The way you communicate with and present yourself to customers impacts every aspect of your business. For example, everyone knows that they need to maintain a certain level of “professionalism” in their email communications and client interactions, but how can small businesses balance “professionalism” and authenticity to meaningfully connect with your clients on a human level?
In this interview, marketing coach and author Jill Celeste shares how to weave the “human elements” of kindness and authenticity with professionalism for more successful and fulfilling business relationships.
I’ve always been in the marketing and public relations field since postgraduate school. I started my first business in 2010, which was a social media marketing agency. I did that for a few years and determined that I’m more of a teacher than an implementer. So in 2013, I opened a marketing coaching practice, which has evolved over the years.
What I’m doing now is I teach marketing principles, that are both authentic and spiritually based, to female entrepreneurs who are here to change the world. I do that through the Celestial Circle, which is my program, and I’ve also written and/or co-authored three books, so I teach through writing and creating content as well.
There are really two elements to this.
There’s the marketing element, which is the visual identity, i.e., having a professional photo, so you look like a business to your consumers. You want to have a professional-looking brand by working with a graphic designer to create a logo with the right colors and fonts. Then have that transferred into a business card, website, Facebook cover photo, etc. Photos are important. You don’t want to use a photo of you at someone’s wedding, where you’ve cropped off the side of a picture. We see that a lot. You want to invest in some professional photos to distinguish you as a brand and a business.
Hand in hand with that comes a mindset. A side hustle or hobby makes you feel like this is a temporary thing or something you could give up. When you’re in business, when you have a brand – even if you are doing it as a side hustle – it’s the mindset of commitment. You are doing this because you’re committed, you feel like it’s a calling, and you feel like there’s something you can do to change people’s lives. It may take you a while to quit the side hustle and do the business full-time, and that’s okay. But you’re not in business to do this temporarily.
Right, so the professionalism is going to show through on your marketing brand. You want it looking like a real company. But then, I would also remind everybody that people buy from humans.
They have to get to know you. There’s the ‘know-like-trust” factor. If they don’t trust you, if they don’t know you, they won’t purchase from you. So you want to make sure you humanize your brand, and that you show the people or the person behind the brand – because that’s what resonates with anyone’s ideal client, no matter what industry you’re in.
Use the graphic designs and those elements as the guide for your professionalism, but don’t hesitate to show things about yourself or your team. Allow people to get to know the people behind your brand.
Social media is a great avenue for this. Take a picture of what’s going on behind the scenes and post it on social media. Consumers love behind the scenes, inside reel type of information. If you’re having a party, or if you meet on Zoom, take a picture of the party or a screenshot of Zoom. If it’s bring-your-dog-to-work day, take pictures of the dogs and share them. Any of those activities people really love.
One way to do this in email is to make sure your emails come from a specific person. Maybe they come from the CEO or director, or whatever is appropriate. You want to make sure that this name is attached to the email, even if it’s coming from a large software vendor.
In my emails, I scanned my signature – just my first name – and I drop it in as a JPEG, so my real signature is on every email I send. That adds a lovely personal touch and it’s still very professional.
Also, I always close my emails with “Love”, “Lots of Love,” “Hugs,” or “Best Wishes.” It’s always very warm. But this is me. That’s my brand, which may not be your brand.
I would say to look at your company culture and be consistent with that. If you have a culture like Google, which is more laid back, you could probably get away with, “Cheers” to close. But if you’re in the legal field or the healthcare field, then “Sincerely” might be a great way to close an email.
This is how I do it, because no one likes to be pandered to, no one likes to be hounded, and nobody likes to be sold to, right? Whether I’m getting a testimonial or an online review, I always say to my clients:
“Listen, I’m looking for more wonderful people like you, and if I could just have your help in leaving a review, I know that – because birds of a feather flock together – it will attract more people just like you.”
I make it all about that person. I shower them with compliments. Of course, these have to be authentic things. I wouldn’t be asking a disgruntled customer for this. But I make it really all about them. And, boy-oh-boy, people get so flattered, and you get a pretty good return. So, it’s not about you as the entrepreneur and your business. It’s about that customer and the customer experience, and how you cherish that relationship. If you can flip it on its head like that, not only will you get reviews, but you’ll get good reviews – reviews that do the marketing work for you.
This is a big thing because with social media it feels like everybody’s life is out there on our monitors and phone screens. But as an entrepreneur, you have permission to keep certain aspects of your life private. Right?
You don’t have to put everything out there on your website and in your emails, etc. For me, especially when I first started my business, my kids were younger, so I never mentioned what school they went to, what football teams they were on, etc. I never showed the outside of my house in a picture. I kept these aspects of my life private for security reasons.
Use common sense here. I would write down a list of topics that are completely off-limits, that you would never discuss in your business. For some people, that is their family. For some people, that is their vacation. And then for other people, they might be quite open, and nothing is on the list, and that’s fine.
It’s an individual choice, but I think knowing what’s off-limits for yourself – and for your employees – really helps make that delineation. It kind of puts up those guardrails, so you know where not to cross, so think about that.
For somebody that has a team, a lot of employers have social media policies. Like it or not, when you work for somebody – and you use social media – especially if you list that person as an employer, you are representing that person or brand. As an employer, you want to make sure you help your employees understand what they can post on social media about their jobs, about their workspace, about their projects, etc. That’s a whole different HR conversation, but for anybody interested in that, just Google “social media policies” for employees or contractors, and get that formulated for your team because that will help them as well.
Networking is one of the best and fastest ways to get clients, period. But there are lots of wrong ways to network. It depends on your personality. I’m a bit of an introvert, so that means if I go to a networking meeting, I have to come home and take a nap because I’m tired (laughing). Then there are people who go to networking meetings every day.
No matter what kind of personality you have, I would always say that you want to focus on growing the relationship. For example, you wouldn’t introduce yourself to a new person, shake hands, and immediately try to sell them something. That’s extraordinarily tacky and a big turn off. You want to grow relationships.
What I always suggest to my clients is – if you’re sitting down at lunch or breakfast at a networking event – focus on the two people to the left and right of you. Just focus on building a relationship with those two people. Find common things, in addition to your business, like kids, pets, where you live, where you went to school, etc. If you can focus on one or two relationships every time you go to a networking meeting, that will serve you in the long run.
After the meeting is over, this is where a lot of entrepreneurs fall off the wagon. They don’t follow up. If someone gives you a business card, then you go home and throw the business card on your desk – and that’s the last you see of it for three months – that’s not going to help you get a client. You want to follow up with each person. Maybe set up a coffee date or a one-on-one so you get to know each other a little better. Then continue that relationship – because that’s when the referrals come – once they get to know, like, and trust you.
I do virtual networking. I am the founder of something called “Virtual Networkers” and we meet online. We have a designated time, and it’s just like a regular meeting. We do our elevator speeches, we have guest speakers, we do announcements, take attendance – just like you would in a regular networking meeting, except you’re doing it from the comfort of your home. And you don’t have to wear shoes because nobody can see what you’re wearing (laughing).
That’s another way for people to think about networking. You can do in-person networking, and you should. But there are also online opportunities for networking, which may be more applicable to your industry. The reason I mention this is because I want people to think outside the box. In-person networking means you have to travel, you have to get back – and so it can be a bit of a time consumption – especially if you’re an entrepreneur with a busy schedule. With virtual networking, you sit down at 8 a.m., you sign off at 9 a.m., and you’re done – so it cuts out the travel time.
Just to hit the nail on the head, be yourself in your brand. Show the human side. Don’t be shy. Especially for women entrepreneurs, we have a lot of things that affect us from the societal level – how we look, how we dress, and how our hair looks – and it stops us from really doing our thing. So I would say, just go out, be yourself, be human, and the customers will come.
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