Author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman wrote, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that someone else pulls.” I’d venture to say that we, as business owners and artists, shirk the very idea of spending our days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. That’s why authenticity in branding and business is so important.
I started Be True Image Design [now known as Be True Baby] in 2009 and opened my studio in 2014. I specialize in all things baby – my clients call me the “baby whisperer, ” and I love it. Our studio is growing faster than I can keep up with sometimes! Life is full and I love it, but it wasn’t always like this.
In early 2013, I was laying plans to get out of the photography business for good.
At that point, I’d been photographing children and families for several years. I was busy enough, but I felt unhappy and unfulfilled. I loved having a flexible schedule, was thrilled to have plenty of time to still be mommy, and was able to express myself creatively in my work. It all sounded like my dream job! But my dream business left me feeling lost and confused.
The crux of the problem was that although I booked enough business to look successful from the outside, I struggled to find my authentic voice.
When I first began photographing families in 2009, I was determined to do everything just right. I immersed myself in learning the technical side of photography: lighting, white balance, the exposure triangle and so on. Quickly, my obsession for getting my photographs technically “right” led to an unhealthy quest for perfection. And sadly, I didn’t even like what I was doing.
Of course, I’m not saying that mastering your craft is optional. Quite the opposite! If you want to be at the top of your field, you’ll have to learn everything you can about it. Technical mastery is crucial to authenticity in business.
But there I was, unhappily doing everything I thought I “should” be doing, like posed newborn photography. I dreaded every newborn session, although at the time, I would not have been able to express why. I probably would have said that maybe I was lazy, but that’s not true. Maybe I would have said that I’m just not detail oriented enough to place every little finger and toe just so. But that’s not true either.
Now I’ve come to understand that when I was doing what I thought I should and following the crowd with perfectly posed babies, I was not being my true, authentic self.
What is authenticity anyway? The Mirriam Webster definition is real; genuine; true; not copied; true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.
When you are authentic in your business, you’re following your own path. Your work is original, meaningful, and engaging for your clients. And most importantly, it’s more meaningful to you as well, because what you create comes from the best parts of what make you unique.
When you’re authentic, you create better value for your clients. They’ll have more buy-in for you because you’re more credible and believable.
Think about some of your favorite brands out there. How do you feel when you interact with them? Genuine, honest companies touch people in some way. They make people feel something, and that makes them memorable. The best brands put out authentic messages that underscore the companies’ values – values that their ideal customers hold dear.
If your brand tries too hard or feels forced, it won’t ring true for your clients. Also, if your brand is non-existent or unfinished, your clients won’t know who you are and what you’re about. And in our fast-paced world of short attention spans, they’ll click to the next option.
We live in an age of abundant choice. Success – even survival – depends on how well you stand out. And standing out begins very simply – with your Why.
Simon Sinek said, “People want to know why you do what you do before they will pay attention to what you do and how you do it.” Sinek, the author of Start With Why, gave an excellent Ted Talk about what he calls the Golden Circle of marketing messages. In it he discusses the differences between companies whose messages start with their What, and contrasts them to companies whose messages start with their Why. It’s well worth your time to watch!
The process of discovering your why can be long and sometimes a bit arduous. It goes beyond wanting to make pretty pictures; beyond capturing memories for your subjects; beyond wanting to be your own boss. Dive deeper.
Why do you do what you do?
When you shift from looking at your business as a means to make money to a means to contribute to humanity, ironically, the money starts to flow.
My why is all about the unconditional love between mother and child. I believe that kind of love can change the world. As “the baby whisperer”, I create artwork that hangs in my clients’ homes that allows those children know in their hearts:
“I belong here. This is my family. They love me, no matter what. I am loved.”
That’s my why.
Why do you do you what you do?
The process will be – and should be – a little different for everyone. For me, instead of closing my business, I simply decided to go my own way. To stop taking perfectly pretty pictures and start creating art. To break a few rules here and there, and put me, all of me, into my work, perfection and people-pleasing be damned.
The most ironic thing occurred when I decided to be myself and create an authentic brand: everything suddenly started falling into place. I found the perfect little studio and products that fit the brand, and feedback from my clients has been extraordinary.
Finding your authentic voice and turning it into a brand takes time. In the midst of the noise of our modern world, give yourself the gift of stillness. Take a step back from your everyday, away from your work. Build some negative space into your life and allow room for your soul to speak. Your voice isn’t created, it’s uncovered.
Living and working authentically means trusting your gut, allowing for vulnerability, and letting go of the fear of rejection.
Fear and self-limiting beliefs will rise up in resistance. Expect this and be prepared to fight them. Be brave enough to believe in yourself. Be brave enough to share yourself. All of yourself.
I started with a quote from Howard Thurman, and I’d like to end with another: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
This article, titled ‘The Brand of You,’ appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Click magazine.