Small Business Savvy Sunday:
Navigating Perception and Reality
Let me set the stage:
It's April...it's tax season and for those of us fairly new to the small business ownership world, it can be incredibly overwhelming. All transparency, it was for the Wight Household. We should have our own reality show...if cameras had been strategically placed and we couldn't hide our weaknesses from the public, you certainly would have had a good belly laugh; or if you associated to our struggle you would have probably shared in tears of frustration alongside us. Needless to say, early into our business ownership we had to learn a lot of difficult lessons this year... we'll survive, but not fun...not at all...
I will never forget Jonnathan and I pulling out our white board and yelling at one another, "how could we have made THAT much!? where the hell did that money go? There is no way that is possible!" as we started scribbling out numbers, printing off bank statements and reading Quickbooks for Dummies... We were completely baffled at the news from our CPA and in total panic mode. Those of you that are numbers people, probably wouldn't' have even been in our situation, but we aren't numbers people. We are creatives, artists, dreamers, inventors... We love business leadership and savvy, we love motivating people, we get social media strategy, web design and event design...but struggle at what has to work in order for it to be a business - the financial aspect... In our dream world it'd be all taken care of for us, but that's not the reality.
Here we had been feeling good about the progress of our businesses. Ira + Lucy (vintage rentals, event design and wedding coordination) and Wight House Creative were both growing and we knew that this year we had actually made a profit and would likewise be paying taxes. We certainly hadn't been living the high life, but we had made progress on paying off a car loan and some student debt. We felt confident enough that Jonnathan leaving his "full time" job at a non-profit would ultimately provide more income with his having more time to spend on Wight House Creative, and we were right. It is more monthly income - Praise God! We were still living very frugal, especially since we were hit with significant medical bills and painful feelings with those monthly statements. There is nothing like paying a small fortune on a monthly medical statement because of the death of your son. I'm being transparent here - this is our reality.
This... this was hard to swallow... Added debt to the IRS on top of trying to get away from living paycheck to paycheck... The email from our CPA , "not to cause you to panic, but add another zero to that number" as he gave us an idea of what we'll owe in taxes. Jonnathan and I wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out... Looking at our basic expenses, not our wants, but our needs and felt overwhelmed... We reached out to my best friend's husband who is a Business Major, Accountant and runs a very successful web review business who ensured us that this was a good problem to have and that the lessons we are learning now are much better learning at this point then way down the road. Our taxes are minimal compared to many others. So, why share this with you?
Our "Virtual" Identity: Our digital identity
With social media so prevalent in our society, the dominating theme of the "virtual" portrayal of our lives has us constantly questioning whether we should share the actual life experiences we are facing.
What does your "digital identity" say about you and your business? This is a careful tension that has to be well thought out.
The Fear: Outing Our Weaknesses
Our shared fear: that outing our weaknesses will result in business loss and ultimately, failure... So, we continue to parade around, acting the part of success and perfection, when in all reality we are freaking out, laying awake at night with a huge amount of stress and fear in the middle of our chest and wishing someone would give us the damn manual to make this all easier.
Navigating Perception and Reality
Perception - I'll be the first to admit that I am a very open person, unlike Jonnathan, who prefers to be a very private person and not draw attention to our most personal sphere. However, Jonnathan knows the authentic me and knows that my openness isn't for the limelight or attention seeking, but out of the intentional purpose behind my Facebook posts, Instagram images, tweets and blogs: by sharing our authentic selves we allow ourselves the grace to give one another, to allow one another to be imperfect, to connect with one another, to encourage and uplift and to find joy in that imperfect self. I want people to feel they can connect with me, that I'm approachable and that it's safe to share their authentic self with me. Those are the people I want as customers.
How Does That Purpose Relate To Business?
Simple. Business is run by people and is ultimately about people. It's all relational at its core. People purchase products or services because it somehow connects to them as a person and their wants and needs.
- it's part of our business plan and identity
- it's integral to the core purpose of our business
- business ownership requires an extensive amount of passion, otherwise you'll give up, because, let's be honest - business ownership is massively difficult! Thus, as a relational person and a large part of my passion it goes hand-in-hand
Our Real Life Business Examples
Ira + Lucy primarily functions in the wedding industry. So, naturally aesthetics are HUGE! Offering unique services as a vintage rental business, while also offering design and coordination requires that the perception we give to our audience is:
- achievable (financially and logistics)
Let's take it a step further. If all of the wedding coordinators and designers/rental companies all offer this same perception, what makes a customer pick me? I know you are asking yourself the same question and you should be! I HATE being asked by other professionals "what's your elevator speech". I don't like being confronted with a sales-pitchy, in-your-face, prove-yourself-to-me style...And quite honestly, I am uncomfortable if a bride and groom comes at me with the same approach, but I realized that after having that asked of me, that my response was simple: ME. MY TEAM. I didn't need to fear that question or feel the blood rush to my face with that challenge. If I took the time to control the "controllables" i.e., branding, website, social media platforms, business organization and presentation, quality team members, etc., I had to really focus on why hiring ME makes a difference. This is something each of us will discover and certainly not over night. It's a process.
When I started first in the wedding industry years ago as a blogger I had a successful photographer tell me to be authentic in my writing - "Be yourself. People will follow your blog because ultimately they have connected to you and your voice. Yes content makes a difference, but it's your character they are drawn to and brings them back. Don't mimic other successful bloggers, people will smell your fake'ness miles away". She was absolutely right. I took her advice and soon had thousands of readers all over the world, sold advertising space on my site and had a booming bridal hair flower and ring pillow ETSY business with my products even seen on "Say Yes To the Dress"!
I find that when I am myself with all my quirks, weaknesses and strengths and I allow my clients to see the real me, they connect, they trust, they believe, they are excited and they feel comfortable allowing me to see them as they are - which is monumental during this time of their lives as they navigate planning their wedding. They know that I am willing to admit my weaknesses, but they also know that I will work my ass off to find ways to overcome those through delegation etc. They know that I am not pretending to be something I am not.
My Fear That Sits On My Shoulder Whispering Nasty Somethings
That sharing my authentic self will harm my business... that people will see my weaknesses and not book with me. I have feared that sharing the loss of our son will make couples think that I am not capable of managing their wedding. Maybe there are people who have thought that and that is why they chose someone else. But, I still believe deep down that being authentic will reap far more tangible business rewards that only offering a perfect "virtual" version of myself.
Wight House Creative is a branding, graphic and web design business. We're competing with many others in this industry, so the perception we give to our audience is:
- achievable (financially and logistics)
Again, if we compare with all the other like businesses, WHY would they choose Wight House Creative over the other options? What makes us the better choice for their needs?
We are qualified and capable, but it's our relational part that creates a personal connection with our clients. That is why we take time to sit with our clients and talk about their business, their passion behind it, their dreams and goals. We want our clients to know we are invested in THEM.
We share our struggles that we have encountered as small business owners and we are soon laughing over coffee about all of our ridiculous mistakes, the confusion over accounting and the "rules", frustrations over marketing and hiring and maintaining employees... Our clients soon understand that "we get it." They feel safe to share their weaknesses with us and we are able to work together to find solutions without fear of judgement or at an unattainable price point.
Between the relational part and affordable prices, we believe we fit a wide range of small-business owners' branding and design needs.
tax season melt down, balancing virtual + authentic perceptions
I've written a novel so far, so thank you for stick'n with me! We're new business owners and our ships haven't sunk. We had a doozy of an eye-opener tax season, but we are learning and we want to help you, hoping you won't have to learn all of the hard lessons we have had to. We will share our experience as small business owners navigating the choppy waters of real world small business life. We've said it to one another, "I wish there was a damn manual! Those government small business websites are ridiculous!" We know the frustration, the stress, the BAD days...but, we also know the really awesome moments, the tips and skills that have helped us overcome a lot of hurdles and we're still standing! We know your time is limited while juggling the many hats your businesses require, so we hope our field notes will save you time and prove to be worthwhile. Visit us each week! Keep an eye out for Small Business Tip Blog posts and subscribe to our Wight House Creative eNewsletter! Let's be successful, authentic and remarkable together!