Ask Steph is a monthly column where I answer all of your tricky business questions! Get ready to tackle everything from setting up better software & systems, to organizing your work day, to planning out your business content, to establishing better boundaries with your clients. Have a question for me? Ask away, right here. See archives here.
How Do I Evolve My Business Identity?
Can you talk a bit about business identity? I feel like when I first started my business, I was relating to both myself and my clients from a smaller, more limited space, because I still felt so new in this role and in my offerings, and I charged accordingly, almost apologetically, for my work. The reality is, I’ve grown a lot now, both as a person and in my business, and playing it small no longer feels like a fit.
I find myself struggling to communicate this growth (in skill, in price point, in identity) from a place of confidence. Now I am unsure of how to best transition with my existing clients from being someone they’re accustomed to hiring as “the help” instead of as a colleague of equal standing, or, in some cases, an expert. I don’t even think it’s the clients that will have an issue with it, it’s my own internal struggle with embracing this new business identity that I’m hoping you have some tips for.”
Sick of Staying Small
They’re called growing pains for a reason.
Unfortunately for all of us, upleveling is not very easy. Or smooth. Or painless. I should know – I feel like I’ve been doing it in my own life non-stop for the past three years! When we start to take ourselves and our dreams more seriously, life requires us to step up to the plate. We may need to shed old stories, beliefs, and relationships that are no longer serving us. We probably need to recalibrate how we see ourselves, and update our websites, and maybe buy some new clothes to match.
My own process has happened exactly the way it needed to, but it has not always been fun. Sometimes it is gut-wrenching, or anxiety-producing, or just plain scary. Along the way I’ve learned a few things that I would tell my past (and current!) self, that I’ll also share with you.
1. Rewrite your story
Stepping into a new identity is much easier when you really understand your why. Why are you evolving into this new iteration of your business? What’s the story there? What was the catalyst for this change? Be honest, and use your experiences to craft a narrative for yourself that feels true to you. The clearer you can get on the story of your evolution, the more confidence you will have in yourself as you take on this new identity. Also, it will be much easier to explain your pivot to others!
Here’s an example from my own business! I worked as a virtual assistant for many years. While I loved the work and loved my clients, I found myself getting frustrated by some of the business systems in place…or lack thereof. I couldn’t stop myself from searching out better tools and strategies that I thought would help the business owner. After a while, it became clear that I was essentially already consulting, but not charging for it. I was seeing patterns and common issues, and also knew how to address them because of my experience having worked with so many entrepreneurs. Eventually, I realized that I could make a bigger impact by addressing overarching themes and struggles as a consultant rather than a virtual assistant.
Action: Write the story of your evolution. Think about the narrative arc of how you got to where you are. Weave it together into a story that makes sense to you, that you can stand behind. If you struggle with this, ask a trusted friend to help you shape it!
2. Prepare to say “no”
If you were good at your old role(s), then you’ll likely have to contend with some Word of Mouth Ripples® long after you shift to a new type of business. Whenever you change your offerings, there’s going to be a lengthy lag time before the rest of the world seems to “get it” too. Or maybe they’ll never get it! I still regularly (as in, this week) get referrals about website design and social media management, despite the fact that I haven’t done those things in years (and in the case of web design, never really did it at all!).
Don’t take it personally. Don’t let it throw you off. And definitely don’t let it distract you from your newfound business identity and direction! Recommendations are actually THE BEST THING, because they mean that people trust you and you’re good at your job. Take it as a compliment and know that soon your referrals will shift to be primarily about your new offerings.
In the meantime, learn to say a polite “no” when these emails and DMs come your way. My favourite way to say no is to provide an alternative to me! I have a short list of people I trust that I recommend based on the person inquiring.
Action: Write a canned email response to address any inquiries that no longer feel like a fit. Do the emotional labour up front by writing a kind, thoughtful response, and then save it for future use. Include referrals to others if you can! PS. You can always make an exception if an inquiry is particularly lucrative or exciting, even if it represents an older version of your business. But having your email response ready ensures that you saying yes will be the exception, not the rule.
3. Honour your clients & agreements
This should go without saying, but considering how much online advice I don’t agree with, I’ll just say it here for posterity. Always honour your clients and agreements. Period.
I don’t care if you just discovered that your true purpose in life is to become the literal Ruler of the Free World! It’s still bad form to spontaneously walk out on a working relationship or leave someone high and dry. Your business identity changing doesn’t give you permission to be unprofessional.
Of course, that doesn’t mean staying too in a role that no longer serves you, either! It’s awkward, but the path forward is to be as transparent as possible. Give your clients or customers lots of notice that things will be changing, or that you’ll be discontinuing a certain product or offering. Communicate clearly your reason for making the change (see #1) and offer solutions or recommendations to replace yourself (see #2!). Read your contracts carefully and determine exactly what your obligations are. If you don’t have a contract, start a conversation with your client or customer to figure out the best way forward.
Be honest, be kind, and be as generous as you can. All of this involves being humble. Your shift in identity is not really your clients’ problem. They hired you or purchased from you for a reason, and it’s your job to honour that while also honouring yourself and your new goals.
Action: Create an action plan for transitioning away from clients or products that no longer feel like a fit. Try to tackle one at a time. Figure out the steps you need to take for each, whether that’s setting up a meeting, making an announcement to your newsletter list or sending an email. You can do this while maintaining your integrity! But also:
4. Brace for backlash
I hate to say it, but it’s true: not every client or customer will be understanding or supportive of this change.
When your business identity evolves, it’s usually because your self-worth has evolved. What used to feel okay no longer does. You may find yourself asking for higher compensation or a different arrangement, both because your work has improved AND because what you initially agreed to was (in retrospect) so clearly not enough for the value you were providing. Ideally, your clients will get this. But sometimes they will not.
When I pivoted to being a consultant, I faced my fair share of pushback. While it was rare (most of my clients are incredibly supportive), I did have some who seemed to have a vested interest in keeping me in the smaller box I’d been in before. It didn’t matter how many concessions I made or how much I tried to honour the relationship. It wasn’t “enough”, because it wasn’t what it used to be. With those clients, I learned to cut my losses. I chose to be as respectful as possible, then got out of that toxic situation ASAP.
Your backlash may come in different forms: critical emails, unfollows on social media, people unsubscribing from your list, or attacks on your character. Breathe through it. Stay true to your integrity and to your gut. Know that there will be some people you will never be able to appease unless you go back to the smaller version of yourself you were before. Decide that’s too high a price to pay, and move on.
Action: Find a group of people who you trust and respect that you can use as sounding boards. Start a mastermind or an informal group text. The best medicine is people who support your evolution and expansion.
5. Make it real
And now for the fun part! Let’s not forget that upleveling is also really fun and exciting. It represents an increase in your self-confidence and self-worth, and that is something to celebrate. You have grown, and so has your business. Time to share that with the world!
Find ways to see yourself in this new iteration of your business identity. It’s a new role you’re inhabiting, and it’s natural for you to feel a little wobbly in these new shoes you’re filling. We find our balance by creating or witnessing evidence that we are successfully embodying this new version of ourselves. Here are some ideas for how to make it real for you:
- Update your website to reflect the “new you”
- Have a branding photoshoot
- Collect testimonials about your new work (offer your product or services to your friends if you have to!)
- Write up a contract for your future clients for this new offering
- Re-write your bio on your website and social media accounts
- Update your email signature to represent this new stage
Action: Take one step TODAY that makes you feel like you’re being this new version of yourself.
Onwards & Upwards
I’m proud of you for shifting into a new phase of your business life. That is a big deal! It shows that you are committed to your development and doing the work. As long as we’re growing, we’re going to have growing pains. We can resist this through fear of the pain that comes with evolution, or we can surround ourselves with people who love us and take the next step. I will always choose to take the next step, and if you’re reading this, I think you will too. So bravo! I can’t wait to see the next phase of your business and life.
I’d love to know: Have you ever faced a time when your old business identity no longer felt like a fit? How did you handle it? What tools or ideas helped keep you grounded and moving forward? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @stephpellett!
PS. If you’re ready for an evolution in your business identity and want even more support, check out my group coaching program The Foundery! It has helped many a values-based entrepreneur step into a new iteration of their business.