Business is Personal: How to Leverage Your Personality to Get More Business with Christine Yodsukar
This article is kind of about branding, but it’s essentially about how to become the go-to photographer or videographer for companies that will keep you working and your cash flow flowing.
A few years ago, I thought that being a business owner meant I had to act like a business owner. Because my experience up until that point was as an artist, I didn’t understand what a business owner actually did. I thought it meant hiding who I really was (because who is going to hire someone with glitter in their hair to photograph their next campaign?) and pretending I thought I was better than everyone else. I thought “professional” meant cleancut and boring. It turns out that “professional” actually means competent, experienced and skillful—not anything to do with my personality.
Over time, my path connected me with a few CEOs and business owners who taught me what it meant to be a business owner. I learned the art of negotiation and closing a deal, how to turn one job into a larger contract, how to strategize to grow my business. I uncovered the most valuable asset I have next to my skills: my personality, which I’ve learned how to use really well.
I learned that if you can make a work relationship feel like a friendship, there’s no reason you won’t be the go-to photographer. If I can make a work call feel like a break from my workday, I’ve just left a lasting impression on someone. The key here is that all CEOs, business owners and marketing directors are all humans. Behind every professional is someone’s best friend, next-door neighbor, son or daughter. Even if we all love the work we do, we still crave friendship and comradery, and when we can merge work and play in that way, it feels like we’ve hit the jackpot. This is how I leverage my personality to bring in work and create repeat clients who will send me referrals.
It all started with one CEO. We met when my company was hired to do a video project for his company. I was intimidated to meet him alone in his office. I did not know what to expect, and if I didn’t know what to expect, how on earth could I prepare? After the most concise business meeting I had ever had, he moved straight into cracking jokes, asking about my son and finding points of common interest. From that meeting on, his emails had smiley faces, he always wanted my son to come to meetings and I even got the occasional jokey text message. I felt like I had a friend who I got to work with. It was amazing. Over time, I realized that I was reciprocating this awesome work relationship by being my silly and joyful self to the nth degree, and that this was the reason they continued to hire us over and over again. Instead of pretending to lack emotion and personality as a “professional,” I got to be myself—and get more work because of it.
After I saw the magic of letting my personality shine, I decided to try this with any new business prospects. The scariest thing that happened was when I had a phone call with an executive who’s well-known in the photography industry. Through the mega company she works with, she sponsors photographers who use her company’s products.
Once again, I was very intimidated. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I was going to let my Christine flag fly and see what happened. What resulted was a 20-minute conversation about kids, wine and dreams, followed by three minutes of business talk. It ended with a signed contract—and I was sold on leveraging my personality.
Several months later, after a handful of phone calls, this person told me it was always a highlight of her day to talk to me. That confirmed it: She could work with almost any photographer she wanted, most with bigger audiences than me and technically better work than mine, but she chose to continue to work with me because I allowed her to be human when we worked together. She could laugh, tell me about her family and tell me how things really were without worrying about offending me. We all need the chance to be human even when we need to be professional.
How can you leverage your personality? First, do not try to be like me. I can see your wheels turning right now: “I am going to smile big and laugh until my face hurts.” Don’t do that. What works for me is not what is going to work for you. This does not work for me because I am known for smiling and laughing so much. Not everyone likes that. Some people dislike that. Use your own sense of humor and life experiences to build business relationships. This is how you will find the people running the businesses that will jive with you.
But there are still professional boundaries. Jokes, alcohol and closeness can be taken too far, and while we want to create an atmosphere where work feels like play, we need to respect social conventions and propriety.
Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile for a great work relationship. If you see something that your business contact might find funny, send it to them. It makes them laugh and keeps you in mind if they need to hire you again. If you know they are dealing with some personal issues and it seems appropriate to send them a card, send it. It lets them know that you don’t care only about the checks they send you. And if you have the opportunity to send them a unique thank-you gift, do it. They will talk about it for a long time to come.
In addition to being a professional in your field—competent, experienced, skillful—you can leverage your personality simply by being human and allowing those you work with to show their personality as well. This creates much stronger relationships, and people and companies will want to hire you again and again because of how enjoyable it was to work with you.