In high school, I was the kid everyone picked on. Day after day I’d get made fun of or someone would lure me into a fight. I figured my personality was the weakest part of who I was and attempted to hide it as much as I could.
It wasn’t until years later—when I sent a survey to more than 10,000 customers asking why they bought my products—that I realized that my personality was the number-one factor in their decision to purchase from my business and not from someone else. As much as they wanted to buy the products I was selling, they wanted to buy them from me in particular, even if similar products were offered elsewhere or at a lower price.
What changed? My personality didn’t. I’m still an awkward and excitable nerd, just like I was in high school. What did change was that I gradually became okay with sharing who I am and using my differences strategically. Once who I am became part of how I marketed and sold, more people started to respond to that. Not everyone, of course, but enough people started paying attention to my work and became customers. They liked that I was an awkward geek. They trusted me because of my personality, since a lot of them were awkward and excitable nerds too.
Personality—the authentic you that traditional business has taught you to suppress under the guise of “professionalism”—can be your biggest edge over the competition when you’re a company of one. What’s even better is that while skills and expertise can be replicated, it’s damn near impossible to replicate someone’s personality and style. Especially in a company of one, where you aren’t the largest player in your niche and probably not the cheapest, using your quirks and standing for something can be exactly how and why you gain customers’ attention.
A personality is required for your company of one, regardless of size. Your human characteristics are the way your brand speaks and behaves. For example, Harley-Davidson is a brand that connotes rebelliousness, while Snapchat is associated with being young and fresh (although calling it “young and fresh” probably means that I’m neither). If you don’t think about the personality of your business, your audience will assign one to you—because people relate to other people, and your audience wants to relate to your brand when they see it.
As a company of one, your brand should very much represent some distinct aspect of yourself, while taking into account whom you’re trying to reach. Marie Forleo, founder of Marie Forleo International, runs an eight-figure business training company with her distinct personality front and center. In the beginning, she worried about being her quirky self in videos and writing because at the time that wasn’t seen as the norm in the business world, or even in the world of other leaders she aspired to connect with, like Oprah. Funnily enough, though, it was specifically her quirky self that her audience related to so strongly, and when her platform grew to reach more than 250,000 subscribers in 193 countries, not only did she appear on Oprah, but Oprah named her a leader for the next generation.
What do you want your brand to exude? Toughness? Sophistication? Excitement? Sincerity? Luxury? Competence?
Rand Fishkin says that newly formed companies tend to inherit the personality of their founders internally, and then externally. So personality even creates and affects company culture.
Charlie Bickford, founder of Excalibur Screwbolts, a small British manufacturer, has found that keeping his business small makes it easier to show both his staff and customers his commitment to quality and personal service. Charlie still answers customer phone lines at age seventy-four. By keeping his company small, he maintains its integrity and also places his own unique personality in front of his brand; meanwhile, his massive competitors are racing to win market share. Excalibur has endured—even after the entire industry copied his bolt-fixing techniques—by focusing on building a brand personality based on personal contact and great service. These key factors have allowed Charlie to do well at a small size and landed him an impressive range of projects, from the Olympic stadium in Atlanta to the Gottard tunnel in Switzerland.
Brand personality needs to foster a two-sided relationship—one focused on not just how your businesses can benefit or gain something from others, but on how others can benefit from having a relationship with your business. And don’t confuse the personality of your brand with “acting the part”—instead, the idea is to showcase those aspects of who you naturally are as they relate to building fascination with your intended audience. Charlie, for example, has always been focused on creating products of true quality, so his company works hard to showcase that aspect of its personality.
This is an extract from Paul Jarvis' Company of One published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt