Running a business: Do nice guys finish last?

Oooof guys this is a difficult one. Think of everyone you know who’s successful. Are they necessarily liked? No.

I am a nice guy… girl… most of the time (I mean nice most of the time. I’m a girl all of the time) so I’m going to use a general example rather than pick on someone in our lovely industry (solidarity folks).

Steve Jobs. A man with a vision. A man with no time for imperfection or incompetence. A man who’s standard of competence was so high it was almost impossible to meet. A man who kept his employees working for days on end without breaks. A man who pitted teams of his workers against each other in order to deliberately divide, conquer and come up with great products. A man who will never be forgotten by the world.

And, by all accounts, not a very nice man at all.

In the cut-throat world of business (yes, even the wedding business – it’s not all teacups and bunting) it can be easy to start to get despondent when you see people who don’t come across as necessarily the nicest people succeeding. It can lead you to think that the only way to get ahead is to be aloof, cold, condescending, maybe even rude, maybe even cruel. It can sometimes look like that’s the only way to earn respect – by being too available you might look needy, that success equates to superiority.

But that’s just a load of old hocum (yup – I said hocum). Some of the world’s most successful brands are built on kindness, openness, sensitivity, honesty… look at Tyra Banks, Stephen Fry, Oprah Winfrey… all people who have built their brands on being honest and open – being themselves, or at least enhanced versions of themselves.

The “nice” brand may not get people gushing over you – it may not make people fear you or have a sort of cool, distant respect for you. But it’s also a very meaningful and rewarding way to become successful. It forges genuine heart-to-heart connections with people, it touches people, it helps them in their day-to-day lives and it inspires them.

Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world” – so why not be brave enough to be nice?

However, if you are naturally quite a nice person, you want to avoid getting walked over, or the other pitfalls that can come with being open and friendly. Here’s a little guide on building your brand on kindness:

♥ The old cliché – be nice to people on your way up. And it’s so true – while you’re on top of the world make sure you don’t forget the people who helped you get there. All that goes up must come down. The good news it can bounce back up again, but rarely without help. So don’t burn any bridges when you feel you’ve “made it”. I have an actual list (yup) of people who’ve helped me in my career. A list. Yup.

♥ Don’t be bitter. Bitter isn’t a “nice” trait. Yes, it can be difficult to see people succeed when you don’t necessarily feel they deserve it. I’ve been guilty of it. But quite honestly I’ve come to realise lately that I’m not the authority on who deserves success and who doesn’t. I’m also wasting valuable time and energy worrying about what makes other people successful. Being myself is what’s got me this far – so why not take it all the way and just wish everyone else the best? If I “deserve” success, I’ll make it happen for myself.

♥ Don’t let people walk all over you. There’s a difference between being firm and being nasty. Saying “no” to things you don’t want to do, discounts you don’t want to give etc. doesn’t make you a bad person – it means you’re being true to yourself and valuing what you do. Find a nice but firm way to say no. The best advice I’ve been given is by another industry bod who’s done very very well from being nice (I’ll keep her anonymous as it was a private conversation). She reminded me that I’m running a business and not a charity. I do get a lot (I mean a LOT) of emails every day asking for help. If I think I can help and if it’s good for my brand, I’ll do it, but I’m starting to cut back on the amount of favours I’m doing, the amount of small discounts I give etc. and it really makes a difference to the time I have every day to get things done. That doesn’t mean that I’ll never help anyone out, it just means I’ve realised I can’t be a crutch to the whole world.

♥ Having said that, do be accessible. Don’t ignore people who’ve said nice things to you on Twitter etc. Give people the time of day, especially when they’ve helped you out. Take a second to thank them. It’s OK to talk back to people – it doesn’t look needy – it’s an egalitarian principle. I’m constantly hearing about how much people like certain magazine editors etc. because they’re NICE and they don’t ignore your messages. I’ve never seen anyone lose respect as a result of treating people like their equals.

♥ Be genuinely nice. As in don’t just be nice for the sake of branding – if you don’t click with someone, don’t gush over them. Be polite, be kind, but also try to be real.

♥ Sharing your feelings is OK! Just accept responsibility for them and talk about them in a constructive way. For example, it’s fine to voice jealousy, as long as you own it, it’s not fine to trash someone out of a place of jealousy.

♥ Keep disputes private – even if you’ve been wronged, it’s never OK to tweet publically about it or blog about it. I did it once and it looked so pathetically unprofessional I immediately felt awful and deleted it. And again, the same industry bod who helped me out before gave me some more words of wisdom – to keep negativity away from my business. And yet again she was right. People shouldn’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. Being open is one thing, but branding and professionalism is still important.

♥ Finally, enjoy what you do. If you love what you’re doing, people will feel the love. If you’re buoyed on and positive, people will respond in kind – and positivity attracts positivity (no matter what science says) so keep smiling, even if you don’t always feel like it and put a positive message out there. It may not attract the “cool kids” but it’s the nice kids that will connect with you long term.

What do you think, businessy types? Does being nice get you nowhere? Or do you choose who you work with or follow based on their persona? Brides, do you read blogs based on the blogger’s personality? Leave me some comments!

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