Are you running a “stealth” business?
You know the kind… You’ve got clients, you’re making money, and yet…
Most of your family and friends don’t even know about it.
Many of us, when starting a business, keep it kinda sorta low-key secret.
That’s a really bad idea.
Unless you’re purposely cultivating intrigue or running a 1920s speakeasy, secrecy is not exactly a growth serum for business.
Even a speakeasy needed the “right” people to know about it, otherwise… what would be the point?
So why do we hesitate to let our next-door neighbor know about our entrepreneurial endeavors, much less shout it from the rooftops? Maybe one of these thoughts has entered your head:
“I’ll just do this thing quietly over here, so no one has to see me fail.”
“I don’t want to annoy my family or friends by talking about my business. I’m pretty sure they’re just here for the pug photos.”
“The online world is such an ugly place. If I put myself out there, I’ll become troll bait.”
All of these thoughts are based on one nearly-universal fear:
The fear of judgment.
The whole “What will they say? What will they think?” thing can keep new businesses from growing and would-be-entrepreneurs from even launching.
Let’s address these types of judgment-based fears head-on, shall we?
1. You picture your former colleagues gathered around the water cooler, sharing a collective evil laugh about your latest venture…
Guess what? No one is thinking about us as much as we fear (or fancy) they are.
Your fellow humans are busy and highly-distractible creatures, and while they do enjoy a certain amount of gossip, they tend to think about themselves much more than they’re thinking about others. For better or for worse, no one’s paying as much attention as you think.
2. You cringe while imagining your high school classmates silently thinking, “who does she think she is?”…
If some friends or acquaintances are that annoyed by your business and unsupportive of your taking a brave leap into business ownership, are they true friends?
It might be time to rethink whether these relationships deserve space at the table. Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and let the Judgy McJudgersons watch from afar. Honestly, they’re probably a wee bit jealous of your gutsiness.
3. You fear that you’ll be publicly picked apart for your ideas, your weight, your writing, your style…
Welp. You might.
You’ll probably hear from some trolls along the way. No one is immune. No one! Think of some of your favorite and most-admired public figures… Even they get hated on. So when you get your first piece of public criticism, you’ll be in very good company.
4. You worry about turning into an obnoxious person by engaging in self-promotion of any kind…
Remember this: Naturally modest people rarely come across as boastful and obnoxious.
If you’re scared of sounding like a jerk, you’re probably not going to. It’s that simple. Think of self-promotion as a way of letting people know how you can help them. Nothing less, nothing more. If you’re really good at what you do, people need to know. Otherwise, the people who need you won’t find you and they’ll end up wasting money and getting no results.
Putting yourself in the spotlight as the face of your brand can be super uncomfortable, awkward, even scary. I would know.
When I first started, I took the covert, undercover approach myself. I wasn’t trying to keep my business secret. But I also wasn’t trying to let people know about it.
In fact, for years I dreamed of owning my own business, but in my mind’s eye, it was always a product-based business. Why? So that I could stay comfortably behind-the-scenes. So that the success or failure of the business would be more about “the thing” and less about ME.
I’ll be forever grateful for an amazing consulting offer from a former employer, because it’s what ultimately got me to launch my service-based business. Otherwise, I’d probably still be idling in Product Creation Fantasyland, where 90% of the “best ideas ever!” dry up on the vine.
Still, even with a major client to help me kick things off, self-promotion didn’t come naturally. It still doesn’t. But as a brand strategist, I know that it’s critically important for solopreneurs to become the face of their business.
Yup, even if you’re modest.
Even if you’re an introvert.
Even if the idea is about as appealing as the waitstaff singing happy birthday to you at a restaurant.
When you’re the one delivering the goods to the clients, you’re the one you need to promote. If you’re coming from a product-based mindset like I was, it might help to think of yourself as the product. People are paying for YOU to solve their problems.
And if they don’t know who you are, what you stand for, how great you are…
If they don’t feel any sort of connection to your personality, your ideas, your approach…
If they can’t tell you apart from the 1.5 billion (rough estimate) other people offering the same service….
They’re much less likely to buy from you.
Here are 5 simple things you can do to help ease the transition from corporate ensemble player to star of your own show:
1. Tell the people in your life.
Take the uncomfortable act of sending a brief email to your extended family, friends and former colleagues, letting them know what you’re up to, and asking if they know anyone who might need your help.
I know… this may seem unfair to start with, since it’s the equivalent of jumping into the pool instead of easing your way in. But, once you do it and realize that you didn’t die, everything else gets easier! Plus, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response you get. Worst case? Crickets. Still NBD.
2. Find opportunities, like guest posts, to show your stuff
For many of us, sharing our expertise with other people’s communities is a much more comfortable way of establishing ourselves as the face of our brand.
It feels good to be helpful. It helps establish credibility because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your skill. It helps people to feel like they know you. And it helps you to get known without having to be all in-your-face about it.
Fun bonus: you may even find yourself writing a guest post that talks about writing a guest post. So meta.
3. Let your clients sing your praises
So you don’t want to have to tell everyone how great you are at what you do. Avoid the whole “legend in your own mind” thing by letting your clients do the talking. Share their quotes and feedback loudly and proudly (with permission, obvs).
When people are happy with their results, they’ll be SO happy to tell others about you. Sometimes you just need to ask.
4. Get some professional headshots taken
I don’t care how good your iPhone camera is… nothing says, “I’m not really committed to this,” like grainy, poorly-lit photos taken against your bedroom wall. (Been there, done that.)
Professional photos give your brand instant polish, and just as important, they can help you feel more confident about putting yourself out there. You don’t have to go crazy with a whole “lifestyle” photoshoot and an expensive new wardrobe.
As your business grows, you may want to add on to your photo collection, and you’ll have a better feel for the brand vibe you’d like to project. But for now, start small and just get some really simple, clean shots that you’ll be proud to use everywhere.
5. Make it “Facebook official”
Don’t be one of those people with no mention of their business on their Facebook profile. If you have a FB page for your business, you have no excuse! Link that baby up now.
Same goes for your LinkedIn profile. I see you there, hiding your business from former colleagues. Add a listing to your Experience section, change up your bio, maybe, if you’re feeling extra bold, add a banner image that references your business.
You’re the business owner. It’s time to OWN it.
These five steps are simple but not necessarily easy. That’s ok – just pick one and go for it. Sometimes the hardest part is just deciding to take the action.
And if you’re a corporate employee with a covert, top-secret side-hustle, then you might not be ready to take these steps. If that’s the case, file them away for when you’re ready to come out from behind the curtains and take the stage.