Goodbye Boring! How You Can Be Professional & Still Be Yourself

merriweather council, Danielle Splurge, putting yourself into your business
“This is My Happy Place” embroidery by the lovely Danielle of The Merriweather Council

As a designer, I spend a lot of time thinking about making things aesthetically pleasing. Whether you like it or not, appearance matters quite a bit in business – even the best of us are often quite superficial in terms of the clues we look for to determine the quality of an online business.

Because of this, many small business owners think they have to appear a certain way to be successful. Sometimes this leads to design paralysis because the business owner is afraid of getting it wrong. Others, it results in a web presence that isn’t bad, but also isn’t particularly interesting or original.

Appearance matters, but you don’t need to be boring to be professional.

Let me give you an example in keeping with this month’s theme: my mom.

My mom is a breast surgeon who works with cancer patients and she’s also a hospital administrator. She saves people’s lives. Regularly.

Also, she has a very visible and rather large tattoo on her left wrist.

She never wears traditional business suits.

She listens to rock and roll music in the operating room.

She cares about seeing patients who can’t pay.

In a field that put up so many obstacles to her success, related to everything from gender to race to the heartache of extremely sick patients, my mom has not only excelled, but has excelled while maintaining some pretty non-traditional aspects of her identity.

Don’t mistake me, being professional is important. My mom would not be where she is if she wasn’t first and foremost an excellent doctor. Remember, though, that professionalism is only the beginning. By itself, it won’t keep you in the game, make you memorable, or help you love your work.

You’ve got to be professional, yes. You’ve got to have enough visual and experiential clues and markers to show people who visit your business online that you know what you’re doing, you do it well, and you’re here to stay.

But on top of all that, you’ve also got to be you.

So how can you incorporate more of yourself into your business?

1. Use your favorite colors in your branding, products, or both
2. Wear your favorite outfit in your profile picture
3. Find a premium font that is an exact fit, rather than settling for a generic one that came with your computer or a freebie everybody’s using
4. Write the way you talk
5. Change things up as you evolve
6. Use “I” instead of “we” when referring to your solo business
7. Make things or offer services that make you feel good
8. Listen to your favorite music while you’re working
9. Say “no” to opportunities that don’t feel exciting
10. Pay yourself appropriately
11. Update your “About Me” page regularly

What has your experience been creating a business that is true to YOU?


  1. Erika says:

    Zoe, your mom sounds stellar!

    I was talking to a friend and my husband about my colors for my header yesterday. I kept talking about what other people would like and then realized that I need to be able to look at the thing everyday! And it be a reflection of me.

    Great post.

  2. Lisa says:

    Great advice. For me I got – take yourself seriously as in respect who you are. Like Erica, I recently had a friend with my imput design my logo. I asked for a few of them so I could get different opinions. His advice was yes do ask other people for their opinions but in the end the one that matters is the one you like best. He was so right I preferred on style from the beginning, and I actually got very negative remarks from 2 people. When I explain my reasons behind my choice both of them said they didn’t know what I was trying to portray – they were imagining how they would want my similar business. Be true to yourself.

    • Jessika says:

      Zoe I just love this post so hugely!!!! I have a pile of tattoos also + a pretty funky look & it’s always actually helped get me jobs & make contacts. Also my mamasita is African, Cherokee & Jewish (yup I’m mixed up!) and ha a pierced nose & a big personality. I grew up watching her being herself and playing to her strengths. I think our diversity is our biggest asset & when we find the way to really showcase it in our work we can really shine. Plus your mama sounds AWESOME, can I come have coffee with you two? We’d have so much to talk about!

  3. Thanks, everyone! My mom is totally amazing and very inspiring to me, I’m glad sharing about her is inspiring to others as well.

    (Although, I will point out that she is NOT perfect, just so we don’t start any misconceptions about what we moms should be aiming for.)

    MoxieLisa, you hit it on the head – I think many of her patients find her more HUMAN than a lot of other doctors. She’s a real person to them, one who really cares about them and their well being, rather than someone in a white coat who is undistinguishable from the other white coats rushing through their care.

    (There’s the message right there, right? Make yourself DISTINGUISHABLE!)

    Lisa, I think you’re right that it does matter what you like best, but keep in mind you ALSO want people unfamiliar with you to find meaning in/ connect with your logo. Hopefully your designer can help you bridge those things.

  4. Jess! I was typing away my first comment while yours posted!

    I am also mixed up 🙂 In fact, that just gave me another post idea entirely!

    Coffee anytime! Sadly, my mom lives in the Pacific NW, so I don’t get to see her in person as regularly as I’d like. It would be a riot, though!

  5. Viv Smith says:

    Fab post! I began my jewellery trying to make things others would like and have a business image I thought was right. It was so hard to maintain. Luckily the things I liked making and reflected me most sold best and helped shape Poppy Sparkles to what it is. I’ve just written ‘My Story’ for Isa at Noisette Marketing’s blog and it made me realise that Poppy Sparkles is ‘me’ through and through! I love it! It’s also a joy to maintain and work at – not that I don’t sometimes find it hard, but it’s a lot easier than trying to fill the expectations of others or portray something that isn’t me.
    Thanks for sharing the inspiration that is your mom and some fab suggestions for putting yourself into your business.

  6. Joy Charde says:

    Love this, Zoe! I think your mom pretty much rocks! All the tips are superb, I love suggestions 5, 7, and 9!

    #5 suggestion is awesome! I remember how many times I’ve changed my site/etsy shop already! It’s definitely an ongoing process! The key is to not be afraid to change which can sometimes be very daunting!

    Thanks so much again!

Comments are closed.