Recently, I hosted a wonderful gathering of women entrepreneurs at a local coffee shop. Our open-floor topic was marketing, but the conversation quickly shifted into the related territory of sales, specifically how to value oneself properly and find consumers who are willing to pay for that value.
It wasn't the direction I expected the conversation to head. But looking back, it couldn't have been more timely.
I've been thinking a lot recently about this issue of value.
Many others women entrepreneurs I know have been, too. I believe with all my heart—not just theoretically, but based on my personal experience—that we are the final measure of our own success. In the end, what we accomplish in life depends not on outside circumstances, but the circumstances we create within ourselves.
This is not to say that "failure" (if we even believe in that!) is "all on us." We should not beat ourselves up constantly or pressure ourselves to always succeed at everything we set out to do.
But believing in an inside-out approach does at some level remove a convenient escape hatch. Suddenly, our branding and marketing success truly is up to us—and if something's not working, we can overcome it by listening, reframing our perspective, and trying something new.
Too many entrepreneurs say, "My audience just doesn't understand me!" and give up, when in reality, this feedback is an opportunity for them to find a new way "into" a version of their message that does resonate.
The simple truth is, no one can sell our value but us.
No one can convince the right person to pay appropriately for that value . . . but us.
And when we do "make" the sale, the "yes" is forged long, long before we ever sit across from them at the bargaining table.
It starts with how we hold our bodies, how we speak our words, the way we choose to phrase our offers, how we respond to bargaining, the kind of emotions we show. In other words, all the internal preparation that we do ahead of time will affect how we show up in the meeting, the "vibe" potential clients get from us, and whether our price consequently seems fair or totally overblown.
At the end of the day, what we believe about ourselves, and how willing we are to put those beliefs out into the world where the right type of client can find them, are the central determiner of our success.
As the British author Anthony Trollope once so wisely observed . . .
"Never think you're not good enough ... People will take you very much at your own reckoning."
Could it be that the single biggest hurdle to that next sale, the new website, that big marketing campaign, or those sales numbers really starts with you? With what we believe about yourself, and how those beliefs affect individual, daily actions you take in person and online, in front of customers?
That's a big thought. It even scares me to write it down, because I'm just as accountable to it as the next person.
But even if all this is true (and I believe with all my heart that it is), we still face so many accusations from our own mind. Not the least of which is, "What if I over-value myself and come across as 'too big from my britches?'"
After all, we all know fellow entrepreneurs come across this way. Particularly in the online world, a few over-confidence voices are so loud, so pushy, so off-putting that the more introverted and earnest among us crawl into our shells, deliberately dimming our lights lest we fry out someone's eyeballs the way these few-but-squeaky peers have fried out ours.
Add to that the long history of cultural pressure on women to be likable and acquiescent at all times, only exerting her will through the most roundabout diplomatic gyrations.
These factors do make it understandable that we step back, act like we're less than we are, and let clients sail right past us. But knowing them doesn't remove their consequences.
In the process of not being something we don't want to be, we actually sabotage ourselves. Our efforts to act in a more humble, more authentic manner push us endlessly to the back of the line.
Customers don't know we exist. Someone else, with an inferior product but a louder voice, gets the work. We end up frustrated, confused and broke.
As we measure ourselves by whom we don't want to be, we confuse the signals of who we are.
Running too far away from one extreme brings us right smack into the other.
I've come to call this value overcorrecting.
By stepping as far away as possible from what turns us off in others's marketing and self-promotion, we end up underselling ourselves, or just plain don't sell ourselves at all.
Just as the sleepy driver spins the wheel too hard when he or she drifts off the road, so we run too far away from our value, and in the process risk crashing our enterprise into a telephone pole.
So how can we solve this dilemma? Is there a way, or are we perpetually stuck with second-best simply because we're not willing to act like exhibitionists?
I don't believe this is true. Not for a minute. Not even for a piping-hot, cotton-pickin', galaxy-spinnin' minute.
Because if there's one extreme, and there's another, there must be something in the middle.
It's that Middle Way we haven't found yet. And we can find it.
If there is such a thing as overcorrecting, there must be a perfect balance, too. Striking it doesn't mean deliberately dimming your true light, downplaying your expertise, or being falsely "modest." But neither does it mean lording it over everyone else or engaging in a brag-fest that hooks customers with promises you can't really support.
Over the next few posts, I want to explore what it actually means to find the Middle Way in marketing and sales, especially for women like you and me who are dedicated to authenticity, honesty and true service to our clients.
But first, I'd like to hear from you. Do you struggle to describe or express your value? Do you find that clients don't seem to share your opinion about how much your work is worth, or are constantly trying to bargain you down? Can you think of instances when you've deliberately "quieted" your voice and message in order not to come across as pushy or "sales-y?"
I have. I still catch myself doing it. If you're like the women entrepreneurs I spoke with, you do, too.
Together, I think we can find a different way.
Until next time, speak freely.
How well do you advocate for your value now? What is one way you could step into it more fully in the year ahead? Comment below.
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