From the moment we decide to for ourselves we are bombarded with critical messages, most of them coming from what I call “the committee.” You know, the helpful inner advisors that observe and critique our every move.

Given the noise generated by the committee, it’s a wonder that any message at all can get through from outside.

And that means that you can’t hear anyone else, like the people who need what you have to offer. Let’s face it, you can’t build and grow a customer-focused business unless you work on your self-regard.

What Is Self-Regard?

Self-regard is your fundamental attitude toward yourself. Most of us experience fluctuation in self-regard depending on context. You may regard yourself as infinitely blessed when you are cuddling with someone you love and — minutes later — regard yourself as infinitely flawed when you realize you left the car lights on and that the battery is probably dead. (I know, we are all SO over that.)

These fluctuations are like the harmony to a familiar song. Beneath them is the melody, the underlying tune that characterizes our self-regard the way a movie score characterizes a film.

It’s this melody we need to work on. If we are unaware of it, we come to believe that it is a permanent feature of reality rather than a tune we can change. When we don’t like that “reality”, we look outside for validation.

What Your Clients Think of You Is None of Your Business

When we use people for validation, they become fun-house mirrors. We gaze into the mirror and assume that what we see is what they think.

What we see is a distorted reflection of our self-regard. Yikes! Building a customer-focused business on that foundation is crazy-making in the extreme. (Believe me, I know.)

To have authentic self-regard, you need to stop using your clients as the source and become responsible for it yourself. That means letting go of what other people think of you.

(Reality check: You do not have to let go absolutely in order to start building a healthy business. You do need to be willing to shift your attention away from what other people think of you and toward the way you are looking at yourself.)

Getting to Choice

Self-regard is something we do (as opposed to something that happens to us), but we are often unaware of how we do it. Even if you’ve done a lot of work on yourself, you may be unconscious of your self-regard when it comes to business.

You need to become aware of what influences your self-regard in the context of business before you can work on it. A good place to start is with how you regard business itself.

For the next week or so, notice your judgments of “business.” Are you allergic to marketing? Advertising? Sales? When you see an article about wages do you automatically think of employers as greedy or cheap? Your particular flash points will be immediately evident because you’ll feel indignation, righteousness, or both.

When you notice a judgment, take a moment to identify your core complaint. Don’t try to be evolved, sensible, or fair! This is about awareness, not correctness.

Keep a running list of your judgments. This can be as simple as a collection of short phrases on a sticky note in your planner (or a list of words on the back of your hand).

Then what?

Apply the Goldilocks Principle

You may remember Goldilocks. She was the little girl who went for a walk in the woods and came upon a cottage. No one was home, but through the open door she could see three steaming bowls of porridge.

Goldilocks went in and tasted the first bowl of porridge. Almost instantly, she threw it down, “Too hot!” she cried.

Goldilocks tried the second bowl. She tasted the porridge and again threw down her spoon, “Too cold!”

Not to be discouraged (she was very persistent), Goldilocks tried the third bowl. This time she smiled. “This porridge is just right.”

Whose Porridge Are You Eating?

Like many good-hearted people who work for themselves, you are probably eating someone else’s porridge. That is, your concept of doing and growing a business came from the impressions you’ve gathered from other businesses over a lifetime. (The judgments you’ve been collecting are some of them.)

In other words, your porridge is a hodge-podge of myth, prejudice, and fear. Some characteristics of your imagined business feel inauthentic and dishonest — too hot! Others are too good to be true (build it and they will come) — too cold!

But why not grow a business that fits just right?

What Makes a Business Fit Just Right?

If you’ve been working for yourself for a while, you can answer that question simply by looking at what feels wrong. If you feel icky about marketing, a just right business is one in which marketing will feel good.

Similarly, if you are thinking about going out on your own, your worries will tell you what makes a business fit just right. If you are worried about what to charge for your services, for example, you know that a business that feels just right is one where people are happy to pay your fees.

Three Bowls, Three Chairs, Three Beds

Goldilocks did more than eat porridge on her adventure. She also tried three chairs and three beds before finding the best fit. Have you really tried on your business strategies and checked them for fit?

I know what you’re thinking. “Uh oh. Did she say business strategies?”

Yup. And you have them whether you are conscious of it or not.

You have a marketing strategy, even if it is shivering in your boots at 7 AM networking meetings.

You have a pricing strategy, even if it is guessing, hoping, and then saying a number lower than the amount you meant to say.

You have a business model, even if it is hoping that people will not discover your weaknesses before you get this thing figured out.

If Goldilocks Can Do It, So Can You

Goldilocks was what? Seven years old? Nine?

If Goldilocks can slip into an empty cottage and find porridge, a chair, and a bed that fit her just right, you can grow a prosperous and fulfilling business.

Start by acknowledging the choices you’ve made thus far. As soon as you change your unconscious and accidental strategies into purposeful declarations, you are in a position to tweak them. (It’s hard to change something if you aren’t aware that you’ve chosen it.)

Perhaps you’ve had the thought, “I’m at least as smart and probably smarter than the people I see who are making a go of it. What’s wrong with me?”

Wrong question, that’s what. The right question is “what is it about xxxxxxx that doesn’t fit for me?”

That’s where your list of judgments comes in handy. What is it about each of them that doesn’t fit? Make a list, and then decide how you would do it differently.

The secret to growing a business that fits just right is to redefine business in terms of who you serve by being who you are. It takes time, attention, and commitment. But you have all that, right?

Molly Gordon, MCC, is a leading figure in business coaching and personal growth coaching, writer, and a frequent presenter at live and virtual events worldwide. Join 12,000 readers of her Authentic Promotion(R) ezine, and don’t miss Molly’s articles on growing a business and customer service. Feel free to use her Small Business and Marketing Guide to learn how to grow your strong business while you feed your soul.

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