I see you there in your power suit.
You look uncomfortable.
But, discomfort is a necessary part of success. You have to wear the power suit, right? Dress the part. Put forth a professional image. If you dress how you want, act naturally, and let that tattoo on your right calf show, no one will dream of hiring you.
Dressing for success…and not succeeding
When I started my bookkeeping practice, I believed the professional image hype. My funky, clunky jewelry was relegated to the bottom of my jewelry box. I colored over the blue streaks in my hair.
I bought a power suit that covered my tattoos.
For a while, Professional Billie Anne worked. I felt professional, and I conveyed that to prospects. They trusted me, and I landed clients. I thought it was because I looked and acted the part.
The trouble was, it was just that. An act.
After a few months, the act started getting old. I hated that power suit. It was uncomfortable and boring. Worse, I wasn’t only uncomfortable, I also wasn’t signing new clients. Actually, that wasn’t the worst part. The real worst part was I wasn’t enjoying the clients I had.
My unscientific and untested theory is that my clients had pigeonholed me as “your typical accountant.” How could they do otherwise? I was doing everything an accountant is supposed to do. As a result, my clients were treating me like they would any other accountant. Holding me at arm’s length. Not opening up about their concerns. I even discovered one was hiding things about his business from me because he didn’t think I would approve.
You can be yourself AND be successful
Oklahoma summers and power suits don’t mesh well. On a particularly brutally hot day, I couldn’t bring myself to put on even my summer suit for a prospective client meeting. I threw on a maxi skirt and a nice pullover shirt, slipped into my Earth sandals, and headed to my meeting.
My big win from that meeting wasn’t signing the prospect as a client – though I did – but having the prospect tell me they appreciated how “real” I was.
The light bulb went on. I wasn’t only doing a disservice to myself by acting the part of the typical accountant, but I was also depriving my clients. I couldn’t be an effective advisor when I wasn’t allowing them to get to know and trust the “real” me.
The power suits went to the back of my closet, and maxi skirts became my work uniform. I started wearing my funky jewelry again, even my pink sugar skull necklace. And I bet you can guess what happened.
My existing clients started opening up more. We started talking about their personal concerns as well as their business concerns. They were more receptive to suggestions I made for improvements in their businesses. An occasional “damn” or “hell” would slip out in the course of conversation, and neither of us would bat an eye.
Prospective clients were sometimes noticeably taken aback by the bookkeeper who didn’t look like an accountant, but they were receptive. My client base continued to grow. Even my phone consults with long-distance prospects became more productive, because I had decided it was best to be myself from the very beginning of the very first conversation. Not everyone I met with decided to become a client, but that was okay. Those who did knew exactly what – and who – they were getting when they signed the engagement letter.
In a world where anyone can carefully craft the image they wish to portray, we are starving for authenticity. Those of us who decide to be our successful selves will resonate with the clients and customers we are meant to serve. Whether your successful self wears a power suit or a maxi skirt, be the real you.