While having conviction about your work is fundamental to a successful value-based business, a second tool, clarity, is required to effectively communicate your conviction to the rest of the world so they can beat an enthusiastic path to your doorstep. Clarity has a number of important characteristics as it applies to business.
To be “clear” presumes a commitment to be honest to your customers, to tell the whole truth about your business. This is the business standard that I call full disclosure. When entrepreneurs are not honest about their business it is generally because they either don’t know the whole truth about what they are doing, or they are afraid that if people found out the whole truth they wouldn’t buy the service.
If you don’t know the whole truth about your business—often the case when a person is just starting out—a healthy response is to own up to the fact that you are beginner. All too often new bodyworkers are embarrassed by the fact that they have little experience. The question feared most by bodyworkers beginning their careers is, “So, how long have you been doing massage?”
Rather than fudging an answer, I recommend that new practitioners proudly announce their beginner status. Don’t be ashamed of being a beginner. Celebrate it! Your beginner’s energy, when filled with a fresh conviction about the importance of your work, is unique. Your enthusiasm is infectious and is a marketing strength because it is pure and spontaneous. You only get to be a beginner once so try to hang onto the excitement of that moment for as long as possible.
Understanding your business
If you don’t know what you are doing, neither will your customers. A commitment to clarity is a commitment to an ongoing exploration of your business idea. The greater the clarity you bring to your business idea the easier it is to have conviction about your work and for other people to relate to you.
To say “I do massage” is only the most superficial layer of your business identity.
- What is your personal intention for your work, i.e. what do you want to get out of your business?
- What is your professional intention, i.e. what do you want your customers to get out of your services?
- Are you aware of the deeper assumptions that underlie how you define your business, i.e. your personal philosophy, value system and/or world view?
- How do you define the market you are trying to reach?
- How do you define your short-term and long-term goals? The quality of your answers to these questions will reflect the level of maturity that you and your business, have reached.
The search for clarity in business is a process and it never ends. The questions, and the answers, are constantly changing. Your job is to be as clear as you can be, right now, about what you know and don’t know about your business so you can be clear with your customers, employees, suppliers, and supporters.
Translating your business idea
Clarity also means being able to translate your business idea in a language that people can understand. Skilled touch can be talked about in an infinite variety of ways. The words you use must be appropriate to the market you select and the way in which you define your service.
Are you communicating to truck drivers, corporate executives, teenagers, suburban shoppers, seniors, people from a Hispanic culture, or travelers? Each group requires words that are personally meaningful and rationales that make sense.
Telling a construction worker that your massage will improve his muscle tone and make him more beautiful may not have much of an impact. Using the same approach in a beauty salon, however, would be perfectly appropriate.
One of the most difficult characteristics of clarity to integrate into your business is the concept of openness. When something is clear, like a pane of glass, it is transparent, you can see through it, and nothing is hidden. Secrecy in our business culture—not to mention our governmental institutions—is almost an automatic reflex.
We think that it is normal to hide budgets, salaries, business plans, marketing strategies, and financial statements. But why? Doing business is, in its most basic sense, about having relationships, be it with customers, employees, suppliers, or observers of our business. Few would argue that openness and trust are hallmarks of healthy relationships and yet business relationships are often cloaked in secrecy and adversarial in nature.
Unfortunately, many businesses do, in fact, have something to hide. They do make inferior products. They do treat their customers and employees with disrespect. They do operate with policies that place short-term profits ahead of long-term concern for the environment, community welfare, and even customer’s lives.
Take, for example, salaries. Many corporations restrict information on individual employee compensation and, in the worst cases, make it a firing offence for an employee even to voluntarily reveal how much they get paid. The only reasons for such a policy that I can think of is that the company is embarrassed either by how little or by how much they are paying certain employees? While this secrecy may serve the highest paid executives, it does little to redress historical pay inequalities for women, minorities, and those further down the socioeconomic ladder.
Secrecy in business, like secrecy in a family, is almost always bad. It leads to mistrust, miscommunication, dishonesty, and an eventual breakdown of relationships. There are circumstances when a business is legally or morally bound to confidentiality, such as the shielding of personnel or customer files, but these circumstances are far fewer than corporations would like us to believe.
Openness when your business is dealing with external relationships should follow the same approach. In a business committed to honesty and integrity there is rarely a need to hide what you are doing from the outside world. Realize that every time you adopt a defensive business position you limit the potential for growth and creativity in a relationship.
Our culture and institutions tend to promote an overly competitive mentality in business. We develop paranoid thoughts that everyone is out to steal our current customers, potential customers, business ideas, business names, whatever. This is not surprising, because the model that traditional business is based on is the military paradigm. When corporations arose in the late 19th and early 20th century the “captains” of industry were, literally, the captains and other officers from the military. The language of business–killing the competition, cutthroat competitors, beating, winning–is the language of war or its civilian surrogate, competitive team sports.
In the military, secrecy has been developed into a fine art and openness is frowned upon. Combined with the requirement for unquestioned obedience and you have the standard operating procedure for keeping the troops in line. In the corporate environment these two elements are too often seen as the best way to keep factory workers and keyboard jockeys at their most productive.
I am a fan of healthy competition which includes a business ethic I call concordance. Concordance means always operating with civility and respect for everyone, including perceived competitors. It rejects the zero-sum mentality that says you have to “lose” so that I can “win.” Focusing on areas of mutual interest is a strategy that builds cooperation and opportunities for synergy in an industry where one plus one equals three.
Clarity has another implied characteristic. If you continually seek clarity in what you do, you naturally step on the path of mastery, which is the path toward expertise both in your business and your work. That expertise, in turn, is unique because it comes from walking a path that originates from the inside out.
A master craftsperson never fears competition from other artisans because she recognizes unique character of her contribution. The path of mastery is, by definition, a personal path that can never be duplicated. Nobody can do the job exactly the way that you would do it and clarity means you can explain exactly how your work is different. Not necessarily better than another person’s work, but definitely unique.
The educated customer
Finally, redefines the marketing approach in business from that of selling the customer to educating the customer. In traditional business “selling,” of course, is a euphemism for “manipulation” (masterfully dramatized by the hit TV show Mad Men).
For businesses dedicated to honest, open interactions with customers the only appropriate approach is to educate a customer about the value of your product. Of course, this only works if you, first, have something worthwhile or meaningful to offer and, second, if you understand your product or service well enough to be clear about its essential value. When you educate potential customers you increase their ability to discriminate between the meaningful and worthless and they make better choices about what to buy, and what not to buy.
Education is empowerment while ignorance breeds passivity and dependence, which is great for manipulators but bad for those who want to have healthy, mature relationships. Clarity, full-disclosure as a business standard, creates the best kind of customer—one who chooses your services because they believe that you offer a valuable resource in an honest business.
A business that operates with a commitment to clarity has a certain simple, ingenuous quality. Because it is transparent to all observers, what you see is what you get. There is no mystery; there are no hidden agendas. Customers intuitively are drawn to the business because of its obvious trustworthiness. They know that there will be no head-trips or rip-offs to worry about. Clarity in business is like a well-cast bell that resonates with a sincerity and authority that draws all within listening distance to its naked, honest ring.