I named my dog Charles Barkowski after the alcoholic author and poet with a cult following.
Reading his words and tasting his pain, his love, his hate, is easy, but Bukowski’s life was hard and dark. He was a man who ripped himself wide open to let himself bleed so others could lap him up. With his bones soaked in fire and booze, he was a weeping womanizer, and the world wept with him.
His pain was art because it was simple and pure, something of beauty made magnificent by poetry born from agony. Bukowski had neither the patience nor the willingness to spare himself the electric shock of vulnerability by regarding fans from behind a mask. His flaws were all he had, his failings an anchor, securing him to this world, and so he owned them fiercely and paraded them about until the world was forced to noticed.
And we did.
I am not telling you that being you is easy. In fact, I am warning you that it will be one of the hardest things you might ever do in your whole life. Sometimes who you are, at your core, is something you are conditioned to hide away and be fearful of sharing, but those are the parts of you that make you unique. Society has made you feel ashamed for being different and so you pretend to be like everyone else, hoping no one notices.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you must embrace your full identity, flaws included.
If you are holding back, using a false persona, you’ll only be making extra work for yourself. Isn’t it doubly hard to pretend to be someone else when you write query letters, or call a potential client on the phone?
I called a potential client for a ghostwriting position four months ago, when I was still being “Professional Chandi”.
It was a good phone call. It went well. I was nervous, but I had all the right answers, and I clicked well with the woman.
She didn’t contact me again.
Last week, I spoke to another potential client for a different ghostwriting position. I let it all hang out. I was 100% me, and I asked her about, no joke, her hopes and dreams, and went full-on Leslie Knope for a little bit, because that’s just who I am.
I told her that she had a “lovely spirit” and that I had such a wonderful time speaking with her, and I genuinely did. And that is the key word.
Be you, be genuine. People can feel authenticity. You don’t have to be a binder-wielding Leslie Knope, but you do have to show that you actually have a soul. And, by the way, I did snag that client, along with two others, last week all because I have been trying out this whole “Imma be me” thing. It’s working.
I was really good at being who other people wanted me to be, or who they needed me to be, or who they expected me to be. I was all those different people for my whole life. In fact, I was so many different people for my whole life, it’s taken me a long time to find my true self.
I created this website seven months ago. It was the blandest “I am professional” website I could muster with the experience I had. I wanted to seem professional and attract clients, and it was exactly who I thought I needed to be.
And what happened?
I worked my ass off on the thing for three weeks and promptly left it in the internet wasteland never to return because it felt cold, uninviting, and foreign both to me, and to any potential clients who dared visit. I didn’t get a single job based on my website.
And then, I found my magic one day a few weeks ago, while I was hopelessly tweaking this website, feeling lost and directionless.
I was re-reading the “about me” sections and I had no idea who that person was. So, I started having conversations in my head with my ideal clients, and those are the words I started writing down. I let my authentic voice come through without judgement, without concern for what other freelancers were doing, or what they might think.
How being you can help you connect with clients
Here’s some advice if you’re ready to authentically connect with clients but are still feeling a little anxious about the whole thing. (Hey, sometimes it’s difficult to be yourself when you’re not sure what that means.)
Do research on your client before connecting with them. Google them, find them on LinkedIn. Whatever you need to do to get some basic info. Even an Instagram with pictures of their dogs will be helpful in taking that first step in empathizing with your potential client.
(Speaking of empathy, this is a key word. To empathize means to understand that everyone has different perspectives. Do you hate coffee but understand how Starbucks basically owns planet Earth? Well there you go. See, you’re empathetic. The use of empathy will take you far when collaborating with clients, but that’s another blog entirely!)
What have you got in common with your potential client? Do you both like to read? Do you both like pajamas and Lucky Charms? Do you hate The Walking Dead and the fact that Carl is a little shithead?
DID YOU JUST BECOME BEST FRIENDS?!
Remember, you shouldn’t need to sell yourself. You aren’t interviewing for a job. You are two people who are seeing if you would work well together in a mutually beneficial situation.
Use a cheat sheet and write down all the questions you intend to ask. I always have to do this because I will literally forget the sentence someone has just spoken to me if I don’t. If you aren’t sure what to ask, Google is your friend.
Depending on what the client is asking me to do for them, I might not have any idea what I should be asking them. If you don’t know, don’t fake it, just Google that shiz.
You can also make notes to remind yourself of things you want to say during the conversation as well. I find that a lot of times though, if I am just being me and having an enjoyable conversation with someone, I don’t need to refer to my notes to see what I wanted to say about myself. Things arrive in their own time organically when authenticity is a part of every conversation.
If you are going to speak over the phone, make sure you are in a quiet place with good reception and make sure your potential client will be able to hear your clearly. Goodbye, shitty cell reception, and goodbye loud children, loud traffic, loud puppers.
If you are connecting via email, you should already have a professional email address set up, via your own website or a Gmail account. 1998 called, no more Yahoo or Hotmail. If you’re still using AOL, this part hasn’t even loaded yet.
Have pretend conversations! Talk to your dog or your cat or your pet turtle. Pretend they are your clients. Talk to yourself in the mirror and see how you come across when you’re being “professional” or just being you. Better yet, record yourself in video, or just in voice, and then play it back. How do you sound? Get comfortable with the sound of yourself talking.
Last, most important tip: Listen, listen, listen! Unless you are asking a question or answering one of theirs, you should be listening to them. Actively listen by asking follow-up questions to clarify. Nothing makes someone feel more important than being heard.
And while I’m talking about making sure a client feels heard, nothing makes a client feel less important, than when you fuck up their name.
MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THEIR NAME AND SAY THEIR NAME CORRECTLY.
I cannot stress how important this is. Get their name right. Spell it right and say it right.
If you don’t know how to say it correctly the first time you speak to them, that’s okay! They won’t be offended if you have to ask the FIRST TIME. After that, though, you better know that it’s SHAN-dee and not Candy, Chondee, Chandy…Get it? Nothing turns me off faster than someone who doesn’t care enough to get my name right. That’s, like, the minimal amount of human respect to give someone.
Make your client feel important and you will have a client for life. You know how Michael Scott on The Office has zero capacity to understand basic social nuance and constantly finds himself in awkward situations?
He was an amazing salesman because he always remembered names, birthdays, and small but unequivocally important pieces of information that made clients feel special and appreciated. Moral? You can still be an authentic asshole if you’re making your clients feel loved and listened to! This is not only good advice to attract business, but good advice in general.
Flaunt your flaws. Love what you love. Be proud. Be authentic. Be Bukowski (without the booze and drugs, probably).
Comment below and tell me what kinds of things work for you when trying to connect with clients, or maybe what kinds of things definitely do not work. Do you have an easy time being yourself, or are you still seeking the elusive Mr or Miss IMMABEME?
Do you need some help with the written word? Do you want to hire a freelance writer for your business? Do you want to talk about how you really want to support local businesses but Amazon is so damn convenient that we’ll all just continue to be Prime customers until Amazon rules the Seven Earthly Kingdoms and it’s all our fault? Email me at Chandi@ChandiGilbert.com or subscribe to my bi-monthly newsletter for quick and simple tips on how to improve your writing.
Mr. Charles Barkowski
This is EXACTLY what I needed to read today! I’ve been working on my website for the past few days and have been wondering if it’s ok to just be myself or if I need to create a zipped up stuffy persona instead. Glad to hear it’s the former!
I’m so glad this is helpful, Melinda! Save yourself some time and be you, all the way! (Unless “you all the way” is some version of Kanye West, in which case, please find someone else to be.) If you have time and want to do a little experiment, try making two social media accounts with each persona, with varying degrees of buttoned-up. Use them for a month, see what happens, voila! Useful data AND a killer blog post!
Chandi, you’re hilarious and I LOVE this. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I’m a big fan of the “be yourself” model of business. Everyone is so much happier that way ☺
Thank you, Shelby! You are living proof that being yourself is the best way to create your brand and business model. Your smile says it all, and a real smile is the easiest way to attract new clients!
This is a great article – thank you so much for sharing your experience. Having started out my own travel website the making connections with clients is fun, but also fraught with nerves. I think sticking to “me” is great advice!
Thank you, Brenda! That’s so wonderful to hear! Staying in the “middle lane” has never gotten anyone noticed, and not everyone will mesh with our styles anyway, right? So it seems that the easiest, most practical way (and the most fun way) to build your business, is to just be you! It’s hard enough work as it is! As we all grow and nurture our own voices, I think we all get a little surprised to find that we didn’t have that much to be worried about at all, anyway.