erotic horror. We talked a little bit about what he does and what I did, and he was intrigued by this idea of horror-related travel. He proposed that I write a column for his magazine exploring erotic travel destinations. I declined. Not only is that kind of travel not my thing, I really didn’t want to have eroticism associated with any of my brands, especially since my travel blog focused on family-friendly travel!
Never compromise your values to make a sale, book a gig or sign a new client. This will only bite you back later.
Continue Your Self-Improvement Journey
Life is a journey of continuous self-improvement. Authentic people—and businesses—understand this and therefore strive to make themselves and their products and services better.
Read books. Watch videos. Attend conferences. Survey your audience. Invest in better equipment for your business. Hire the right people. These are all ways you can continue your self-improvement journey. And they will all help you be increasingly more authentic as a person and in your business.
See the list at the end of this article for some suggested further reading.
Michelle DeNio shares some very good advice about this on her blog. She says that you should let your tribe, your circle of influence, call you out when you are being inauthentic. This means being vulnerable and courageous at the same time, but it can be very rewarding, as well. “It’s easy to slip into behaviors of others when you live in the online space or when you are constantly surrounded by other businesses,” she says. “It’s inevitable that at some point, you will post or say something that is not authentic to you.”
When you allow those you respect and who respect you to let you know when you make these kinds of slips, it not only keeps you accountable, but it also reinforces your authenticity.
I will admit upfront that this is one aspect of authenticity that I struggle with. I often have good intentions of blogging or emailing regularly, but then life gets in the way and it will be months since my last blog post!
That said, consistency is an integral part of authenticity in business. More important than being consistent in what you do, is being consistent with your message. “Be sure all your messaging is the same everywhere you show up,” says NeNio. “In writing, video, in your FB community, on client calls, and connection calls. Stay consistent.”
This is why being clear on your core values is so important.
Examples of authentic brands and businesses
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become.”
~ Oprah Winfrey
To help illustrate what authenticity in business looks like, here are a few brands that are good examples.
- Tom’s of Maine – They have a clear set of values that they infuse into both their products and their business practices.
- McDonald’s – If you want a good example of consistency, look no further than McDonald’s. It may not be the best food, but no matter where you go in the world, a Big Mac is a Big Mac is a Big Mac.
- Choboni – This company was founded on the idea of creating real, wholesome yogurt. As the company has grown, they’ve never veered from that goal, and they’ve continued to adhere to the mission of being a force for good in the world.
“Authenticity and knowing who you are is fundamental to being an effective and long-standing leader.”
~ Ann Fudge
Being authentic in business is not about baring your soul to the world nor sharing every thought you have on social media. It is about being true to a set of values and respecting those you were meant to serve. If you follow the advice in this article, you will successfully navigate the waters between vulnerable authenticity and sharing too much.
Additional Resources for Authentic Branding
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
There is such a wealth of information available on authentic branding and business authenticity that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in this article. Here are some books you might find of value as you continue to develop your authenticity in business and beyond.
- The Five Elements Brand Journal: An Authentic and Holistic Approach to Branding by Ece Savas
- Brand Breakthrough: How to Go Beyond a Catchy Tagline to Build an Authentic, Influential and Sustainable Brand Personality by Margie Agin
- Will the Real You Please Stand Up: Show Up, Be Authentic, and Prosper in Social Media by Kim Garst
- The Agile Brand: Creating Authentic Relationships Between Companies and Consumers by Greg Kihlström
- Authentic Content Marketing: Build an Engaged Audience for Your Personal Brand Through Integrity & Generosity by George Kao
- Discovering Your Authentic Core Values: A step-by-step guide by Marc Alan Schelske
- The Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Finding Your Authentic Leadership by Nick Craig, Bill George, and Scott Snook
- The Value of You: The Guide to Living Boldly and Joyfully Through the Power of Core Values by Christopher D. Connors