As business owners, we are constantly looking for that end-all, be-all one thing that stands out poising immediate success in hopes the answer will be imminently obvious. Like, osmotically oozing in while we sleep.
The answer is not a well kept secret and won't be found in some random webinars that promise overnight success with hundreds of dollar investments that could potentially work, but are only enticing in the you're-just-not-sure kind of way. Not to mention, some of them make disingenuous attempts to create the false ideas they're completely authentic.
Be the RIGHT KIND of authentic. Not the kind others preach they are, but then turn out to be ironically identical to their Instagram neighbors 2 circles over. Or the kind that no one can explain thoroughly enough to give you sound direction without investing an astronomical amount to find out what they want to deliver.
Here's some truth:
I am an average business owner/photographer. Excuse the transparency here, but I don't have a huge following. In fact, I have like 20 people on my email list that I rarely ever send out. I have 12 followers on Bloglovin who I am sure forgot they even signed up to follow me, and it's been that way for months. My bookings only fill up a month or two in advance at this point. My talent is average compared to millions of others. I subconsciously compare myself to everyone else and have to force myself to realize I am an anxious nut. But, this works for me for now. I started over with a basic framework and I am free to expand my ideas on my terms without someone telling me how wrong I am doing things. Personally, I'm slowly getting better and that's enough for me.
A year ago, I was going for that whole "Forced Authentic" trend thing trying to follow everyone else's advice and I was getting nothing in the books, nothing on my schedule the way I wanted, and I never felt like I was making my own decisions.
I was trying every single webinar I could get my hands on hoping maybe this one or that one would give away one solid tip that would prove these programs were actually amazing, and instead I was feeling like my professional life was being sucked into another infomercial time warp that I had excitingly anticipated. It just didn't work for me.
Okay. Here's some more truth:
Throughout my planning to write this post, I found myself asking why I feel even halfway qualified enough to be vulnerable and write about authenticity if I don't even have the success story to follow. My only answer is I am an average voice that everyone can relate to at some point in their career. I don't make 100K a year but, I have started to find my way. I can now run a business, and learn through my own experiences.
Truth be told, I am in my third year of business, and it's my best year so far. I am learning, making my own mistakes, and gradually gaining confidence that I am getting where I want without following generic promises. That is honest, true growth that I can be proud of.
This is my advice:
Take it slow. Break each sector of your business down and transform one item at a time to fit your style. No one has said that you have to make this transition overnight. It just doesn't happen like that anyway. It's investing time and effort.
For me, the first thing I did was change my writing style back to a natural conversational tone. I am now choosing use my friend voice, belly laugh at funny stories, and say silly things. They say blogging is important for creatives, and I agree. So, make sure your words flow naturally, and that your message delivery comes across succinct, and informatively. If you have to revise it til you get it right, do it - PS (This blog post was changed I don't know how many times, by the way).
The second thing I did was change my pricing to fit the needs of MY business. Not scope out what every other local photographer was charging because I don't have competition with them. Their business models and mine don't match up. Taking on competition is also absorbing their challenges. We don't have time for that.
The third change I made was to my physical branding and business look. I went from this cutsie-tootsie logo with little icons like everyone else, to something that was personal to me. I love simplicity, and I love basic style. Nothing about me is extravagant and I love that about myself. I love things that are classic and timeless. Now, I can love that about my business too. Build your brand around what you love: Your favorite colors, your favorite shooting style, talk with people in a normal, friendly tone. Let your brand come naturally to you and don't stop until you look at what you've built and can be proud of it. Build your professionalism around your personality and let that shine.
The fourth change was I literally unfollowed every photography advice group on Facebook. I didn't delete them, but I don't get the notifications. Do not misunderstand me. They are truly helpful. But, do not do what I fell into: I began heavily relying on these groups to determine my important business decisions as if they knew what direction I envisioned. The problem with relying on these groups too much is they don't know how you want to run your business, so at some point, the information eventually falls into the generic category. They can't give you all the answers, because you already have them.
The fifth thing I did was to drop the "Authentic" search and just did it. I spent so much wasted effort in looking for it in a class, in a webinar, following all the industry leaders because they were obviously doing something I wasn't. When the big names tell you to be authentic, they aren't telling you any new information. You know what you like. You know what works for you and what doesn't. If you don't know, trial and error it.
The FINAL thing I did was found my niche of webinars and education that truly spoke to me. There are the ones that offer great advice, give useful tips for growth, and use their own voice to really put the power of your business in your hands. Not every leader's tactics are clouded by false senses of truth. Find those to develop your voice soundly, and use them as stepping stones to supplement who you already are.
When you build a business, there are no guarantees. It's a cut throat world with guarded misinformation floating around. There's a lot of trickiness in finding the right information. The promises of overnight success are not real. There is no substitute for hard work and dedication molded by your own fingerprints.
But what is real is trusting your head and heart to work together. It's not easy, and really requires true focus. Don't become a false version of you clouded by the confusing jargon of today's creative business clubs.
When they say be authentic, it's not following all the trends.
It's taking your business into your hands, and making those decisions to be self reliant. It's making the choice to not get discouraged by the noise and really take the time to figure out what really works for you. Find those educational resources that support who you are. Do not be like me and blindly assume. These resources are only to supplement, not define.
Incorporate your genuine voice into everything you do. You'll thank yourself later.