Since we are personally and politically committed to working with small and micro businesses we spend a lot of time sorting out the implications of spoken and unspoken goals in our work with clients. Luckily, we are social scientists and we recognize the identity dynamics at play when an individual represents their brand and at the same time they are their brand in a very real sense. It’s no surprise that goals and strategies can get mixed up along the way—especially if a solopreneur works alone and doesn’t have to be accountable to others within the business itself.
For example, a solopreneur can easily confuse their personal goals with their business goals if they take the approach “I am the brand” and what’s good for me is good for my business. The issue comes up regularly in our website development process because we start with strategy and developing the business brand story. Therefore we necessarily separate the individual’s story from the business story and we create a strategy to achieve business goals.
A quick Google search will reveal countless experts who all agree that successful websites are designed for their target audiences NOT for the site’s owner. For example, check out this list of 21 ways audience affects design from Vandelay Design. Web audiences are increasingly sophisticated these days, they have high expectations of functionality and ease of use, and they make decisions at the speed of a mouse click.
Yet the business owner who knows that people do business with them because of who they are and what they bring to the table often believes that their website must reflect their personal aesthetic to be authentic. Many times this personal aesthetic was developed without intensive and long-term use of the Web—so making the transition from what they like and want to what will meet their business goals for the Web is not always smooth sailing.
Solopreneurs often experience a lot of stress and internal conflicts as they attempt to get their own identity needs met and still meet their business goals. Those internal conflicts can result in failed projects or a renewed dedication to their long-term business plan. It’s our job to guide them to the latter. We find that a laser-like focus on the distinction between personal goals and business goals is a necessary first step. Separating out different types of goals allows them to be prioritized but it also reveals overlaps and areas for compromise that can get lost in the “I am my brand” narrative. After all if “I am my brand” there is little space for approaches and processes that are not natural and comfortable for me.
The second step is a gut check to determine which set of goals is most important. If business goals win out, then it becomes easier (over time) for the solopreneur to accept changes to their personal vision and aesthetic that will improve the user experience of their site, increase marketing success, and move them closer to achieving their business goals. If personal goals win out then the strategy must shift and the result is a vanity project that may make them feel good for a while but is less likely to lead to business success. The final choice belongs to the client, as does the responsibility for the results of that choice. Our job is to work through a process that creates opportunity for creative solutions within the boundaries of what we know it takes to make the transition to a successful business web presence.
Happily a great majority of our clients embrace the journey and the necessary changes and compromises that come up along the way—but some journeys are still tougher than others. Our knowledge of identity and conflict dynamics helps us be patient along the way and extend a hand across the rough patches—and our knowledge of business and the Web helps our clients succeed in a digital world.