Authentic Business: Why Truth is the Best Strategy in Business-Building

by Bhavesh

Businesses often try to appear what they are not because they want to be taken seriously by others. But being authentic brings several advantages to building a successful business.

How Do I Appear to be Something I am Not?

Please help!

“I am a small business with one employee, me. How do I look like a big business to the people who call in?” started the question on an Internet support group for small businesses.

Then the person asking the question went on to explain the things he had already tried. Machines he had installed in his office that rang like telephones with the push of a button (when he was on the phone with someone). A tape recorder that played the background noises of a very busy and, of course, much bigger workplace. The website where he listed many of his friends as parts of the management team. A list of foreign offices including one in Hong Kong, one in Singapore and one in Milan.

Now, he was at the end of the rope, looking for even more ways to look like a big business!

True story.

The advice of his peers poured in. List multiple phone numbers. Provide a separate phone number for each of the foreign offices. Don’t answer the phone all the time and let the voice mail pick up the phone (just in case people start wondering why the same person answered the phone every time they called).

I could relate to this man’s dilemma. After all, I was a small business myself, working out of the spare bedroom of our condominium. I listened in on the conversation with great interest. I actually thought about trying some of the tips myself. I did not go the extreme that this person went, but I did my share of lying.

Especially when I faced that dreadful question from a prospective customer: “How many people do you have working for you?” I would see the scary scowl on the prospect’s face. I felt the pressure on my shoulders, pushing down on me with great force. I knew I had to have a big business or I was gone.

I would mentally count the people who had done anything with my business, the newspaper delivery boy, the person who picked up trash from our front door, the UPS man, the cable guy, my wife, and answer – faking confidence – “about 8 people.”

Heck, if I got the big contract, I would just put a quick ad in the newspaper and round up all the people I needed in a week!

I had to look big. I would get business only if I had a big business. People only wanted to do business with big businesses.

I actually won a couple of contracts this way. And yes, I delivered what I had promised to the customers. But boy it was stressful! And I made very little money on the contracts, despite my long hours and hard work. Most of the profits went to those I had to hire in the nick of time at high cost.

Fast-forward a few years. Now I am a proud graduate of the School of Some Very Hard Knocks.

I have often wondered, why is it that small businesses want to look like big businesses?

It probably has something to do with the moment we start the business. At this point the dream is typically big: many employees working for us in a big glossy building, lots of clients, big revenues and huge profits, may be a sign on the top of the building that can be seen from miles away.

So we start living our dream from day one. We are basically in denial about the true state of our business. So we tell people things that they want to hear. Or what we think they want to hear.

We find some customers this way. But then things get a little tricky. It becomes harder and harder to hide the fact about the true size - and state - of our business. We are a little scared of getting caught. And once in a while we do. And boy, it’s embarrassing! We feel smaller and smaller. Until one day we get sick of it all. We get sick and tired of faking it. We get sick of being something that we are not. We… You get the idea.

In the meantime, the competition is catching up with us. It’s easy for them to beat us. Why? Because we are playing their game. Because they are making the rules and we choose to follow.

Not only that we feel small - inadequate - emotionally. Trying to be something that we are not is also a bad business strategy. In his book, Jump Start Your Business Brain, the author Doug Hall sites results of rating four thousand business concepts on their style and imagery.

According to this study, holding all other factors constant, the probability of success is greater when a business’s image is based on genuineness, honesty, straight talk, sincerity and authenticity as opposed to competence, excitement or sophistication.

Authenticity and Probability of Business Success

Genuineness Emotions and perceptions such as authenticity, honesty, sincerity, straight talk 55%
Competence Serious, intelligent 42%
Excitement Surprising, fun, lively, adventurous 23%
Sophistication Glamorous, romantic, charming 18%

Source: Jump Start Your Business Brain!, Doug Hall, Clerisy Press

Reference Reading

What You Thought Your Business Would Be
The volume of information, advice and counsel available to small businesses is unprecedented and ever-growing. And still, the rate of failure is extra-ordinarily high for small businesses (over 90% according to some statistics) and getting worse. Why? Like the story of the elephant and the blind men, we get different answers depending on who we ask. This article explains that the real reason for business failure is not what the experts have traditionally talked about. In fact, the answer is something that you already know, but perhaps forgotten among all the noise you hear. Read this article and find out the real reason for business failure.

Proud to be a Small Business

Or any kind of business that we are

Today, we are inundated with wild promises and marketing hypes. People are skeptical, if not cynical, of every promise we make them. They have gotten very good at sniffing out a fishy tale. If they can’t trust us they won’t do business with us. When they trust us, when they like us and think that we are the right person for the job, they move the mountains to get us started.

What gradually dawned on me in the course of maturing through my business career is that I don't ever have to live in the shadows of doubt and fear about the true state of my business. There are advantages of being small. There are ways to be who we truly are, accept it and be proud of it. This does not mean that we give up on our dream of being a big business some day - if that's truly our dream.

Quite the opposite, in fact. By being authentic, we make our dream happen a little sooner, a little easier.

Being authentic means that we face our realities. We look them in the eye. We turn those realities into points of strength for our businesses. We play the game of business from the point of strength, not the point of weakness. We play the game on our own turf. We make the rules.

Now when we compete with big businesses, we have true advantage over them. We find a little corner of the market and rule it. And as we find some success, we leverage it and grow from there.

Life becomes easier. We become more peaceful. We unlock some of those energies that we have been spending trying to to be something we are not. We put those energies to work in building our business. Our dream of owning and running a big business becomes reality a little sooner, a little easier.

And probably the biggest reward comes when we look inside of ourselves and notice how proud we are to be a small business, how proud we are to be taking on bigger competitors.

We know, deep inside, that some day, some day soon, we will be running a big business. We will have many employees, many important clients, even a big building on the side of the Interstate, even perhaps that sign in big letters that could be seen from miles away. Some day, we will be and have all of those things.

While we are on the way, however, we will remain proud – proud to be a small business. We will turn each of our so-called weaknesses into strengths. We will carve out a niche in the market where we are the best and the big businesses can’t touch us. We will find ways to serve our clients and exceed their expectations, because of, not in spite of, the fact that we are a small business.

When I started the business, I did it mainly because I wanted to call my own shots. I wanted to be free. Unfortunately, I did not quite feel free while I was trying to be something I was not. But once I faced up to and accepted who I really was, I could truly be free. Free to pursue my dreams my way.

Reference and Further Reading

On Building an Authentic Business
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

In this first new and totally revised edition of the 150,000-copy underground bestseller, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber dispels the myths surrounding starting your own business and...

$20.99  $7.71
Jump Start Your Business Brain: Scientific Ideas and Advice That Will Immediately Double Your Bus...

Doug Hall shares data-proven methods that can make sales, marketing, and business development measurably more effective.

Visionary Business

A powerful book presenting the 12 keys of business success and the 25 principles and practices of visionary businessThis transformative book has helped people all over the world...

On Business Building

Articles and Resources
Clarify whether your business needs to create a Unique Selling Proposition that unifies its sales, marketing and management efforts and discover a simple process for creating one.
Discover a simple, 2-page business plan template to help you create a Dynamic Business Blueprint that provides day-to-day operational guidance in running your small business.

Build an Authentic Business

At Awayre Business Coaching

Awayre Business Coaching (ABC)
At ABC club, business owners receive the support they need to build an authentic business, a business that remains true to the core of who they truly are. Visit this page and decide for yourself if it's something you want to explore.

Authentic Business: Truth as Business Strategy
Authentic Business: Truth as Business Strategy
Updated: 08/26/2012, Bhavesh
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EssentiallyArahs on 08/24/2012

This was inspiring. Thank you. I was in the dumps trying to raise our travel business and promote a japan group tour, but now I feel better about this. It takes time. Wonderful advice, glad to see you're happy with yourself and going for it :)

Tiggered on 06/15/2012

Long live authenticity :)
I am extremely proud to be a one-man-show in my business. At the very least, no one can fire me for telling the truth...
Important subject, I would like to see more written about it.

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