Lunch and Learn: Why authenticity is the answer to your business's success

Marisa Guthrie
Marisa GuthrieMarisa Guthrie

Posted: Thu 27th Oct 2022

In this Lunch and Learn, business coach Marisa Guthrie discusses how being authentic is all about connecting to yourself and your values.

We've all been in situations where we've tried to be something we aren't, or have tried to fit in with a certain group. When that happens, we might be able to walk the talk, but we know on some level that things don't feel right.

The same goes for our businesses and especially how we market ourselves and talk about what we do.

Being an entrepreneur means we're often doing things for the first time. So if we don't check in with ourselves, we can end up trying to fit someone else's model of who we should, especially within a certain industry.

Not only does it require huge amounts of energy to keep up this façade, but it can lead to cynicism, disillusionment, despair and even burnout.

Getting inspired by other people is great, and taking an idea you have seen and making it your own is a brilliant way to innovate. But what I'm talking about is when you take someone else's stuff and try to make it fit you and your business, because you feel uncomfortable being yourself and showing up authentically as who you are.

What does it mean to live an authentic life? And what does an authentic business look like?

Before I became an entrepreneur I studied philosophy at university. I wanted answers to the big questions. On the surface you might think that this doesn’t have much to do with business, but actually when we align our goals and actions with our beliefs and values, not only do we feel more fulfilled, but our work starts to take on a new meaning.

When we show up as our authentic selves not only does it transform how we feel about our businesses, it also affects how we communicate to our clients and prospects so we can increase our income as well as our sense of purpose and fulfilment. True authenticity is about connection, connection to ourselves and ultimately connection to the people we wish to serve in our businesses.

As a serial entrepreneur I have definitely been in situations where I have tried to emulate another business, or business owner, or conform to a certain way of being in my industry, just because ‘it’s always been done like that.’ And that is totally understandable. Being an entrepreneur means we are often doing things for the first time so it is only natural that we try different things as we work it out for ourselves.

The problem comes when this goes on too long, and we don’t take the time to figure out how we want to do things. That’s when the frustration or disillusionment kicks in or worse we get full blown imposter syndrome where we feel like a fake, or that we are going to get ‘found out’. Left unchecked this can lead to low self-esteem, a lack of purpose and even burnout.

Living like this also requires huge amounts of energy and is ultimately unsustainable.

So what does authenticity really mean and what difference will it make to how you run your business?

As a business coach working exclusively with small and micro businesses, pretty much the #1 thing I hear my clients saying is “I love what I do, but I don’t know how to talk about it. When I go to write or post something it ends up sounding like someone else.” This is such a common problem, so what is going on here?

The issue that lies at the heart of being authentic is identity and being comfortable with who you are. We have probably all been in situations where we have tried to fit in or conform to something at odds with who we feel we truly are; it could be a group of people (the cool kids at school!), a profession that didn’t suit us, a relationship that didn’t really work for us.

Well it’s the same in business. Working out who we are in our businesses and where we fit in is a natural part of being a business owner, so we need to take the time to think about this so we can start to communicate from a different place, from a place that feels congruent with who we are as people.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Using intuition as your guide to authenticity

In business you often hear people talking about following their ‘gut instinct’ or that they could feel something ‘in their bones’.

I believe that we are all born with strong intuition about what is right for us. The extent to which we were permitted to develop that intuition early on depends on whether we were encouraged to take risks, get things wrong, and do things our way. Failure and disappointment are a natural part of life, and are how we learn our own boundaries, what works for us and what doesn’t, so being able to engage with them early on hones our intuition.

However, all too often, our intuition can become suppressed when we go against our own nature, so we lose our connection to it. We switch off our ability to lean in to it. I know I have been on my own journey with this as I have navigated my way through situations that, on reflection, really didn’t suit me, or who I am at my core.

The good news about intuition is that it is never too late to develop it, and use it as our guide to a more authentic life.

When we have the courage to ask questions and trust ourselves to find answers, we are well on our way to liberation, leaving behind what doesn’t work for us.

My five steps to living a more authentic life at work and at home

To show up for your business everyday in a way that does not work for you requires huge amounts of energy. Finding the courage to be your authentic self is not always easy, but to live a more fulfilling and relaxed life is so rewarding it is well worth putting in the work:

1. Tell your story

All relationships start with telling a story. When we meet someone for the first time, we ask them to tell their story and we tell them ours. Storytelling in business is no different.

Remember all your customers really want to know is why we do what we do, what motivates us and what we stand for. As the inspirational Simon Sinek says “People don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.”

When we focus purely on the attributes of our products and services , it doesn’t inspire any real connection, and the chances are that people will switch off.

Nowadays we have more platforms than ever to tell our story, so find out where your community/audience hangs out and get to know them. We can engage with our audience through social media platforms, blogging, interviews, podcasts, videos and so on, and they want to be a part of our story.

When we use storytelling in our businesses we connect with the heart, rather than the head and that builds connection and encourages customers to become advocates for what we do which is a win-win!

2. Be accountable

Accountability is a word that gets thrown around a lot nowadays but all it really means is willingness to accept responsibility. Not to shy away from being scrutinised about what you do, or sell, and why you do what you do. Never say something misleading and stay true to your business values. If you make a mistake, be professional and admit it. Everyone is flawed – it’s what makes us human. Apologise and move on.

3. Have integrity

Work out what is right for you, not someone else and beware a ‘should’ voice in your head. Be consistent. Check in with what feels right and use that as your guide. Use your intuition and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away, or change what you are doing.

4. Be genuine

To be genuine is defined as “sincerely and honestly felt or experienced”. Whether we know it or not, who we are as people is inextricably linked with our businesses. They are the way that we express a part of ourselves and express our creativity. When you are ‘feeling’ it, so are your audience, so be yourself, and people will gravitate to you because they feel your sincerity, your passion and your drive.

5. Be truthful

It sounds obvious that we should tell the truth in our business, but it is vital to building trust with your clients and customers. Be transparent, answer all questions honestly and never make claims you cannot prove. That includes being clear about who you are as a business owner and not emulating someone else.

As the old internet meme goes “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Trust that inner voice that knows what is right for you, and you will never look back.

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Marisa Guthrie
Marisa GuthrieMarisa Guthrie
Before setting up my own coaching and mentoring business in 2008 I was involved in running businesses for over 20 years, mainly in the retail and healthcare industries I worked with large organisations such as Neal’s Yard Remedies and Planet Organic as well as many smaller companies, and was the Executive Director of a charity for several years. I founded and developed a number of social enterprises including a cross-party think tank and in 2016 I helped set up a not-for-profit peer to peer business support network. I am currently a member of the Charter for Women In Business. Throughout my career within the business and social enterprise world, from customer-facing roles to senior management, to becoming a CEO and running my own businesses I have gained valuable insight into the issues which business owners face. I write about many of these in my blog and was recently voted one of the Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers.

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