Six ways your “professional” image is harming your business

When clients tell me they have trouble standing out, or they don’t feel comfortable with their website, my number one question is this:

Are you being yourself? Or are you being professional?

Of course we all want to show that we have credibility. We want to look like we know what we are doing, that we have substance and a proven track record.

But when it comes to your website, trying too hard to be professional can do more harm than good.

In the crowded online marketplace, the best way to stand out is by being yourself. Your personality is the one thing no one can copy and being your natural self is the easiest way to maintain a consistent voice and image. It also means that when your clients visit your website, they have a good feel for the person they’ll be working with.

Trying too hard to appear professional can make us boring. Stilted. Generic.

When we dull our natural brilliance to provide what we think our customers want, we end up looking just like everyone else. We trot out old clichés and have a hard time finding original ways to express our genius. And instead of gaining credibility, we look amateur when our potential customers see through the “professional” front.

What I love most about the online space is that you can be yourself AND be professional at the same time. You don’t have to operate within rigid rules or expectations of how you “should” portray yourself. Of course you must always keep your customer in mind and write in a way that is appropriate for your audience. But it’s perfectly possible to be professional and personable at the same time.

Here’s six common ways that trying too hard to be “professional” can undermine your business

1. Writing about ourselves in the third person.

Do you have an about page that goes something like this:

 “Sarah’s down to earth manner makes her the perfect candidate for …” or

 “Her project management skills are second-to-none.”

Just because your about page is written in the third person, does not mean you are fooling anyone. We all know you wrote it. Which makes the whole thing even more awkward and uncomfortable than it felt at the time you sweated those words onto the web page.

Most people will agree that writing your own bio is horrible. Excruciating even. But if you’re going to praise your own “down-to-earth manner” at least be upfront about who is doing the praising. Or better yet, remember your high school English teacher’s instructions to “show, don’t tell” and demonstrate your down-to-earthiness by the way you write and the stories you tell.

2. Claiming to be bigger than you are

 “At Sarah Smith Architects, we take the utmost pride..”

On the surface that looks fine. Except that Sarah Smith Architects consists of… Sarah Smith. Maybe she hires a VA from time to time, but when it comes down to it, Sarah Smith IS her business.

Think about it – if you’re offering a service based on your personal expertise, such as your skill as a writer, a designer or a coach, chances are your clients want to deal with you anyway. They don’t want to deal with some unnamed member of your staff.

So don’t try to appear bigger than you are. Let your work and your track record speak for itself. If you’re branching out into a new niche, there is always a way to link your previous life and work experience to your new venture. Look for the common threads in your work and personal history. What experiences give you the necessary “street cred” to take on this new role?

3. Copying everyone else’s approach

Instead of developing a website with your own natural voice and flow, you’ve spent far too much time studying your competitors’ websites and working out how you can make yours “same same but different.” You start wondering if you should offer money-back guarantees like your rivals, and trying to figure out how you can tweak their ideas or even their phrases, to give them your own spin.

Just because everyone else is doing it one way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. You don’t have to wear suits, offer shiny incentives or jam your website full of technical detail, just because others in your field take that approach. By all means, take inspiration from your competitors’ businesses, but then close down that tab, trust your intuition and make your own path. 

4. Not sharing our stories

Every business has stories. The stories we tell new clients to put them at ease. The ones we share at parties to explain why we love our work or how we got started in this industry. The stories we use to introduce ourselves in a keynote speech.

Are those stories on your website? And if not, why not?

The stories that engage your customers in person can do the same on your website. Use them to draw your customers in and build rapport before you even speak in person.

5. Inauthentic videos and images

Your website is your shop front. It’s where you give your clients a taste of what it’s like to work with you.

Take a look at the images you’ve used on your website. Is that how you’d normally dress for a client meeting? Do you feel comfortable that your clients would recognise you? Is your energy similar in person and on video? Or are your images more like a glossy caricature of a “professional” person ?

Not everyone wants to deal with someone who is suited and booted, just as not everyone will feel comfortable meeting for tea in a vintage frock. Some people will respond to high energy while others will prefer a gentler, calmer tone. So be sure to choose images and videos that reflect who you are. That way you’re building the right relationship with your customers, right from the beginning.

6. Playing hide and seek

Some entrepreneurs or small business owners don’t put themselves into their website at all. They hide behind a company name and a company story, all in the guise of being “professional”.

Here’s the thing: people buy from people. When you ask someone to hand over their credit card online, you are asking them to trust you. It’s hard to establish trust and rapport with a faceless organisation.

There is a way to bring yourself into your business without making it all about you. Keep an eye on the blog over the coming weeks as I’ll be delving into this topic in more detail.

If you’re struggling to balance the professional and the personal in your online business, know that you are not alone. I see entrepreneurs struggling with this every single day. Ask yourself:

  • What would I want people to know about my business if I was truly unafraid?
  • How would I show up in my business if I was truly unafraid?
  • What stories would I tell my customer to put them at ease and build rapport?

Then go and see how you can bring these insights into your website.

Now I want to hear from you. What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to bringing yourself into your business? Comment below, or come on over to my Facebook page and ask a question. I’d love to help.

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