Running a business is hard. Juggling creative output, administrative details, staffing headaches, cash flow nightmares, unhappy customers and constant emails can be downright overwhelming.
We all need to blow off steam when things get to be too much.
Running a business is also a blast. You have big breakthroughs, happy clients, excellent creative work, engaged communities, and successful sales deals.
We all want to share when things go really well.
Your inside voice
Sharing the struggles and triumphs of your business is all about the “inside voice” – the human journey you walk as a business owner, running your business.
Your outside brand
Your outside brand is the best match between your personal brand (natural personality, strengths and quirks) and the reason you are in business — the problems you solve for your clients.
My business purpose is to build the skills and leadership capacity of the small business community to drive economic well-being for all.
Here are the business purposes of some of my clients:
Rasheryl McCreary‘s business purpose with her company Tao Leadership is to uncover the unique presence within every leader, and use it to drive powerful business results.
Adam Issadore’s business purpose with his company Path to Rhythm is to create connection through rhythm in the workplace, in communities and in summer camps.
Lisa Merlo-Booth’s business purpose is to teach women and couples how to build healthy relationships by exercising their Grounded, Powerful Strength.
Giselle Marzo-Segura’s business purpose is to use her visual tool Strengths Clusters to provide a holistic way to see and understand our VIA character strengths and explore how those strengths interact within our core relationship groups (family, school, friendships and work teams).
In all these examples, the what of our businesses — Rasheryl’s passion for powerful, authentic communication, Adam’s deep understanding of the role of music in community building, Lisa’s decades of work repairing fractured marriages, Giselle’s insight into positive psychology and character strengths — should be a big part of our conversation with the outside world.
Our body of work includes not just what we create ourselves, but also how we contribute to conversations about our business purpose with our larger ecosystem.
This is how our work grows and we become known as “the person you need to work with if you … (insert the description of the core problem your business solves).”
How your inside and outside voices work together
In an aligned business, a business owner knows how to share the inside part of their journey in a way that builds community and connection. Being authentic means showing up as a person, with humor, fear, flaws and all.It also means using business tactics that resonate with your personal brand.
My friend David Moldawer from School of Book touched on this topic yesterday in his great newsletter for authors, The Maven Game. He titled it Stop Recommending This Newsletter, which I patently ignored, because the article was so good I have to recommend it.
“The central thesis of the Maven Game is that readers are not fungible. As soon as your audience becomes a metric to be optimized, you’ve fallen into the Maven Trap.
We all find ourselves in the Maven Trap now and then. We want to imitate the tactics of the successful, but we look to the wrong models. That’s because, on the Internet, individuals and organizations become indistinguishable. Websites, emails, and social media look the same regardless of tax filing status. Confusingly, individuals can actually become companies.
Successful course creators, for example. These hybrid entities still talk (via email and social media) like the individuals who launched them, but they begin to act like companies.Companies can afford to strip-mine the world for customers. People have to chisel each true fan out of the earth by hand.”
So in addition to making sure that we keep a strong and solid stream of information that illuminates and furthers our business purpose, we also have to make sure our tactics match our values and our brand.
When the line between inside and outside voices starts to blur
I sense the line between these voices are getting murky when I see these scenarios on social media:
- A speaker gets off stage and tweets “I crushed that talk! We converted 80% of the audience!”(Why were you there on stage, from the audience’s perspective? Was it to “convert them to your offer,” or to offer useful, thought-provoking information and ideas to help them solve their problems? When your message only focusing on your own financial results, and not the results obtained by your clients, this creates inside voice echo that tells your community “You are here to help me get rich.” That is not very inspirational.)
- “I fired that a*hole customer who was driving me crazy. Good riddance!”(When you use vague and harsh terms on social media, your customers may think you are talking about them, even if you aren’t. Maybe there were two recent scenairos, one where you peacefully gave a refund and stopped working with someone, and another that was more contentious where you ended on poor terms. How are your clients to know who you are talking about? And more importantly, why would you ever want to broadcast that you think that any client, current or past, is an a*hole?)
- “I am totally losing my mind. My man left, my dog ran away, and my truck broke down. I have no idea how I am going to deliver my work to my clients this week.”(Man, have we all been there. Or we have listened to that country song! There have been many times throughout my 20 years in business when I have thought “If people could see the mess I am in now, they would never believe it!” Times like these are really awful, but they are part of the human journey. There is nothing wrong with you if a bunch of difficult things happen in your life. This is when you need to call your Mom or Dad, bawl your eyes out, have coffee with your best friend, and come up with a good plan. It is probably not the best time to let it all out online.
My friend Mark Silver wrote a blog post a few years ago about “The Car Wreck of Being Authentic,” and the importance of discerning when you are ready to share your personal difficulties with your community. He says:
“No, I don’t have to show up as perfect. But I want anything I share to be expressed consciously in service to others, and not as an emotional/situational vomiting up of a mess. You shouldn’t have to clean up after me, I have a support system who can help me with that. And then I can tell you how I got through the mess.”)
Discerning what to share, when, and with whom, is a key part of business mastery. It is not easy, and there are no hard and fast rules, since each business owner, and audience, is different.
Here are some suggestions for determining when to hit publish:
Your inside/outside voice checklist:
Why am I sharing this message? (Is this to make you feel better, or to provide value to your audience?)
Does the spirit of this message reflect and harmonize with the spirit of my brand? (Note that “harmonize” does not mean that you never address any tough issues or share strong personal views on social issues — it just means that the views are in harmony with the purpose and vision of your business)
Am I sharing this to incite thoughtful discussion or inspiration in my community, or to get quick rush of personal positive reinforcement? (No judgement here — we have all done it! Who doesn’t like a huge rush of Likes on social media?)
Is this an important part of the story of my body of work? (Will this contribute to an ongoing narrative and conversation about the work you care about? Does it include the stories of the customers you work with? Does it provide insight or tools that solve the problems you care about with your business?)
Balancing your inside and outside voices is very hard. It is not about being perfect, it is about being intentional.
I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions about how to do it well!