Establishing Yourself as an Authentic Leader Don Breckenridge As a small business owner, it can feel like you are trying everything you can to grow your market share and sell products. But have you tried being your authentic self?Consumers respond to companies who feel true and likable. It’s the same reason why we vote for people we would want to share a beer with.I’d like to share why it is critical to establish yourself as an authentic leader if you want to stay competitive and how to do just that.Why Authentic Leadership Pays Off for Your BusinessBeing authentic has a range of benefits, both for you and your business. When you are not trying to be “all things to all people,” you have more energy to focus on your skills and passions. You will be more productive. Staff and customers will be able to perceive this difference. So don’t be afraid to let your true self shine!I know that my strengths are on the product development side, so I’ve been intentional from the beginning about bringing key team members into the fold at Hatchbuck, from my business partner, Jonathan Herrick – strong on the sales and marketing side – to our director of customer success, Erin Posey, who is responsible for creating the awesome customer experience that our customers rave about.When I bring the right team members aboard, I am free to focus more on my passion – shaping the product vision and roadmap for Hatchbuck.As a small business owner, you can’t do it all – and even if you try, chances are you can’t do everything well at one time. Focus on your strengths. Get the right people in your business to fill in the other areas that impact your business. Then, go back to doing what you were passionate about doing in the first place. The pay-off will materialize as a happy team, better products and services, and a better experience for your customers.How Authenticity Boosts Your BrandYour target audience is a particular person with a particular need. Maybe you are a local bed and breakfast appealing to couples, or maybe you advise other small business owners on their marketing strategy. Either way, one of the best strategies to connect with your target audience is to bring some of your personality into your brand. In other words…be authentic.Don’t be afraid to showcase your amazing breakfasts in pics or post photos of your team helping a client succeed. Customers will enjoy the chance to see the “real people” behind your business.We like to share company photos and give our customers access to the people behind Hatchbuck, whether we’re decorating the office for the holidays or donating meals for Thanksgiving. These social media posts and emails always elicit some of the best responses from our audience.When you’re authentic, your staff will feel free to share their thoughts and talents. Embracing their ideas can be the key to success. At Hatchbuck, our customers and our team members have tremendous influence in shaping our app, and I rely on their insights to help direct the growth of our product. Take the time to listen to staff and clients and consider how you can integrate their needs with your business. Authentic leaders listen and act, as Harvard Business School research shows. When you listen to your team, really hear your customers, and act accordingly, you earn trust. Your employees trust you to do the right thing. They become more engaged in the success of your brand. Your customers trust you to deliver on your promises, and happily refer more business your way. By being an authentic leader, your brand equity grows.How to Become an Authentic LeaderAuthenticity isn’t just reserved for the Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerbergs of the world – it’s available to all business leaders. You don’t have to have a specific personality to be yourself.To let your true self shine, think about your story:Why did you go into business? What inspires you? What makes you proud?Use these ideas to shape and articulate your business’s mission, purpose, and core values. Then, hire people that are aligned to these pillars of your business.You can articulate this story in presentations, meetings, and interactions with your team and your customers. When you communicate your story, it becomes ingrained in your business from your website, to emails and marketing collateral. Your customers pick up on it, too, staying on-message when talking about your business to your network. When you are contemplating a new marketing strategy, ask yourself whether the effort is an authentic one. For instance, if you’re an easy-going, approachable every-man leader, you might not feel comfortable with an ad campaign that takes uses off-color humor. When you stay authentic, you can easily take steps to market your business that are in line with your true self, and in line with the core values of your business.As Harvard’s research indicates, all businesses can grow in the short term but only authentic ones have staying power. With authentic branding and leadership, your business can thrive.