How could I be myself without seeming unprofessional?
It was a tall order, mostly because I kept hearing different advice from different people:
"You need to come across as super professional and ensure everything is perfect! You need your website to look like a big, professional company. In other words, you need to 'fake it 'till you make it.'"
And on the other end of the spectrum were people who would say things like:
"Show your personality! Show people who you are and be genuine. Have fun and don't worry if you don't seem so 'professional' and 'put-together.' People who don't work with you for who you are shouldn't be your clients."
Needless to say, I was quite confused. Was one piece of advice better than the other?
On the one hand, I wanted my business to seem very professional and large to make sure that clients thought I was trustworthy. But on the other hand, I wanted to show people who I was so they would feel connected to me. I didn't like the feeling of hiding things from my clients or lying to them.
So what should I do?
For the longest time, the above picture was my headshot.
Crazy, no? I did not want to show my own face. And yet every day I preached to clients about how important it was to show their face clearly in their headshot to build trust online.
Why was I such a hypocrite? Because I looked really young. Take a look at the next photo down below and you'll see what I looked like back in 2009 (although I have to admit, I look almost exactly the same ten years later - I'll be turning 30 in a few months).
I remember when I first started my business, I had tried posting a clear photo of myself. But when I did, business slowed down significantly, so I immediately replaced it within a week. And business picked up again.
That was enough to prove to me I was too young, so I quickly removed all clear photos of me from the website and replaced them with shots where I was hiding behind my camera or looking away from it - you couldn't find a clear picture of me anywhere on the website.
On numerous occasions after finally meeting me in person, clients would ask, "So how old are you?" And in some cases, they seemed so taken aback with my answer of 23 that they would follow up with, "I thought you'd be much older!" And I could tell in their voice that they were disappointed.
It was very disheartening, and I was always extremely self-conscious because of it.
Well, fast forward to 2017, and I finally decided to try showing my face on the website again. I remember when I posted my 2017 headshot onto the About page and just said to myself, "Who cares! If people don't want to work with me because of my age, then they're not the right clients for me." I also figured that if business slowed down too much, I could just replace the photo with the hidden-face shot again after a few weeks.
Well, after posting it, bookings did slow down, but only for about two weeks. During that time, I had so much anxiety, terrified no one would want to work with me anymore. But I forced myself to leave the new photo up, and finally, in the third week, bookings started coming in again! And then within the next few weeks, no one was questioning how old I was anymore!
When clients would come in to shoot with me, instead of remarking about how they felt it was a "bait and switch" and they expected someone much older (yes, someone literally said those words to me), clients would comment on my business and say how cool it was that I had built something like this at such a young age. It seemed like people now wanted to work with me for who I really was, not who they expected me to be. And all this led to increased referrals and more business!
Lesson learned, but I dealt with 8 long years of self-created doubt and fear.
Well, at this point, I've learned a lot about being myself while still coming off as professional, and I've actually used it to build my business further. I'd like to share the three biggest tips I've learned thus far:
- Be yourself and don't hide things. If I had to choose between showing my own personality or coming off as super professional, I've learned that my own personality will win out in the long run, even if coming off as super professional might feel like it's winning in the short run. I recommend showing people what you look like with a clear photo of yourself, and writing and speaking to people in your own voice. For example, don't create a website where everything is written in third person and your bio presents you as a large group of stiff, professional, and unapproachable people. Which of the following companies would you feel more comfortable working with: "City Headshots, founded in 2009, is a top-rated headshot studio that provides professional headshots to clients for business and acting purposes," or "I started City Headshots back in 2009 as a way to offer affordable, high-quality headshots to business people and actors, and would love the opportunity to work with you!"
- Use professional media and put out high-quality work. You must be sure that your media and work is professional if you want to be taken seriously. This means that if you have a website or LinkedIn page, you should use professional photographs/headshots/etc., have an easy to navigate, professionally designed website, and consistently provide your clients the highest quality work. Just because the text on your website is written in your own fun, but grammatically-incorrect personal style, doesn't mean you should provide low-quality work. If your media, website, and other work is presented in a well-polished, professional way, and you combine that with your own words and photos that show who you really are, you're on the right track.
- Figure out how your detriments are actually your biggest assets. This is something I struggled with for years because I never even thought to ask the following question: What is your current weakness, and how can you turn that into your greatest strength? For instance, in my case, I originally thought being young was a detriment because people wouldn't trust me. But eventually I realized it was a benefit because it meant I had more energy and drive, and I would do more for my clients than anyone else because I was hungry for success. So think about it... what quality are you worried about? Do you think you're too young? Too old? Do you think your resume is too short? Whatever you think your "problem" is, take five or ten minutes and figure out how it could actually be your greatest asset. Once you figure that out your entire life can change.
I hope this helps you in some way. Do you have ideas on how to apply this to your life? And do you have your own strategies to be yourself while still being professional? I'd love to hear them from you.
Shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I personally read every response I get. 🙂
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