When I hear somebody say vulnerable, I immediately cringe and think of a frail, old defenseless lady. By definition, to be vulnerable means "susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm; (of a person) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect." Do you see why I think of a weak elder when I hear that word now?
Being vulnerable is a particular concept I struggle with as an entrepreneur because like most women, I was raised to be strong and supportive, with the understanding that the woman is the backbone of her family. As the foundation for our family, the idea of purposely exposing my imperfections and opening up for possible harm is terrifying.
In talking with seasoned business owners I've learned a certain level of vulnerability is required from me to be successful. In order to build my brand and grow my professional network I have to tear down this protective shield, even if it's scarier than waking up on a bungee cord. In this new entrepreneurial space people want to know why they should be interested in me or my business... and to be totally honest, I get it. Before I follow a new page on Instagram I scan through the most recent posts to get a vibe for the owner, and if it feels in sync I click the follow button. Unconsciously I'm doing the same thing to others that they'll do with me - check for authenticity and substance before investing my time and energy.
The challenge in accepting vulnerability is it goes against our natural instincts - as cavemen and women we were protectors and hunters, living day-to-day with one principle: survival of the fittest. In our current time, to be successful on social media we have to be comfortable exposing ourselves to complete strangers. It would be way easier to slam a sledge hammer into my wall of protection if the only person waiting to see the reveal was my husband; but as an entrepreneur, the eyes on the other side could belong to anyone and could be one set of eyes or one million pairs. This thought gives me pure anxiety.
Like anything else we want to accomplish, to change a habit requires changing our mindset. Simply put, we can no longer allow the things we fear to hold power over our actions, including stopping us from taking action to connect with our followers. I've had my Instagram page, @CareerKay, for over a year and with each post I get a little more comfortable being me. Although it's a business page, I am my business, so there's plenty of tidbits of my true personality sprinkled throughout. To be completely transparent, I like personal posts because it gives me a chance to step away from my content schedule and just be myself without all of the calculated analytics for a moment.
So what steps can you take to break down your barriers and embrace vulnerability to build your business?
1. Attend Networking Events - Search for organizations and clubs in your local area that pertain to your interests and attend their conferences and networking events. When you go, talk to other people - don't be the hermit standing in the back of the room just looking lost.
2. Make New Connections - If you have any form of social media (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) talk to your followers. Send a DM, leave a comment on their post or reply to their story. Initiate the conversation, but be genuine with your approach.
3. Share Something Personal - I am a firm believer in the importance of privacy, but as I said above, you have to reveal who you are to find the right audience for your product. If you have a silly personality, share a funny photo with a witty caption. If you're a foodie, share a series of your favorite restaurants around your state or start a routine food feature (i.e. Fry Friday). Don't be afraid to get creative; this will set you apart from others offering similar services and show your audience your personality.
While you're developing your brand and searching for that perfect "target" audience, remember to bring a little you into the equation. Modern technology, including smartphones and social media, have given us fingertip access to just about everything. According to MarketWatch Research, "American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen." There's no reason why we shouldn't be capitalizing on this attention. Personalizing your marketing strategy to fit your unique style and flavor will draw your customers and grow your network.