Listen to the audio version of this post here.
There I was—sitting in a sea of beige.
Clearly, my designer had been right when she’d told me, “People are afraid of color.”
We’re creating a den at our house; I’ve been shopping for an attractive and comfortable chair. This was my second big furniture store, and I found pretty much the same thing at both places.
An array of perfectly fine swivel chairs in a palette ranging from écru to tan.
At store number one, they had chairs that would work, but the colors were all so dull! Even the swatches they offered for custom orders were muted. I found one I liked. It was discontinued.
The sales associate shrugged, “You know, people are afraid of color.”
Same story at the second spot. As I sat in one of their many beige chairs, a woman who worked there commented on my vibrant jacket and added (you already know, don’t you?) “Most people are afraid of color.”
All these experts can’t be wrong, can they? Maybe people are afraid of color.
And if furniture-shoppers shy away from bright or bold or out-of-the-ordinary hues, it makes sense for folks who sell furniture to offer a lot of beige. To make all their floor models very, very neutral.
They want to appeal to the broadest possible audience because they’re eager to sell as many chairs and sofas as possible. Apparently, beige is the way to do it.
It got me thinking about the rest of us, who aren’t in the furniture business.
Seems a lot of professionals and business owners, no matter what field they’re in, take the furniture store approach.
- They use generic language and business blahblah to tell us what they do and who they do it for.
You see it on their website’s “About” page. Hear it when they introduce themselves at meetings. Neutral language shows up anywhere they’re called on to describe their work.
Instead of taking the opportunity to distinguish themselves from others who offer a similar product or service, they paint themselves beige!
- They write generic, safe, and not-very-interesting blog or social media posts. They don’t want to rock the boat.
Or maybe they don’t post anything at all, for fear of putting themselves out there where somebody might notice them!
- If you ask who their clients or customers are, they say things like, “Well, everyone can use our services.” Not unlike the furniture-sellers offering your choice of beige chairs … they’re casting a wide net in hopes of appealing to more potential buyers.
- They go to networking events or professional association meetings and keep a low profile. The result: they don’t meet a lot of people, and they might wonder if that sort of stuff ever pays off.
If any of that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
If you scroll through LinkedIn … If you search online for a coach, a chiropractor, or a CPA … If you look around the screen next time your association meets on Zoom … The sense of sameness is pervasive.
And in a way, the impulse to fit in is understandable, even if it seems to conflict with our desire for business growth.
What if you aimed to stand out instead?
- If you stopped using that boring biz-speak and jargon and started talking to us about your work the way real people speak? As if you were having a conversation with someone you actually like?
- If you posted a strong opinion about an issue in your industry or the business world at large—something that made us think and gave us a reason to respond?
- If you sent an email that we couldn’t just delete automatically, because it instantly engaged us, called us to do something more than scroll on by?
- If you went to a meeting, virtual or otherwise, and you didn’t fade into the background? If you made a strong enough impression that others left that event knowing who you are, what you do, and how to find you when they need you?
Yes, standing out can be a little scary, especially when it’s not our habit.
It’s okay to take it gradually, to let go of our protective coloration one step at a time.
We can be just a little more natural when we talk about the work we do. Add a photo to our website that’s not quite the standard, posed headshot. Venture an opinion not too far from the mainstream, but not in the middle of the mainstream either.
You might think of it the way a designer would suggest a touch of color to start out with. An accent piece rather than a room full of bold-and-bright.
After all, there’s no guarantee that people will like us once they’ve noticed us! And I say that as a woman who rarely goes un-noticed.
Even when they do like us, there’s no guarantee they’ll buy from us or hire us or refer us. Maybe what we offer isn’t exactly what they need. Aren’t we all better off knowing that right off the bat?
That’s really the point about becoming more colorful, being more of who we really are, showing up fully and completely.
Beige. It goes with everything. And when it comes to business, we don’t need everybody. And goodness knows everybody doesn’t need us.
We have a chance to attract more of the perfect clients, just-right referrals, and ideal partners when we’re willing to stand out in the sea of beige.
I’d love to know what you do to make sure you stand out. Fill us in with a comment below.