A Close Shave

I changed my hairstyle, so many times now,
I don’t know what I look like.
– Talking Heads

Now that summer is more or less over, I want you to know that I’ve decided to get serious again.

No more wandering into the office at 10 a.m. in shorts and a wrinkled T-shirt. No more taking days to respond to life-threatening E-Newsletter emergencies. No more going home to share two-hour lunches with my wife Linda on the back deck.

No my friends, I’m taking it up a notch: From this point forward, my T-shirts will be freshly pressed.

Ironically, it was just a few short weeks ago, while vacationing with my family in Niagara Falls, that I was headed in the opposite direction: After not shaving at all for three or four days, I decided to grow a beard, as a way to cut back on my already anemic personal grooming regimen.

To be fair, it wasn’t going to be full beard – just one of those goatee things – but something which (I thought) would require less attention. Between the reduced workload, and the obvious benefit of hiding half my face, it seemed like a clear choice.

But guess what? I shaved it off yesterday. Why? Too much work.

What I discovered, you see, is that while shaving your entire face involves more surface area, it’s essentially mindless. Other than making sure you don’t accidentally cut your nose off, it requires very little thought.

Shaving around a beard in the middle of your face, on the other hand, demands constant vigilance. It’s like mowing the lawn with a toddler playing on it – you wake each morning knowing that one slip outside the preconfigured lines can end in disaster.

When it comes to marketing your professional service business, staying inside the lines is also a lot of work. The lines in this case are the attempts that companies make to hide their authentic selves.

Whether motivated by thoughts of “trying to look professional,” “not rubbing people the wrong way,” “staying on message,” or some other be-careful-how-you-come-across communication strategy, showing less than an accurate view of you and your company is both hard to do and less effective.

  • It’s hard to do, because it involves constant thought and attention to be something other than who you really are.

    Whether we’re talking about you personally or your business as a whole, it’s tiring to wake up day after day and have to align all the pieces to fit whatever image you’ve created.

    Authentic marketing, on the other hand, is (relatively) easy. Step one is figuring out what you believe in and why. Step two is living it and telling other people about it.

  • It’s less effective, because people can tell when they’re getting an incomplete or shaded version of the real story.

    Just listen to one of the presidential campaign advisors speak with the media and you’ll know what I mean. I guarantee you that if their candidate were caught on film robbing a bank at gun point, they’d describe it as “anticipated and welcomed” rather than the disaster it really was.

    Your clients, prospects and the universe at large can also sense when something’s not quite right. If you’re in a trust-based business in particular (as most of us professional service providers are), you’re pushing new clients away each time you’re anything less than authentic.

Here’s the bottom line. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the quickest path to professional service marketing success is also the simplest and easiest one. Spend more time understanding and articulating who you really are, and less time – no time – creating and polishing a fictitious perfection.

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